Book Review: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

“A gleeful, exhilirating tale of global conspiracy, 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.” (taken from inside flap)

It’s that “MOSTLY set in” contained in that statement that you have to pay very close attention to, for this book described as “Shadow of the Wind-esque” is not at all about that I’m afraid. It’s not so much about a bookstore, for book-loving readers (as I recall it being marketed). It’s about Google, computer programming and code-breaking. It just happens to take place in a bookstore.

Did I mention Google?

I don’t think I mentioned Google?


It’s about Google.

I also I think I may have been born one generation too early to truly enjoy this as it is almost entirely about the get-rich quick generation from internet-based work, code-breaking, high-tech visualization and video games. Gawd, have I really just done that? Have I completely aged myself and came across as an old lady?

At first, it was an amusing read, he’s funny in many parts but then I became very bored with the Google, Google, Google fascination. He wants to work at Google, Google is awesome, his new girlfriend works at Google. Google is cool. Throw in a lot of computer programming and code talk, video games, I’m unemployed but used to have a really cool job designing ads for a bagel company  (you know that age where you started up a coffee shop, designed a trendy logo and created a website for it and became an instant success). Now that the bagel store has gone under Clay is unemployed and finds himself upon an odd, narrow and very old bookstore with Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore stencilled on the front window (in a typeface that’s so old it’s almost cool again). It just became waaaay too much fonts, design, computer, internet, internet, Google, Google, Google for my enjoyment. Add in the dungeons and dragons kind of stuff and oooh a cool chick that likes computers and works at Google  and it just solidified my non-interest in this story. It was overwhelmingly mired in the whole “sell your idea to Google and become rich era”. It became overwhelmingly shallow and boring.

Strange people and strange books are indeed a part of Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore. Clay is allowed to work there (the night shift) but he can’t touch any of the books, can’t read any of the books and must only record everything about any encounter with any person that enters the bookstore. There’s a “usual” cast of characters that come in, all the books are ancient tomes of cryptic writing and each morning Mr. Penumbra comes in and asks Clay who came in that was interesting? There is a secret “boss” Corvina. But, the “mystery” behind this bookstore becomes far too bogged down by programming references and tyopgraphy (and Google!) that its premise became lost and lame for me.

And in the end….Clay says he’ll write a book about his experiences in Penumbra’s bookstore and sell it to Barnes and Noble. Sigh.

Very Disappointing read for me. I’m very sorry to have written such a poor review, but this book was not at all what I anticipated.