Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Audiobook Review: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Book Store

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Release Date: October 2nd, 2012
Format: Audiobook narrated by Ari Fliakos
My Rating: 

Goodreads ★ Amazon ★ B&N ★ TBD

A gleeful and exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life—mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore

The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone—and serendipity, sheer curiosity, and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey has landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead “checking out” impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with the gnomic Mr. Penumbra. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he’s embarked on a complex analysis of the customers’ behavior and roped his friends into helping to figure out just what’s going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, it turns out the secrets extend far outside the walls of the bookstore.

With irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan has crafted a literary adventure story for the twenty-first century, evoking both the fairy-tale charm of Haruki Murakami and the enthusiastic novel-of-ideas wizardry of Neal Stephenson or a young Umberto Eco, but with a unique and feisty sensibility that’s rare to the world of literary fiction. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave, a modern-day cabinet of wonders ready to give a jolt of energy to every curious reader, no matter the time of day.
So going into this book I had no idea what I was getting into. I heard about this one on the Get Booked podcast, and it was suggested for someone that liked Lev Grossman's The Magicians, so I went into this one thinking there was magic and was slightly disappointed when magic wasn't a thing. HOWEVER! This book was still really interesting to me, because it is one of the first adult contemporary books I have read that I felt like related to my life. It wasn't just about married people having affairs! So this one was definitely a surprise to me, but I loved that it was able to weave tech and the book selling world together in a delightful marriage.

Like I said I have a real hard time with adult novels, because I just can't connect with them, but with reading about Clay's adventure I could really relate to him. Clay starts the book off telling us about how he used to be a designer for a bagel shop's corporate office and talks at length about the award winning logo that he built for them, when that job bottoms out and he finds the first thing he can (being a bookseller at a 24-hour store) he also really gets into the nitty gritty of the digital marketplace. I work in marketing, so I fully understand all the google paid search and remarketing ads he was doing, so I felt like I could relate to his life so much. I found it really cool to read about a contemporary person working in the same industry that I do. I also felt like it's explained really well in the book that if you had no idea how the digital ad marketplace works it's spelled out in this novel really well. I loved that he and his best friend were still obsessed with their favorite book series from childhood. I think a lot of people my age can relate to that.

I was kind of surprised the Google let their name be used so much in this book, because they tend to not want their name to be used because how it can reflect their brand. I honestly was tired of hearing about Google at a certain point. This book makes them look so amazing, so it's no doubt why they were okay with this.

One thing that did bother me was the love interest Kat. I liked that Kat was more interested in advancing her career than a romantic relationship with our protagonist. I also loved that she was a coder, but it felt that she was slightly a "manic pixie dream girl" when viewed from Clay's perspective. Honestly, I am a little more interested in a book about her.

I think if I read the text-version of this novel I might not have rated it as high. I definitely think that the narrator was a big part in why I liked this one so much. I don't think I have listened to anything Ari Fliakos has narrated before, but I definitely think I will be looking out for his other work. There's actually a plot-point about Clay listening to an audiobook and it makes him put some things together, but it's because of listening to the audio that he discovers this when he never put it together before. I loved that! Also, since this is the audio it switches from "Clay's voice" to the old-school book on tape he is listening to, and I think the narration here and the production done on it to make it sound that way was awesome! I definitely would recommend doing this one on audio over reading the text for that reason alone.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Happy Reads Everyone!