“A clerk and a ladder and warm golden light, and then: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.”

09 June 2013

I always tear up a little every time I finish reading a book, even when it is far from being a tearjerker. Maybe it's from feeling a sense of accomplishment, maybe it's my own little way of saying goodbye to the characters (at least for now), or maybe it's because I know I won't read that book for the first time ever again.

I am such a weird person.

I just finished reading Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore and I enjoyed every page of it. Charming and funny, it is a perfect mix of adventure, history, mystery, and modern technology with a dash of fantasy and secret societies and a hint of a love story.

The story is set in San Francisco and begins in - where else? - Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, which does not have books about "teenage wizards or vampire police. That's a shame, because this is exactly the kind of store that makes you want to buy a book about a teenage wizard. This is the kind of store that makes you want to be a teenage wizard."

The characters are very lovable and it is difficult not to root for them; they each have their own distinct personality and individual voice and Clay Jannon's, the main protagonist who tells the story in first person point-of-view, is very witty. This is the new book I will fester my friends with to add in their to read-list.

Did I mention that it's funny?

“He has the strangest expression on his face- the emotional equivalent of 404 PAGE NOT FOUND.”

“I can’t stop squirming. If fidgets were Wikipedia edits, I would have completely revamped the entry on “guilt” by now, and translated it into six new languages.”

“Why does the typical adventuring group consist of a wizard, a warrior, and a rogue, anyway? It should really be a wizard, a warrior, and a rich guy. Otherwise who's going to pay for all the swords and spells and hotel rooms?”

“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 built into a bookshelf.”

It is also the first work of fiction I read that weds "traditional" books and Kindles seamlessly:

“I did not know people your age still read books,' Penumbra says. He raises an eyebrow. 'I was under the impression they read everything on their mobile phones.'
'Not everyone. There are plenty of people who, you know--people who still like the smell of books.'
'The smell!' Penumbra repeats. 'You know you are finished when people start talking about the smell.' He smiles at that--then something occurs to him, and he narrows his eyes. 'I do not suppose you have a...Kindle?'
Uh-oh. It feels like it's the principal asking me if I have weed in my backpack. But in a friendly way, like maybe he wants to share it. As it happens, I do have my Kindle. I pull it out of my messenger bag. It's a bit battered with wide scratches across the back and stray pen marks near the bottom of the screen.
Penumbra holds it aloft and frowns. It's blank. I reach up and pinch the corner and it comes to life. He sucks in a sharp breath, and the pale gray rectangle reflects in his bright blue eyes.”

And aside from Google having a prominent role in the book, it also talks about publising, printing, museums, and even touched a bit on blogs and Twitter:

“So I switch to my MacBook and make my rounds: news sites, blogs, tweets. I scroll back to find the conversations that happened without me during the day. When every single piece of media you consume is time-shifted, does that mean it’s actually you that’s time-shifted?”

“The thinnest tendrils of dawn are creeping in from the east. People in New York are softly starting to tweet.”

In Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, no particular way of reading is better than the other. It doesn't say the "old" method of reading pages of ink and paper is dated in the same way that it doesn't judge the "new" method of reading as turning the other cheek on centuries-old practices in favor of new ones. More than anything, this book just proved again how much I love reading and it doesn't matter if it's a precious hardbound, a beat-up and dog-eared paperback or using my Kindle.

Thank you, Robin Sloan, for reminding me that great adventures can happen even in this day and age. Thank you for telling me about Maximum Happy Imagination, about friendships that are like a nebula, and that you can solve any mystery handed to you so long as you are resourceful enough. Thank you for teaching me that  there is always more than meets the eye and that "there is no immortality that is not built on friendship and work done with care. All the secrets in the world are hiding in plain sight. It's not easy to imagine the year 3012 but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. Your life must be an open city, with all sorts of ways to wander in."

"A scrap of familiar grace in this lonely place."
This book will stay with me for a long time. Someday, I will have my own bookstore, and it is going to be wonderful.

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