Commentary
5:00 am
Mon December 17, 2012

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

A friend saw me reading Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore and asked what I thought about the magical realism in the novel. I don't read dust jackets before beginning books, so I have to admit that I was a little disappointed to learn I had selected a title with any enchantment attached.

But I kept reading about Clay Jannon, an out-of-work graphic designer living in San Francisco. He stumbles upon a job as the night clerk at a 24-hour bookstore, securing employment primarily because he can climb a ladder to the upper-most regions of the three-story bookcases. There aren't many customers between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., but a select few are given access to a specific set of books. To pass the time, Clay starts to play with computer code and writes program that tracks the reading patterns of these special customers.

What he finds is an answer to a puzzle he didn't even know existed. What's more, the puzzle is the first step to gain entrance into a secret society on a quest of immortality.

Most of the members take years to get past the first level, and Clay unwittingly solved it in one week. Now this is when the magic happens. And by magic, I mean Google, and all of its algorithmic power. Clay's girlfriend works for Google, and with high-tech support, they set out to find the secret of life.

I don't know if I'm a cynic or merely rotten at the core, but I was relieved when I finished the novel and found more reality than magic. In fact, I think it's the perfect blend of intrigue and nerdiness, especially for readers who like books about books.

But there's no real magic-- unless, of course, you count the glow-in-the-dark dust jacket.