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penumbraTitle: Mr.Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Writer: Robin Sloan

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Girox (2012)

Pages: 288p

Bought at: Kinokuniya Ngee Ann City (SGD 34.94)

Economy in the US is in a really bad state (I feel it so much since I work in a US organisation), and Clay Jannon feels the same. He lost his job as a web-designer, and is forced to take any job he could find. Turns out, he gets a job as a night shift clerk in Mr.Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore in San Francisco. His job is to find books for the customers, but the weird thing is, there are not so many regular books in the store, and not so many regular customers either.

The only people who came during his late shift are weird old guys and ladies, looking for the mysterious coded books that are shelved at the back of the store. Clay tried to guess who these people are, and what are they going to do with all those books. His investigation brings him to a very old secret society that has been looking for a key to mysterious manuscript from a long time ago.

Without his realizing it, Clay is dragged by his mysterious boss, Mr.Penumbra, to a journey of cracking an ancient code, that is supposed to hold a secret for eternal life. With his friends in Google, Clay tries to combine an old knowledge with new cyber technology to solve the mystery.

If there’s any book that is so current, so cool, and relate so much with the readers of this new age, Mr.Penumbra’s is one of them. It successfully combined an old love for books, good ol paper books and the smell of their pages, with new technology such as internet, search engine, and e-book reader. It is also discussed the neverending battle of conventional bookstore and online bookstore. Are good ol bookshops closing down? Is this the end of an era?

Robin Sloan is very well researched, he can describe the setting where the story takes place in a really great way. From sunny San Francisco, where Google office compound seemed so different than the old school style of Mr.Penumbra’s bookstore, to the ancient and gloomy Manhattan, where the headquarter of the secret society, including its famous library, is located.

I love Mr.Penumbra’s because it makes me think of the future of books. Technology can not replace the best feelings in the world: browsing a bookstore, tracing the old spines of books, smelling the unmistakable smell of old pages. It can not replace the love of reading a real book. And even though Google has the most advanced technology of all time (at least according to this book), it can’t decode everything. It can’t solve all problems in the world. And I’m thankful for that.

The only slight disappointment I have about this book is maybe the lack of dimensions of the characters. I love Clay Jennon, don’t get me wrong, and I love Mr. Penumbra, but there are certain emotional aspects this book can’t describe well. Even when Clay talked about the crush he had with one of the Googlers, well, it sounded flat. They even do the dating via Skype! Is it because we are now more into advanced technology than basic emotions? This book speaks a lot about current and cool technology, from the apps in iPhones, Kindle, website design, language programming etc. But it doesn’t speak too much about human emotions. Funny, hmm? I hope we won’t all turn into robots and androids one day!
Fave quotes:

“Walking the stacks in a library, dragging your fingers across the spines- it’s hard not to feel the presence of sleeping spirits” p 147

“I was under the impression they read everything on their mobile phones”. “Not everyone. There are plenty of people who, you know- people who still like the smell of books” p 65

“Why do you like books so much?” “Well, actually, I love books because books are my best friends”

Mr. Penumbra’s is a complete pleasure for all book lovers- and anybody who loves the smell of books!

PS: Did I tell you that I love the cover so much? It even glows in the dark!!

PPS: this posting is submitted to posting bersama with BBI, the theme is Books about Books πŸ™‚ Love this theme so much!