"Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore" by Robin Sloan
When I first began reading this book, I was absolutely infatuated with it, because the characters were so real, the lives they lived were believable, and because the story was just relatable in general. I don't really know exactly what about that style of writing was so captivating, but I loved it. Granted, I had no idea where the author was going to take this story, but I continued reading. Something about this book just makes you feel comfortable. You don't need to be sitting next to the fireplace in a big leather chair to feel warm with this book.
Then, a massive plot twist that I never saw coming uprooted everything I thought I knew about the story. Clay, our protagonist, is a struggling web designer living in San Francisco. He gets a shock from reality, realizes he needs a job immediately, and gets one working the night shift of Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore. Initially, Clay does not understand why the bookstore is open 24 hours; there are hardly any customers, and the selection of books the store offers are not the type of titles that bring in revenue sufficient enough to keep a business open 24 hours. Clay gets a Googler girlfriend, both which prompt the other to ask questions about the bookstore. Eventually, they begin to discover patterns, and using Google's technology, begin to decipher codes; codes much older and more important than either of them ever imagined. Long story short, they discover that Mr. Penumbra, his bookstore, and his customers from the "Wayback List," are all members of a 500 year old cult, dedicated to uncovering the secret to immortality, left to them in their most sacred codex vitae. From there on, the story combines the ambition of a group of people who have worked tirelessly for 500 years with the technology of today's modern era to uncover those long protected secrets.
THE SPOILERS END HERE
When I began reading this book, I absolutely loved it. I don't understand why the plot twist bothered me so much, but when it happened, it shattered my reading world to pieces. For several weeks, I had to put down "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore" and read other books, because I just could not handle the turn of events. They bothered me that much. But that also serves as a testament to the great writing that is contained between those covers. I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you are looking for something that is unique and refreshing. It is also worth mentioning that in the end, when I finally picked up the book and finished reading it, I truly enjoyed the ending. In total honesty, I probably did overreact to the story, and I can easily understand why anybody else would love the twist. This is a funny, cynical, smart, and entertaining piece of writing that deserves to be read.
Golden Line: "They caught him having sex in the library," Deckle says matter-of-factly. Then he raises a finger and says, sotto voice, "Which, by the way, is still frowned upon, but would not get you burned today."