Robin Sloan’s New York Times bestselling novel begins its enchantments before one even flips open to the first page. The cover, decorated in neon yellow rectangles mimicking books on a shelf, is wondrous after darkness has fallen, so long as it has been exposed to light for a certain amount of time. After the lights are back on, you’re swept up in a story about, yes, a bookstore, but also its related patrons, clerks, and owners, knowledge, and of all things, Google.
This formula may seem impossible, but Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is all about unlocking the key to the seemingly impossible. Following Penumbra’s newly hired clerk, Clay Jannon, we embark on a journey that leans towards the cliché, but offers unpredictability and caters to the imagination and detective traits of its readers. Can technology and “old-world” habits, patterns, institutions work and survive together? Are they mutually exclusive? Does one depend on the other? Answers to these questions are to be interpreted by the reader; Sloan’s voice through Clay Jannon seems to be in more favor of one side, while not discounting the other. But does that mean a side cannot be chosen?
These complexities are presented in relatively simple prose that makes putting this book down at any point trying on the soul, and although part of the Epilogue chapter is a tad trite, it reinforces a hopeful message for the future of knowledge and innovation, which is the message of the lesson learned by those involved with Penumbra and the contents of his bookstore.