Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore: A Whimsical DaVinci Code?

March 7, 2013 Contemporary Fiction, Mystery 35

Salvate, Bookworms!

That was a greeting in Latin… In honor of creepy secret societies everywhere, The Others, and, uh, Catholicism prior to Vatican II. I just read Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Spoiler Alert: there’s Latin in it!

penumbraA little synopsis for you: Clay is a recently unemployed design school graduate in desperate need of a job. While wandering the streets of San Fransisco one afternoon, Clay stumbles upon a odd little bookstore with a “help wanted” sign. Mr. Penumbra is an eccentric old man and the proprietor of an impossibly narrow three story book store. (One of my favorite things about this book was the description of the sliding ladders. I would LOVE to live in a ginormous house someday with a dedicated library that had sliding ladders!)

Clay is hired and soon realizes that there is no way this book store can stay afloat with the sales figures he’s running. There’s also the business of the oddball patrons who are mostly highly eccentric characters that show up at all hours of the night… Rather than purchasing books, they’re all borrowing from a mysterious collection huddled at the back of the store.

Around this time Clay starts dating a girl who works at Google named Kat Potente. Kat is brilliant and quirky, owning a dozen of the very same t-shirt so she need not fret about her wardrobe. Once Clay discloses some of his insights into the mysterious bookstore, Kat jumps on board with his adventure. Somewhere between the Gertizsoon font and a museum about knitting, Clay, Kat, and his buddy Neel set about uncovering a 500 year old mystery. (I’d like to mention that I loved the way Google’s headquarters were portrayed in this book. It was really fun to compare the fictionally enhanced Google to the way Microsoft was portrayed in Where’d You Go Bernadette.)

Without getting excessively spoiler-ish, this book involves uncovering the mysteries of a secret society. It actually reminded me a LOT of Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code (I don’t really care what the literati has to say, I thoroughly enjoyed The DaVinci Code, for reals.) What differentiates this from The DaVinci Code is the whimsy. This book deals with mysteries surrounding a 500 year old publisher and a bunch of bookish weirdos. No matter what their secrets hold, they’re not as potentially earth shattering to civilization as discovering that one of the world’s major religions is based on intentionally misleading information. This allows Sloane’s secret society an element of comedy and charm that the danger and melodrama of The DaVinci Code cannot achieve.

I really enjoyed this book. I found it to be a quick read and it held my interest. In celebration of this work, I started googling to find the Geritzsoon font that was, according to the book, very common and pre-loaded into most computers. Yeah. Griffo Gertiszoon, our mysterious ancient font designer? Fiction. I must admit I was quite disappointed. I like it when my conspiracy books are less easily debunked. All in all though? Still totally worth the read. Knowing the Griffo Gertizsoon is not a real person won’t hamper your enjoyment of the book at all. Look at me! I’m GROWING with not SPOILING everything. SOMEBODY GIVE ME A COOKIE!

So. Bookworms. Mysteries. Do you dig them? Do you despise them? Don’t you want a house with sliding ladders?! (You do. Don’t bother lying.) Tell me about it!

35 Responses to “Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore: A Whimsical DaVinci Code?”

  1. Ashley F

    *hands Katie a cookie*

    I loved this book too. It was quirky, nerdy, techy. I loved the whole idea of it. I found myself wanting to know MORE about these crazy people that were coming and checking out these books in the middle of the night.

    Good read.

    • Ashley F

      Btw….I totally want a house with a huge library that reaches the ceiling that needs ladders

      • Ashley F

        Love the crazies. I think for me it was just the whole bookstore thing. I miss working at a bookstore and I would kill to work at a crazy place like that. I mean that’s like book-nerd Mecca.

  2. Charleen

    I just finished this too! (Which is good, because otherwise I probably wouldn’t have read this… I’ve learned it’s best not to read your posts for books I haven’t read but am intending to read… but look, you’re growing!)

    It was so great. I’ve read several reviews from readers who don’t “get” all the hype, and I’ve figured that it pretty much all comes down to the humor. If it’s not your brand of humor (and I’m not saying it means you have NO SENSE of humor, because obviously everyone has different tastes), you’re probably not going to enjoy the rest of the book. Personally, I thought it was great. I loved the 2nd time he sees Kat. “She was wearing the same shirt. So, either she slept in it, she had a closet full of the same shirt, or she was a cartoon character.” (I’m paraphrasing, obviously.)

