Clay Jannon, newly unemployed, stumbles upon a mysterious bookshop during his frequent wanderings through the streets of San Francisco. The Help Wanted sign in the window seems like a sign of fate and he feels drawn into the bizarrely shaped store filled primarily with antique one-of-a-kind texts. Although far removed from his previous employment as a tech-savvy designer and marketer for a failed startup, Clay accepts the position of overnight sales clerk. Little does he realize that this spontaneous decision will catapult him into a mystery involving an ancient society whose cryptic workings will change the course of his life. Robin Sloan’s unique novel, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, brings together cutting-edge advances and time-worn tradition as they conflict and combine. Clay discovers that his embrace of new technology and a new-found respect for the methods of the past brings him great reward. Sloan’s novel also explores the idea that good things happen when people of different backgrounds combine their personal strengths and beliefs to solve problems. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a delightful exploration of how curiosity and innovation have acted as universal and timeless inspiration for the advancement of ideas. A good selection for those who enjoy mysteries that are more cerebral than action-packed.
When a bookshop patron commits suicide, his favorite store clerk must unravel the puzzle he left behind. Lydia Smith lives her life hiding in plain sight. A clerk at the Bright Ideas bookstore, she keeps a meticulously crafted existence among her beloved books, eccentric colleagues, and the BookFrogs—the lost and lonely regulars who spend every day marauding the store’s overwhelmed shelves.
But when Joey Molina, a young, beguiling BookFrog, kills himself in the bookstore’s upper room, Lydia’s life comes unglued. Always Joey’s favorite bookseller, Lydia has been bequeathed his meager worldly possessions. Trinkets and books; the detritus of a lonely, uncared for man. But when Lydia flips through his books she finds them defaced in ways both disturbing and inexplicable. They reveal the psyche of a young man on the verge of an emotional reckoning. And they seem to contain a hidden message. What did Joey know? And what does it have to do with Lydia?
I’m always on the look-out for a good book about a library or bookstore and I’m also a fan of the mystery genre, so when I ran across this title, it went on my “to read sooner rather than later” list right away. I really enjoyed it—largely because of the setting (the bookstore) but also because the suicide wasn’t the only focus of the story. It becomes obvious early on that there is a mystery in Lydia’s background too, and one that she must sort out if she’s going to figure out why Joey Molina killed himself in her bookstore.
It takes courage to face the past and you can’t blame people for avoiding it whenever possible. Lydia is wary of becoming “Poor Lydia,” the girl who survived the Horrible Thing. But when your childhood trauma was front page news back in the day, it’s hard to avoid being recognized. It’s even harder to come to try to come to grips with a crime that’s colder than Greenland.
I loved the gradual reveal of Lydia’s memories and how she starts to try to make sense of them as an adult. I also found her gradual reunion with her father to be realistic and well done. There are lots of co-incidences and synchronicities required to weave the different story lines together, but nothing too incredible to deal with—I’ve seen real-life situations that would be more unbelievable than this. I also liked the slightly messy ending, being the sort of reader who doesn’t like everything tied up too neatly.
Perfect as the “Book that involves a bookstore or library” selection for my PopSugar challenge this year.
The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone—and serendipity, sheer curiosity, and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey has landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead "checking out" impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with the gnomic Mr. Penumbra. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he's embarked on a complex analysis of the customers' behavior and roped his friends into helping to figure out just what's going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, it turns out the secrets extend far outside the walls of the bookstore.
With irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan has crafted a literary adventure story for the twenty-first century, evoking both the fairy-tale charm of Haruki Murakami and the enthusiastic novel-of-ideas wizardry of Neal Stephenson or a young Umberto Eco, but with a unique and feisty sensibility that's rare to the world of literary fiction. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave, a modern-day cabinet of wonders ready to give a jolt of energy to every curious reader, no matter the time of day.
It's called Mostly Books by Mary Ann.
I stopped in this morning on my way to the post office. It was pouring torrential rain, to the point that the driveway into the parking lot was a raging flood. I drove through it at a slow crawl and still gushed water all the way over the roof of the Blazer.
Mary Ann was sitting at the front desk, playing with some sort of electronic device that emitted a little chirp every few seconds. With one exception, this continued the entire half hour I was in the store.
She is white-haired, a little frail. I'd guess her to be in her mid-70s at least. She seemed cheerful enough, but didn't offer any real introduction to the store, other than to say non-fiction was in the front and fiction in the back. That's when she got up to turn on the lights in the back, and for those few brief moments the electronic chirping ceased. After the lights were on, she went back to the desk and the chirping resumed.
The front area of non-fiction is much larger than the back fiction section. A lot of books on travel, local and international. Lots of do-it-yourself books, on woodworking, building log and adobe homes, pottery, and so on. (For some reason or other, "craft" books are in the back with the fiction.) One whole section is devoted to religion, dominated by Bibles and other Christian literature but with a smattering of Eastern religions and even a little "New Age." There was a brand-new Angel Tarot deck in a sealed package that I almost bought.
Another large section contained Western Americana - cowboys, pioneers, Native American culture and history.
Beyond those broad categories nothing was sorted in any kind of order. Looking for a book on building an adobe house? I saw at least four of them, but they weren't next to each other. They were separated by books on making your own mission-style furniture, backyard barbecue pit, or potter's wheel, raising chickens, and laying brick. Alphabetical by author? Are you kidding? In the religion and philosophy section, Thoreau was next to Gandhi was next to St. Thomas Aquinas was next to Norman Vincent Peale.
Fiction fared little better. She had a good supply of what looked like newer paperback westerns, but that's not my thing so I didn't give them more than half a glance. I found the romance section, where at least the authors were separated by last initials, but no further. I'd guess 90% of the romances were single-title historicals, the rest being long contemporaries. I saw one paperback copy of Madeleine Brent's Stormswift identical to the one I have, so I didn't grab it. No Whitneys, no Holts. There was no section allocated to gothics. (Let me know if anyone wants the Brent. I have to go into town again on Monday and will see if it's still available.)
Mysteries were not in any kind of order at all, nor were science fiction and fantasy.
There were boxes and boxes and boxes of unpacked books in a side area.
I was in the store for half an hour. I saw no signage other than a piece of pink paper taped to the end of one shelf. An arrow pointing one way said "crafts," and the arrow pointing the other way said "mysteries."
The few books I took off the shelves had no prices on them. Nor did the tarot deck. I saw no signs indicating whether this was a place to trade in books for a discount on purchases or what. Many of the books were obvious library discards; there were a lot of what I'd call "antique" books, older than 1940.
All in all, it was a disappointing experience. I may go back when I have more time, but I'm not expecting much.