Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Of the 23 books I've read so far this year, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore was the most entertaining. It was exactly the diverting and fun tale I needed after so much heavy lifting from the other pages I've turned recently.

I don't know if author Robin Sloan grew up playing video games and reading fantasy novels, but I suspect he did as his narrator and main character, Clay Jannon, is attuned to the realm of wizards, warlocks, warriors and rogues, although their representatives in the novel tend to work at Google rather than reside in Middle Earth. As the late shift clerk in the strangest bookstore in San Francisco, if not the world, Clay sees his role in the mystery unfolding before him as a quest given him by a wizard, the eponymous bookstore owner.

This novel has mystery, adventure, secret societies, the parrots of Telegraph Hill, film special effects artists, knitting, friendship, romance, books, cyber-wizardry, and nerdy cocktails, yet it has no dark villain. The only character who could even remotely be considered a villain is nothing more than a disappointed and inflexible business executive. The other characters are uniformly endearing. Clay gets by with a little help from his friends, a Bay area collection of high tech superheroes. (One moral in the story: if, during your childhood or adolescence, you befriend the weird kid who sits alone at lunch, you will not regret it later!). The "quest" brings these 20-something tech wizards into the company of an eccentric group of scholars who are perhaps still dazzled by the invention of the Gugenheim press.

Sloan's writing is sharp, intelligent and witty, infused with wonder at the magic of human creativity and invention, whether the product is books or self-driving cars. Mr. Penumbra's reminds us that the world is still full of interesting things to discover. As Clay would say: cool.

1 comment:

Holly said...

We should add this to our book club list!