Monday, June 2, 2014

[Review] Mr Penumbra 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloane

Title: Mr. Penumbra 24-Hour Bookstore
Author: Robin Sloane
Publisher: Picador
Published: October 2013
Pages: 288p
ISBN: 978-1-250-03775-6

Bought at Changi Airport (SGD$18)

If you are a bookworm who loves code and mysterious underground fellowship and live your life very close to technology development, this book might be suited on your shelf. You might find yourself wondering about all the fact the author talked about, like I did, browsed all the details about google, about a framework that used to do  some work on data visualization. See, I couldn’t help myself to stop talking about all the details that for you might not be so catchy.

There’s a one man, Clay Jennon, who just lost his job as a web-programmer because the economic crisis in America was so bad. He searched for “help-wanted” ad and he found Mr. Penumbra 24-Hour bookstore in San Francisco and finally got the job. He started working as a clerk at midnight shift, from 10 pm until 6 am. The bookstore opened 24-Hour, so he thought he might be busy with customers, but he found himself alone most of the time at the bookstore. Only one or two customer showed up in the middle of the night, and Clay’s duty was to find the book they wanted that mostly are shelved at the back of the store. The rule as a clerk was clear; he must write all the details about every customer in a log book. All the details means how customer behaves, what they wear, their clothes, their shoes, books their borrowed, and pieces of information he could afford to remember. He was not allowed to read book or to look at the shelf. The bookstore has no regular books and no customers either.

When his friends, Mat, stopped by to see him, they started to look at the back shelf. There were code in those books, unfamiliar code and Clay knew that the customer were working most of the time in their life to break the code, find another clue to the next book. There was a chain that connects all the books. As a formerly programmer, he started to make a model of the bookstore, started from mapping the log book to form the patterns from the entire customer. By the time he told Mr. Penumbra about his additional work, Mr. Penumbra showed an interest about it, especially when he saw the pattern turns out into someone’s face, someone he has knew for his entire life. And that where Clay was dragged by Mr. Penumbra into some journey of cracking code, broke into tremendous library in New York and solved an ancient puzzle of the history. Along with his friends from Google and Anatomix, a middleware company, they jumped into the journey that combines old books and the imagination of future books with high technology evolve.

Nowadays, technology of eBook reader is so common. If you read the news, you might find some store begins bankrupt because people starting to use e-reader instead of paperback. This book is so relate to this fact. Moreover, when I was read this book, I found high-technology book scanner, much more from what I could imagine. On the other hand, there are old bookstores filled with the smell of books and shelf that brings some great feelings when you walk through it. Two worlds standing side by side and I feel trapped between them, because I love the smell of books and technology either.

Neel takes a sharp breath and I know exactly what it means. It means: I have waited my whole life to walk through a secret passage build into a bookshelf” – p143

Robin Sloane describes everything so imaginable. I would love to see movie version of this book. I want to see the secret passage that build into a bookshelf. I think Robin Sloane is focus on the quintessence of solving puzzle, because I couldn’t find any detail information about other thing like explanation about character in this book, Clay Jennon, Kat Potente or Neil and even Mr. Penumbra. There’s only slightly description about their characters. But I am fine with that because there are too many details about technology that I must observe closely. I love books and technology development is my daily activity. I am working as a system analyst, sometimes a programmer and most of the times as application designer. That’s why I fell in love so easy with this book. I don’t even want it comes to an end.

And for anyone that already has Mr. Penumbra 24-Hour Bookstore, did you know that this is a glow in the dark kind of book? Turn down the light and you’ll see it.

“Walking the stacks in a library, dragging your fingers across the spines – it’s hard not to feel the presence of sleeping spirits” – p147

There is no immortality that is not built on friendship and work done with care. All the secret in the world worth knowing are hiding in plain sight” – p288

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