What is this about: This is a love letter to books, reading, friendship and technology wrapped around an adventure story like those stories you read of a rogue, a wizard and a hero setting off to save the day.
What else is this about?: The enduring power of all the things I listed without one being touted as better than the other.
The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, but after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything; instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends, but when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls.
I almost feel like calling this book quirky might be a wee bit of an understatement.
But, it’s also incredibly charming.
Our hero is Clay, a young guy who has done all sorts of jobs before he finds himself walking into Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore, who just happens to be looking for someone to cover the night shift. There Clay discovers a world of bibliophiles, a secret club (cult; depending on who you talk to — called The UnBroken Spine) and just generally tries to make sense of Mr Penumbra, his store and its shelves and shelves of normal books and books that have secret codes. Naturally, there’s a girl, Kat, involved, a Google-r that Clay wants to impress.
Thing is, he makes too much sense of certain things and a solves a puzzle that has confused The Unbroken Spine for a hugely long time — GASPS — a computer. While Mr Penumbra sees that as evidence that The Unbroken Spine has to move forward with the times to solve an enduring mystery within it’s ranks, the head of the Unbroken Spine doesn’t think so.
Clay, Mr Penumbra and their friends do it anyway, thanks to Kat’s job at Google but thing is, not even Google can solve this one. However, neither Google nor The Unbroken Spine reckoned on Clay, who has grown up on a diet of books, codes and heroic quests.
This book is utterly charming. Completely and utterly charming. I will admit, I reached a point when I thought the charm was too much, but then something happened and I was laughing and absorbed in the book again.
One of the most noteworthy things about this book for me is that books and technology are in it together — whether you read on a Kindle or prefer the shelves of books in the bookstore. I know technology doesn’t save the day, but when we see Mr Penumbra’s office and old computers and how he is willing to embrace technology, it made me smile. And I appreciated that because so often we are told we have to choose one or the other, and woe to the person who dares choose technology.
And, I liked that at the heart of this all is the enduring power of friendship — that no matter if you are surrounded by a millionaire best friend, walking know-it-all or a Google-r, they all matter, including the most unassuming character of all — Clay — who just grows in leaps and bounds and saves the day because he’s a bookworm.