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Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore: Best Book of 2012

January 2, 2013

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore
Robin Sloan
Farrar Strauss and Giroux
288 Pages

I knew I was going to love this book. I’d heard about it at BEA, but between work and grad school, hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet. Once I got to read it, over Christmas break, I caught myself reading very slowly, because I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t want to leave the world where a bookstore had shelves 3 stories tall, and Clay’s long, dreamlike night shift is punctuated by the arrival of eccentric characters using the place as a lending library, trading in musty copies of incomprehensible, coded volumes, working on solving a puzzle of some kind.

The dreaminess continues after daybreak, as Clay stumbles home to find his roommate building a vast sprawl of city in miniature in their apartment.

And then Clay marshals what he knows about computer codes to take a crack at solving the puzzle in 21st century style, causing upheavals in Mr. Penumbra’s world, and the puzzle’s connection to a secret society.

As I was reading, I realized two things: one, I caught myself wanting to read painstakingly slowly to savor a world I was really enjoying; and two, I can see this book as something of a parable, speaking to the current state of books, bookstores, the smell of books versus the whiz and power of Google. Even libraries’ place in society. I think I’m going to have to reread it at least a few times in order to unpack that library relevant sense properly. I don’t think I can go back browsing through the pages yet, to hunt for the passages that prove what I’m thinking, not without getting drawn back into the story and reading it from start to finish again.

The fact that I read the book just after Christmas, and I”m getting around to reviewing it now, is telling. I couldn’t get past helpless grinning and wanting to hug the book until today. I can safely say, this is definitely my favorite book of 2012. And it probably would have been, if I’d read it in August.

Also, I think the near-magic dreamy quality of the nights in the bookstore and the delightfully askew feel of its characters and mystery, reminded me of other books I love: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Even more so, it reminds me of Veronica, by Nicholas Christopher. I wonder where my copy of that is….

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