JOPLIN, Mo. —
There's magic in books.
It's the kind of magic that can pull you into a story so completely that the real world fades, and you realize that not only have you lost track of time as you tear through the book's pages, but you wouldn't want that time back for anything.
And so it is with Robin Sloan's 2012 novel "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore."
A slim, fast-paced read, the book is nevertheless able to create a world designed to grab readers by the lapels and yank them inside.
Clay Jannon is a San Francisco web developer without a job, and he's finding no help in browsing the help-wanted ads.
Passing a hole-in-the-wall 24-hour bookstore, he spies at "help wanted" sign and inquires about the job. The store is run by the enigmatic Ajax Penumbra, a wizened old man who stocks a few titles that might qualify as best-sellers but primarily caters to a clientele who are mainly interested in the strange books that fill shelves that are three stories high.
Hired on for the overnight shift, Penumbra gives Clay three simple rules to follow:
"One: You must always be here from ten p.m. to six a.m. exactly. You must not be late. You cannot leave early. Two: You may not browse, read, or otherwise inspect the shelved volumes ... (and third) You must keep precise records of all transactions. The time. The customer's appearance. His state of mind. How he asks for the book. How he receives it ... and so on."
The reader immediately knows one thing: Clay's going to open one of these strange tomes, written by authors he's never heard of and comprised entirely of jumbled letters.
To say much about the plot would be a disservice, because it's a book about discovery -- think of it as a lighthearted "Da Vinci Code" for bibliophiles. But I will say that Clay's adventure takes him from one coast to the other; into the world of a secret society known as the Unbroken Spine; and straight to the heart of the Google brain trust.
Sloan has created a world that will appeal to a wide cross section of readers who have an interest in old books, new technology, computer programming, code breaking, role playing, typefaces, fantasy literature and characters who wear their eccentricities on their sleeve.
It would be easy for an author to take such a mixture and get lost in the weeds, but Sloan has a deft touch with the characters and situations. Even someone with little knowledge or interest in some of the above will find themselves captivated by his blend of old knowledge preserved in the musty pages of ancient texts and the dazzling possibilities of the digital age.
Ultimately, Clay's adventure becomes the reader's as well. At its heart, "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore" is all about the magic that happens when someone picks up "the right book exactly, at exactly the right time."
JOPLIN, Mo. —
There's magic in books.
All hail kale: The queen of greens has plenty of variety
Kale is the "it" veggie -- the queen of greens -- and with good reason. It's just about the healthiest food on the planet.
Cheryle Finley: The kitchen has become a place of laziness
As I stand in the middle of my kitchen, I realize the room has made me lazy.
Artistic automatons: Programmer makes robot figures with repurposed parts (w/VIDEO)
Edward Emanuel, like most computer guys, has a lot of computers that don't work. The printers, hard drives, keyboards, drives and other components take up plenty of space at his south Joplin place.
Ryan Richardson: Benefit important to Humane Society's mission
The one thing that surprises me more and more about living here is the amount that people in this area like to give.
Sarah Coyne: Frog in throat means a change in parenting style
After a weekend spent being nagged by a fever and rampant sinus-related stupidity, I'm taking the final leap into a miserable spring cold: I'm losing my voice.
MSSU's 'Bear Prince' adapted by faculty member from Mexican folk tale
The audience probably won't appreciate how they are getting to see the world premier of a play this weekend. But that's OK, because the play's message of friendship and devotion, combined with upbeat music, interesting dancing and a unique story, should thrill audience members, said director Jim Lile.
Craig Tally: Palm Sunday offers look at kingdoms
Consider with me Palm Sunday. Might it be possible to sing Hosanna and miss the game? What was on the mind of Jesus? Is there a clue to his thoughts? I believe so, and therein lies the meaning of Palm Sunday.
Frankie Meyer: Universities have great resources for researchers
When researching your family history, plan to visit local colleges and universities. Those institutions often have archives that will be helpful in your search.
Jeana Gockley: Coming-of-age story deserves every award it earned
In "Inside Out & Back Again" by Thanhha Lai, 10-year-old Ha does not want to leave Vietnam. But in 1975, when the war reaches Saigon, she and her family have little choice but to board a ship and flee their homeland.
Rich Brown: Members of Orthodox church will celebrate overnight
Visions of Easter activities will be dancing through the heads of young and old alike as they shuffle off to bed tonight. But not so for a small congregation in the village of Saginaw.
- More Lifestyles Headlines
- All hail kale: The queen of greens has plenty of variety