The world of literature can sometimes feel like a boxing ring.
In one corner stands the paperback novel — an old, but familiar competitor that still packs a punch, and seems to be the crowd favorite in most matches. In the other corner stands the E-Reader, which goes by many nicknames such as the Kindle, the Nook or even the Kobo. This competitor is young, fresh and seems to contain a lot of power despite its size, making it a worthy competitor for the classic hardcopy.
But fear not readers, as technology and classical literature don’t always have to fight. Robin Sloan’s novel “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” not only spins this battle into a captivating story, but eliminates the feeling of competition between these two reading preferences.
“Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” explores two groups of people: The older generations who prefer holding their books and the younger generations who are open and adept at the possibilities technology offers. Just a few pages of this book will have you caught up in this narrative about the knowledge contained in antiquity and technology, the appreciation of life’s quirky characters and even a little drive to attain immortality.
I’ll admit, it sounds like a lot for one novel, but don’t get discouraged. Not only is Sloan’s “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” more than manageable in length, but it’s also written with an attention to detail and structure that will have you eagerly turning the pages way past your bed time.
If you aren’t already intrigued by this special novel, here are a few more reasons why you should get this book into your hands soon.
A Relatable Protagonist
Clay Jannon is an average guy, but not an average protagonist. When the bagel shop he works at goes out of business in San Francisco, Clay finds himself looking for a new job, and he’ll take anything that has a decent pay and is mildly related to his interests.
In order to prevent distraction and endless web-searching, Clay prints out a stack of job postings and takes them outdoors for a walk, keeping the promising jobs in hand and throwing the others into the trash as he makes his way.
One day, Clay comes across a mysterious bookstore containing an even more mysterious owner who displays a help wanted sign in the window. Considering his love of books and desperate need for some cash, Clay takes the night shift at the 24-Hour Bookstore, not realizing that his career path will lead him to strange societies and a dark secret lurking within the teetering shelves of the bookstore.
Clay’s situation is unique for sure, but amidst all of the eccentricity, he remains a normal guy just trying to do the right thing and make people around him happy. In this way, he is a classic protagonist, reminiscent of Ferris Bueller in the way that he gains his remarkableness not from his inherent talents, but from his ability to orchestrate the world around him to suit his needs and ambitions.
What’s more, Clay quickly gets readers on his side and rooting for him to bring all of his quirky friends and relations together to accomplish his mission. These friends include, but are not limited to, an intelligent young woman who works at Google, an artist roommate who spends his days and nights creating theater sets in the kitchen and, of course, a quiet and charming old bookstore owner.
If you’re the kind of person who advocates for others and feels like the protagonist in your life events, you’ll definitely connect with Clay Jannon.
A Mix of Genres
Part of the reason book series, such as “Harry Potter,” have gained such popularity is that they offer a little something for everyone. There are bookworms mixed with athletes, fantasy entwined with reality and mystery mixed with action and romance. These novels are enjoyable but hard to come by, and if you still haven’t found a worthy replacement for Rowling’s work, consider your search over.
“Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” contains the same fantastical, cloak-wearing characters that feel like they were picked right out of Hogwarts, but these strange people emerge from their libraries and become entangled in a battle for knowledge in regular cities where readers find plain-old characters, like Clay.
The story is original, unpredictable and keeps you wondering what’s going on, like a mystery without all of the magnifying glass and trench coat business that might put off some readers. It even manages to create a harmony between the inner-workings of Google employees, antiquated readers and philosophers — a task rarely accomplished with the abundance of books that celebrate, well, just books.
What’s more, Sloan’s “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” offers an abundance of wisdom more suited to a classic novel or an essay than an entertaining read. The reason you don’t notice while reading is that he never lists his ideas in one protagonist’s monologue, but instead embeds his philosophical ideas within conversations between characters and even uses these ideas to bring them to life.
It’s artful, sharp and you’ll find yourself contemplating the world just when you thought you were escaping it.
An Author that Delivers for Readers
Although Sloan’s name isn’t necessarily one that readers would recognize immediately, his writing techniques should place him in a category with big-name authors.
Sloan’s writing in “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” is enjoyable because it reads as if he knows what you’re thinking. He knows when you’re starting to lose interest and seamlessly changes scene, he knows when you want to know more about a character and when you’ve had enough of another and his narration never drags, a personal pet-peeve of mine with certain authors, but instead cuts and summarizes in all the right places.
In addition, Sloan isn’t afraid to give a reader what they want, while also keeping his novel unpredictable. Forget the “Game of Thrones” trend of killing off your favorite character. “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” will give you exactly what you want to happen but still make it satisfying.
Honestly, it’s like eating a slice of cake and then seeing that you still have a whole cake intact. It’s the element of Sloan’s writing that most amazed me while reading “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore,” and a talent that you don’t find in many authors, even acclaimed ones.
Whether you decide to read Sloan’s masterful novel on your Kindle or grab a hardcopy, this charming novel is sure to delight, but heed this extra caveat: The paperback has a glow-in-the-dark cover.
Consider your decision made.