Thursday, January 2, 2014

1. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

After a year of reading and not reviewing, I’m determined to actually meet my goal of a full cannonball this year and hopefully finish the giant pile of books that I can’t fit on my shelf.  Consolidating my books has not gone well.  This is another book that my mom picked up in the free pile at work; she finds the most interesting books that way.  She insisted that I would enjoy this one and the title seemed fitting for the first book of the New Year. 

Clay Jannon has been unemployed for a little while when he stumbles into a job at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.  Given the 10pm to 6am shift, he has little to do most nights.  Bookstores are on the wane everywhere, especially ones that don’t stock anything new and loan out most of their books.  The loaner books are what intrigues him though.  An odd collection of people seem to be obsessed with the books on what Clay dubs the ‘waybacklist.’  Although it is specifically forbidden for him to read these books, curiosity overcomes him one night and he opens one up to see what the fuss is about. 

The book is not exactly what he expected—it is coded, as are all the others on the waybacklist.  Clay starts building a virtual model of the store and notices that there is a pattern with these mysterious volumes.  Enlisting the help of Kat, a girl from Google that he has fallen for, he solves a puzzle that pushes him into a secret society called the Unbroken Spine.  Their goal is to decode their founder’s book and achieve immortality, which is crazy to Clay but intriguing nonetheless.  Mixing old methods with all of the new technology that this century has to offer, he hopes to crack this ancient code and find out what all the fuss is about.

This book is exactly the kind of thing that I’m a sucker for—it’s fun and engrossing with secret societies, coded messages, history, and underemployed twenty-somethings.  I only wish my job would lead me on a quest like his.  It also speaks volumes of Sloan that I didn’t fall asleep when it came to the technological aspects of his search.  Descriptions of coding and data visualization models are usually a sure way to make me fall asleep, but I was just as excited as Clay the whole time.  The only bad thing is that this is yet another book that will be kept on my overstuffed shelves.