Mr. Penumbra follows the adventures of Clay, an unemployed man who finds work as the night clerk at a bookstore that is open all night. The store is clearly the home of many mysteries, and Clay puts together a team of friends to try to discover just what this bookstore is all about.
This book has fantastical elements, but it’s not pure fantasy. It’s gotten so much buzz that I may very well be the last person to have read it. Part of this buzz stems from the fact that it has this geeky quality to it that makes it attractive to fans of science fiction and fantasy, even though it’s just barely either. Plus, because the fantasy elements are so slight, it’s completely accessible to fans of more mainstream books. It doesn’t hurt that there’s a mystery and a love story in there, too. The book appeals to everyone and yet makes you, the reader, feel that you are the special reader that this book was made for.
I truly think I loved every single thing about the book. I got to the last few pages and then I started reading veeeerrrrryyy slowly because I didn’t want the book to end. I loved the friendships and the roles that books and other kinds of art play in forming and sustaining these friendships. I loved the love story. I loved the humor and I loved the juxtaposition between the arcane books and the shiny computers. I love the description of audiobooks (“When you read a book, the story definitely happens inside your head. When you listen, it seems to happening a little cloud all around it, like a fuzzy knit cap pulled over your eyes”. I like the idea that paper books and Ebooks can coexist.
Often I review books that are well-written, but are designed to appeal to a very small group of people. In this case, I just can’t imagine anyone not liking this book. Certainly not anyone who madly loves books. This paragraph is from the very end of the book, but I don’t think it’s a spoiler – just a very beautiful description of the themes of the book (other than “Reading is cool, and so is art, and so are computers”):
There is no immortality that is not built on friendship and work done with care. All the secrets in the world worth knowing are hiding in plain sight. It take forty-one seconds to climb a ladder three stories tall. It’s not easy to imagine the year 3012, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. We have new capabilities now-strange powers we’re still getting used to…your life must be an open city, with all sorts of ways to wander in.
After that the book will fade, the way all books fade in your mind. But I hope you will remember this:
A man walking fast down a dark, lonely street. Quick steps and hard breathing, all wonder and need. A bell above the door and the tinkle it makes. A clerk and a ladder and warm, golden light, and then: the right book exactly, at the right time.