Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25.00, 288 pages, ISBN 978-0-374-21491-3
Do you ever wish you were a kid again? To go back in time when learning was easy and quick for you? When your biggest worry was coming up with your share of the rent? Do you like quests; the hunt for the priceless artifacts that belong to all of humanity, but somehow were lost or hidden long ago? Are you a reader? One who loves computers? If you’ve answered ‘Yes’ to any or all of the above questions, this week’s MBR is for you, because it’s all of those things rolled up into one neat package. It’s a quirky, not easily classifiable novel titled Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, and it’s a bibliographic delight from beginning to end.
In San Francisco, Clay Jannon’s dot-com job at a startup bagel company has gone dot-com bankrupt during the first great bubble-bursting of the new millennium; leaving him and thousands of others jobless. Searching unsuccessfully for months to find work, he stumbles across a hand-written ‘help wanted’ sign in an obscure bookstore window and meets Mr. Penumbra. He’s hired to clerk the midnight-to-eight am shift in what proves to be the strangest bookstore in the city and soon becomes involved in a five hundred year- old mystery to find a priceless human treasure. It’s a hunt that’s eluded solution by teams of researchers around the world. Can computers find the answer? Clay thinks they might be able to and enlists a couple of computer-savvy friends to help, thus setting off a quest and chase that may provide the answer to one of humanity’s greatest mysteries . . . or destroy them all. This is an entertaining, uplifting and fun read. It’s suitable for all readers, young or older, more mature ones (like me . . .), as it displays respect for the new and old. As one reader said, “This novel takes places at the intersection of books and technology, showing a love for both.” I cannot add to or improve that comment. Should you choose to read this book, you’ll be in a better mood at the finish than you were at the beginning of it.