Lydia Sheaks
Lydia Sheaks
Lydia Sheaks, education reporter, writes about finding adventure in the everyday, her opinions of current events and trends and occasionally her two cats.

Other Stories by Lydia Sheaks
Reporter Lydia Sheaks writes about education and family issues for the Elkhart Truth.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: Robin Sloan's first novel is great for these five reasons

This story about a bookstore that's always open and a secret society that goes there will remind you of your love for technology and books.

Posted on April 16, 2014 at 11:52 a.m.

The first time I used an e-reader I felt guilty.

I felt like I was cheating on my first love — actual books, the kind where the binding wears out from too much use, the kind you accidentally mark up with coffee stains, tears and barbecue chip dust. 

Maybe that's just me.

Recently I read a book that perfectly described the love I feel for both technology and books. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is about a weird old guy that runs a 24-hour bookstore, and the adventures of a new clerk who starts working there.

The store (which is laid out vertically, like Sideways Stories from Wayside School) is a front for a secret society called the Unbroken Spine. Members of the society rent books from a section of the store that clerk Clay Jannon, who narrates the story, refers to as "the Waybacklist."

All the books in this section are stored 30 feet up and appear to be in code.

Jannon becomes obsessed with figuring out what's going on and enlists the help of his super-techie roommate and his new girlfriend "Googler" Kat Potente. 

(Google is referenced so much in this story that it's practically a character.) 

Another wonderful thing about this book is that first-time novelist Robin Sloan really knows how to write. He always uses the exact right word, and he's funny.

Here are five passages from Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore that I loved:

1. Looking for a job:

"Whenever I walked the streets of San Francisco, I'd watch for Help Wanted signs in the windows — which is not something you really do, right? I should probably be more suspicious of those.

Legitimate employers use Craigslist."

2. Walking into Penumbra's for the first time:

"(why do bookstores always make you do uncomfortable things with your neck?)"

3. Meeting Kat, who wanders into Penumbra's:

"This is an interesting girl. Kat's utter directness suggests homeschooling, yet she is also completely charming."

4. Writing a letter to convey seriousness of a situation:

"For this new epistle, I select heavy archival-grade paper.

I purchase a sharp-tipped rollerball pen...

Three days later, an email appears. It's from Edgar Deckle. He proposes that we video chat.

Well, fine."

5. Cracking a centuries-old code using Google power:

"The New York Times might blog about that."


I asked Penumbra's author Robin Sloan if I could interview him for this post, and he said: 

"I can't do an interview, unfortunately -- I am super busy at the moment and trying to carve out any/all extra moments for actual fiction writing. BUT I am happy to know you enjoyed the novel—truly."

Well, fine. 

(I'm not really that bitter about it. I'm grateful Mr. Sloan responded to my adoring fan mail.)

Have you read Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore? Do you know of other books that perfectly blend technology and reading?

Connect with me on Twitter or Facebook or email me at lsheaks@elkharttruth.com.


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