2 January 2014

Bibliophile: A Review of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan

There is an element of magic in reading consecutive books that fall into similar themes all by happen-stance. As gleefully mentioned in my last post, I have a heap of books to work through that continues to grow even though I am supposed to be on a "library-only" policy. The growing mass is all thanks to the newly discovered SF used bookstore I found mere blocks from my house. Rather shocking because it is literally down the street and I have literally been in this store countless times never to be able to find the SF section until yesterday when I spied a small sign pointing up leading me to a third floor wonder world. You think you know your neighbourhood! I came home happily owning a collective anthology of the first three Dragonriders of Pern novels and China Mieville's Un Lun Dun, an author I am slowly, ever so slowly trying to appreciate.

From this growing pile, I was gifted two gems both with plots interlaced with the love of reading and the joys of a paper bound novel. I feel intoxicated from the printed word this week, excited with SF after a rather lackluster year end. Nothing like a good book followed by another to put a girl back on track for 2014.

 Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan hooked me in by the end of page one. I found myself gorging on a chapter or two then putting the book to the side, all in an attempt to delay the reading process.  With good books, really good books, I like to drag them out as long as I am able.  Easily a day read, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore has tinges  of an Agatha Christie mystery to it, wrapped within a secret society quest all tightly bound up within the framework of present day mysticism. I find it remarkable that over the years "quest" books like these always fall into my hands by accident. I never research them, never think to even quest for those very quest-like books in my search for new novels. Quest books are the most allusive of all the genres, seemingly to appear when you most need them.  

Sloan's writing is not superb, this is not a literary masterpiece but it is a good read and at times that is all one really is looking for: a plot that moves, an uncertainty of what may come next and a cast of characters we want to spend time with.  Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore finds our protagonist laid-off with few skills to call his own looking for a job. Needing a job, any job, his newly acquired midnight-shift clerk position at a 24-hour bookstore leads us and him on a quest for the seemingly supernatural within the streets of present day San Francisco. This is a romance with the printed word, the power of print at a time when e-readers rule the world and bookstores seem to be disappearing faster than movie rental stores.  Not wanting to give too much away, the level of intrigue that builds through the book takes a mundane turn at the denouement. More a reflection of my own levels at which I want abstract surrealism, I was disappointed but began to see the benefits to Sloan's ending. Most times our search for life and the answers to our existence can be best found in the simplest of forms.