The Outlaw Life

running, reading, blogging, loving

[11] Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore

on December 28, 2012

penumbra

‘I did not know people your age still read books,’ Penumbra says. He raises an eyebrow. ‘I was under the impression the read everything on their mobile phones.’

Clay Jannon is a young man of the Google age who, after losing his job marketing the start-up NewBagel, gets a job working the overnight shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore. There, a significant part of his job is to keep track of all the people who come into the shop – what they look like, what they buy (or borrow!), and what their mental state is. Soon, noticing an number of oddities about the job, the shop, and the clientele, and with the help of a tech-savvy roommate, rich best friend, and computer-genius quasi-girlfriend, he discovers a secret code buried deep within the books of the store – as well as a loyal cult dedicated to unraveling the code. Soon, Clay and his friends are harnessing the full power of Google, the expertise of librarians, and 15th century letter punches, to unravel the secrets of eternity. It’s an ancient tale spurred by the full reaches of contemporary technological power.

The shelves were packed close together, and it felts like I was standing at the border of a forest – not a friendly California forest, either, but an old Transylvania forest, a forest full of wolves and witches and dagger-wielding bandits all waiting just beyond moonlight’s reach.

One of the more stand-out things about this novel is the really beautiful and philosophical nature of technology. Not only is Google the most used search engine, but to hear Robin Sloan describe it, the people there are also pushing the boundaries of human existence. While I don’t believe I’m one of those “OHMIGOD FACEBOOK AND THE INTERWEBZ IS JUST THE BEST THANG EVA” people, but as this book points out, technology gives us the chance to question how we define and conceptualize what it means to be immortal, how we define time and space relative to factors like our instantaneous ability to share information over the internet, and what happens when classic and modern meet (ebooks? audiobooks? Goodreads and Librarything? Podcasts?)

To be honest, I wasn’t super thrilled with the actual plot of this book – weird book cults and rouge Google employees sounds good on the surface and is just…awkward on the page. I loved the scenes at Google (and naievely hope that they’re all true), and by far my favorite character is Kat Potente, the female Google goddess who, while expectedly pixie-like and psuedo-individualistic, is still totally adorable. All in all, the ideas in this book were way more exciting than the plot or process of reading the book itself.

Remember this: A man walking fast down a dark lonely street. A bell above the door and the tinkle it makes. A clerk and a ladder and warm golden light, and then: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.

Rating: Okay

PS (because I’m me and I can’t kind of talk about philosophy – or do a post in general ever – without my favorite philosoraptor EVER):

philosoraptor-professor-x

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