The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone—and serendipity, sheer curiosity, and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey has landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead “checking out” impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with the gnomic Mr. Penumbra. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he’s embarked on a complex analysis of the customers’ behavior and roped his friends into helping to figure out just what’s going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, it turns out the secrets extend far outside the walls of the bookstore.
Lately, a book I can’t put down is a rare thing. I mostly read only a few minutes before I start nodding off in bed. For me (before this year’s reading resolution) the hallmark of a book I’m enjoying is if I bring it downstairs to read in the morning with coffee. (Remember how depressed the books were under my bedside lamp? This happening probably feels like winning a gold medal in the Olympics or something. “I’m going downstairs?! You like me! You really like me!!”)
Coincidentally, this was the second book in a row I’d read that was about a bookstore. (Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry was the book I read before this). Of the two though, I enjoyed this one quite a bit more.
It wasn’t a perfect read for me, and doesn’t make it’s way on to a Top 10 list of mine (I imagine I’ll have to compile that for a future blog post), but it was a very, very solid read that seemed to fly right by. Sloan has a very effortless writing style that had me flipping page after page and then being surprised at how quickly I was progressing through the story.
I could only give it a 4 on Goodreads, but it’s probably closer to a 4.5. My gripes with it were few and far between. Overall, a very good book that I would recommend to anyone who was the least bit curious by the synopsis above as I was. I’m always on the lookout for something that is a bit different than anything I’d read before and this seemed very unique. I wasn’t disappointed in the least after finishing it.
For further Penumbra reading, there’s also Ajax Penumbra 1969 that Sloan published the year after Bookstore. It’s basically the title character’s origin story, and I just picked it up on Amazon for my Kindle for $2.99. I think I’ll pick up something else for now, but I’m looking forward to coming back to this world for sure.