One more book off the checklist! Hooray!
I meant to only pick up a copy of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore for my lovely friend Sarah’s birthday gift, but I just couldn’t resist grabbing a copy for myself at the same time. I mean, there were only two on the shelf, so it was obviously a sign, right?
…okay, so I might have a book-buying problem.
But problem or not, I’m so glad I made this my vacation book. A mysterious bookstore, eccentric clientele, cool technology, ancient secrets, and even some typography nerdinesss…it’s like it was crafted especially for my imagination. I really just couldn’t put it down.
Basically the plot follows Clay Jannon who, after being laid off from a start-up bagel company, takes a night clerk position at a very curious bookstore owned by one Mr. Penumbra. The shelves reach so high you lose sight of them, the front shelves are stocked with a yard sale-like collection, and eccentric customers come to borrow books from what becomes referred to as the “Waybacklist.” Throughout the novel we discover a cult-like group of people dedicated to unlocking ancient secrets hidden in the books in the Waybacklist, using techniques as old as printing itself. Clay and his friends set out to discover the mysteries as well, though they try it using more modern tools, which obviously causes friction with the more “traditional” mystery-seekers. It’s a really fascinating plot, and the frequent references to typography and the history of books made it a real treat for me personally.
Something I want to note: This book absolutely, totally dates itself with its extensive tech world references (for example, Google plays a huge part in the unraveling of the book’s big secrets). Reading it now, nothing seems strange, and the references may even make it a bit more relatable for some readers.But when I think about the people who may read it ten, twenty, forty years from now? The technology will seem ancient and laughable! Most books set in the time in which they were written end up dating themselves to a certain extent, but Penumbra’s does it to an almost impressive degree. This isn’t a negative about the book (at least not now), but it is an interesting thing to think about.
The only real downside to the book, I’ll say, is that the ending came as a bit of a letdown. There was a lot of buildup and intrigue in the first part of the novel, and so the end wound up feeling a bit too simple in comparison. It didn’t make me like the book any less (I still thoroughly enjoyed it), but it didn’t end on an OMG-like high I was expecting.
If you’re looking for a unique summer read, Penumbra’s will definitely fit the bill. And make sure to pick up the physical copy, not the e-book, because the cover glows in the dark. How cool is that?!