I finished one of the most interesting books of my year, and it’s only March! This fascinating book covers a multitude of topics: conspiracies, secret codes, romance, the history and function of typefaces, the secret to immortality, weird cults and the people who inhabit them, and why everyone should be an author. And – oh yes! – Google figures heavily in this book.
The characters are endearing, honest and genuine, quirky, and odd. Every single one of them. The cast of characters include a Google programmer, an eccentric and mysterious bookstore owner, a millionaire, a film-studio prop-maker (probably NOT the title he’d use for himself) and the sinister president of an online piracy policing corporation.
The main character, Clay Jannon, tells the story in first-person narrative. He is a realist who looks for the good in the people around him and goes into new situations with an open mind. Clay is a jack-of-all-trades, a guy who’ll try anything once, especially since he’s unemployed. He sees potential for something good in just about everything or everyone.
Clay’s story begins with himself, an aimless, unemployed techno-geek/graphic designer. As the story progresses, Clay finds himself caught up in a mysterious cult-like secret society revolving around the bookstore he accidentally becomes employed at.
The bookstore is at least two (possibly three?) stories high and filled with books written in gibberish. Clay works the night shift and meets the odd people that drift through the store in quest of books from the Waybacklist.
As time passes, Clay becomes drawn into a conspiracy to decode an ancient book and works to prevent his beloved Mr. Penumbra (the old man who owns Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore) from being canned and the bookstore from going under. On the way, Clay finds a girlfriend, a huge warehouse devoted to orphaned museum artifacts, and an underground crypt. The story moves from San Francisco to New York City to the middle of the Nevada desert, and back to San Francisco.
If you’re looking for a book that is jaunty, delightful, full of hope for humanity, and downright fun, this is the book for you. If you’re looking for a book that will make you think about the role of literature in a society, what constitutes literature, and why people write, this is also for you. And if you’re contemplating the meaning of life, love, and immortality, you’ll also find something in Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.
I think this book is worth 5 stars (which I only give out to exceptional books) and I’m even going to buy it because it’s note-worthy. Should you read it? Yes, yes, and yes!