  3. Rory O'Connor

    I do want a rolling ladder bookcase in my house – badly – as in that is my utmost interior design dream. However, I must also admit that I am one of those people who judge The DaVinci Code. It’s not that it’s bad, exactly, it’s just incredibly overrated.

    I couldn’t get into this book, it was a DNF for me. If I had more time, I might have given it a bit more effort…

    • Words for Worms

      Yes, the fact that I was able to emass enough material to do an entire research paper on The DaVinci Code proves that its super over-rated. I won’t judge you for a DNF- lord knows I’ve done enough of that! 🙂

  4. loraliej

    I liked this book a lot! And of course who doesn’t want a giant library with rolling ladders? Also, did you notice that the book cover (sleeve) glows in the dark? Kind of freaked me out when I saw it. I spent approx. 3 minutes trying to see if there was some sort of code in it before I gave up. Because I am lazy apparently.

    • Words for Worms

      Ah! I had no idea about the glowing! I read it on my kindle and now I feel CHEATED. I love things that glow in the dark almost as much as I love rolling ladders!

  5. JoulesDellinger

    Much like everyone else, I also am obsessed with a rolling ladder. I really want to jump on it and sing while rolling from book to book. I try it now, but it’s just not the same when there is no ladder and I’m just skipping around my den.

    • Words for Worms

      Sing it with me, Joules! “There must be more than this provincial life!” (Is there karaoke at BlogHer? Because there should be. Not that I would sing it. I would make videos of you and Chrissy and Lauren karaoke-ing.)

      • JoulesDellinger

        There must be karaoke somewhere in Chicago, right?! I haven’t sang karaoke in YEARS, but I’d totally get up there and sing something fabulous for you. (BTW, my sisters and brother grew up at the same time as all the best Disney movies and I pretty much knew the entire soundtrack word-for-word for most of them. I listened to My Little Mermaid the other day and ROCKED THAT out of the HOUSE!)

  6. Sarah Says Read

    Oh man the love I have for this book! So much whimy and adventure and delight! I TOTALLY wanna be friends with Clay and Kat and Neel. They all have the coolest jobs ever. And I love what big, giant nerds they are.

    Interesting point about how Google is portrayed versus how Microsoft is portrayed in that Bernadette book. I would SO rather work at Google. Well you know, not work… I would rather just hang out at Google. Because no matter how cool of a job it seems, I’m still lazy.

    • Words for Worms

      I’m kind of jealous that Google feeds their employees for free. I really hate cooking. I want meal preparation! I bet it’s good food too. Why is it only the really brilliant nerds that get the cool jobs? What about the mediocre nerds, huh? I’m a mediocre nerd, and I WANT LENTIL SALAD!

  7. Lisa G

    Me? I’d love a rolling ladder. God knows I have enough books to fill shelves that tall. Also? I want one of those Scooby-Doo/James Bond top secret door bookcases. It would be AWESOME. This already was on my “to read” shelf. But I’m pretty sure it just moved up a place, as soon as I’m done with “Winter of the World…”

  8. Megan M.

    I wanted to read this and then I read a review from a DNF-er that dampened my spirits about it, but your review has totally revived them! Secret societies?! Google?! Rolling ladders?! I am so there! Although IRL, once I get past the second step on a ladder I am overcome with fear and can’t go any higher, so as much as I love the idea of that kind of library, it just wouldn’t work for me. Sigh.

    I read a book called “Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google?” and it made Google sound SO badass. I would never ever leave.

  9. Lori

    Look what you started just by mentioning “sliding ladders”! What a fun post. Our house is somewhat of a Winchester Mystery House (famous tourist spot in California) where rooms lead to rooms. Hubby and I do have a future project of building a library and a sliding ladder is a must! We have a Harry Potter room under the stairs that stores our Christmas decor which we refer to as “Harry Potter’s room”. I also liked The DaVinci Code because I think it was a book people read who don’t normally read because EVERYBODY was reading it at the time. To date, I think it’s the only book my nephew has ever read. I LOVE books about bookstores so I may have to give this one a go!

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