Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

December 2019

Since I really liked Sourdough] by the same author and this was billed as a kind of “Umberto Eco light” tale (books, conspiracies, dead languages, etc.), I figured this was right up my alley. And while I did enjoy it (especially the last quarter of the book, when the atmosphere changes somewhat and the pace ramps up), I enjoyed it with some reservations. First, while it essentially shares a setting with Sourdough (namely, Silicon Valley), this book felt much more like it was obviously written by a tech insider, and that other tech insiders would be the ideal audience to get many of the jokes, allusions and asides. As I guess I’m something of a tech insider by osmosis, I got the allusions and asides, but I started to find them a bit wearying after a while. And second, the love interest skates way too close to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl line for me; she seems more like a geek dude’s fantasy of a girlfriend than a fully realized human being in her own right, and while she’s somewhat more humanized by the end of the story, her character never really sat right with me. Though I was never as gripped by the book as I felt I should be, there are some interesting ideas and nice set pieces (particularly the Indiana Jones-style warehouse of antiquities), and it was a fast, low-stakes read for a few cold winter nights.

Further reading…