Tiny Navajo Listens: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore


October 9, 2019 by TinyNavajo

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, narrated by Ari Fliakos

 ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

*Published October 2, 2012*

mr penumbra'sI love this book and the world it invokes that is focused in this one small hole-in-the-wall bookstore. It’s fantastic!

A gleeful and exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life—mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore

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.

With irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan has crafted a literary adventure story for the twenty-first century, evoking both the fairy-tale charm of Haruki Murakami and the enthusiastic novel-of-ideas wizardry of Neal Stephenson or a young Umberto Eco, but with a unique and feisty sensibility that’s rare to the world of literary fiction. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave, a modern-day cabinet of wonders ready to give a jolt of energy to every curious reader, no matter the time of day.

I love this story, about a millennial looking for a job, any job really, that will pay for rent and get him some work experience. And when he finds one by walking the streets, it’s in a front desk job at a small little indie bookstore. It’s also more than a bookstore…it’s almost a cult, with weird customers showing up at the most random points of the day requesting books from the “Way Back List,” as Clay, our main character calls it. But when he starts to dig into what the “Way Back List” is and why these weird characters come in requesting these just plain weird books, he finds a lot more than he originally planned.

This book and thus the characters the books they share in a technology driven world pull you and refuse to let you out until you acknowledge that without books, we wouldn’t have technology as it is today. We wouldn’t have Google, and it plays a huge, and I mean HUGE, part in this book. I love Clay, I love Mr. Penumbra, and I love his 24-hour bookstore. I truly truly want to own his bookstore, or at least work in it! GAH! So much happiness! And I love Clay and the lengths he goes to make his employer, his friend, happy.

I love just about everything about this book and I love how Ari Fliakos brings the characters to life. I want to get to know Clay and his friends, I want to work for Mr. Penumbra and get to know his bookstore. I want to live in San Francisco and walk the hills to find little bookshops like this one. I want to do all of these things. That is what Robin Sloan’s books do to me, they make me want to charge out of my apartment in Oklahoma and find adventure in the great wide somewhere!

What do books make you want to do? How do they ask you to find adventure in your life? Comment below and let me know!

4 thoughts on “Tiny Navajo Listens: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

  1. Oh my gosh, I read this book years and years ago. I forgot how good it was!! I always wished there was a 24-hour book store near me!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. There is just something magical about the name Mr. Penumbra. Pe-num-bra. Magic, mystery, and a small dash of he knows what you’re thinking just a little bit. […]


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