Thursday, May 5, 2016

Book Review: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Any book lover welcomes a book about books. This title caught my eye and I was a goner. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore was, indeed, a book glorifying the commodity and consumption of books and contained just enough mystery to keep me reading. I found myself wondering whether details were pulled from real life (obviously Google is real, but were the Google projects and details real - I had to Google them to find out most were fictional elements in this curious book about books).

Clay Jannon is a night-shift clerk at Mr. Penumbra's mysterious bookstore. It is mysterious because it contains two sections. The front of the store sells actual books (although Clay's favorite series, The Dragon-Song Chronicles is a made-up fantasy series), while the back of the store is full-to-the-brim with books written entirely in code. These coded books rotate out of the store to various odd individuals who own a membership to this mysterious lending library. Clay is determined to find out what is really going on. What's the deal with these books full of codes? Is there a pattern to their use? Who are the novices? What is the organization known as the Unbroken Spine? These are the curiosities that kept me reading. In some ways it was an enjoyable romp through books, puzzles, fonts, and hidden meanings, but in other ways it was a bit tiresome.

While I didn't hate the book, I do agree with many of the observations of one irate reviewer who angrily gave it one star. Click here for her scathing Good Reads review (warning: spoilers abound). It was a curious book, but not really a satisfying conclusion for the mystery. I think the value of the book lies entirely in its ability to cause the reader to think about books and how books allow authors to achieve a semblance of immortality. It did, indeed, seem like the author was overly fond of Google. The characters weren't really all that engaging. So, while I did follow along running after the solution to the mystery, in the end, I would rate the book as so-so or fair-to-middling. It was good enough to wet my appetite for a book praising books, but not note-worthy enough to earn the great praises many people sing.

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