The Outlaw Life

running, reading, blogging, loving

[11] Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore


‘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):


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[04] Dark Places

Oh, Gillian Flynn. My heart, in some weird and disturbed way, beats for you in this myster/thriller/horror book set all over the home state I love SO much! It was, I have to admit, a bit titillating and surreal to see places I’ve been and know fairly well (KCK, KCMO, Lawrence, Topeka, etc.) described in a book that has such, well, creepy as all hell plot components.

Most of you, I’m sure, are familiar with the Lady Flynn’s most recent best seller Gone Girl. This book, with its dark and yet somehow nondescript book cover sat on the shelves where I work for, like, months, quietly whispering to me every day “you haven’t read me yet. You keep recommending me to people. people keep recommending me to you. Reeeeaaaaddd mmeeeee……” (the last part was always in some creepy, Jacob Marley voice, complete with chain rattling). But I didn’t want to. Mostly because the plot didn’t quite make me go all

But also because, you know, I refuse to read a book that a billion people and the whole universe is telling me to read all at once. I just can’t. It’s silly rebellion, but so was buying hundreds of dollars worth of Breakfast Club t-shirts and black rubber bracelets when I was a freshman in high school. But I did feel bad about continuing to recommend a book to others that I hadn’t read just because it was on the best seller wall (NO, FIFTY SHADES! I WILL NOT HAND YOU TO A SINGLE PERSON.), so I decided to compromise with myself and I read this book instead. And I LOVED it.


Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived–and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her. The Kill Club is a macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details–proof they hope may free Ben–Libby hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club . . . and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all. As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the narrative flashes back to January 2, 1985. The events of that day are relayed through the eyes of Libby’s doomed family members–including Ben, a loner whose rage over his shiftless father and their failing farm have driven him into a disturbing friendship with the new girl in town. Piece by piece, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started–on the run from a killer.

First of all, Lady Flynn has quite the mouth on her. Secondly. I was bat shit terrified staying up late and reading the chapters when Libby goes back in her own mind and describes what it was like to wake up and hear her family being murdered, only to run away and have to live with not only the survivor’s guilt but with the memories. I also want to give the Lady MAD PROPS for creating one of the few books I’ve read in a while that truly kept me guessing as to who the killer was, why the killer killed, and what this could mean for Ben, for Libby, and for the family that they both, in one way or another, lost. Libby was the kind of narrator that at once infuriated me – she refused to actually do anything with her life, instead excusing it all away because of what happened to her – while also making me feel sympathetic to this girl who lost her family, and then has to deal years later with all the possible “what if’s” that come with being that young and testifying in such an intense case.

The book also touched on some of the “darker” aspects of the legal system – what can happen when well meaning people encourage young people to say things that they feel the adults want to hear, and when the system has already made decisions about certain people in certain walks of life. It was frustrating to read, and was one of those situations where I felt myself going “THAT’S NOT FAIR! IF YOU ONLY KNEW THE TRUTH!” I found the ending to be surprising, although I will say that, probably about a dozen pages out or so I was kind of able to put it all together. BUT, most books don’t even string me along for that long. So I thought that this plot was really well done, and the plot twist was one that, as I understand it, is one of the Lady Flynn’s typical gusto storytelling maneuvers! Here here!

Rating: Hell yeah!

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