Clay Jannon, a young man living in San Francisco is between girls, between jobs in what has the makings of a quarter life crisis. Somehow he winds up applying for a job at the titular bookstore, manning the graveyard shift and finding himself in the middle of something bigger than he imagined.
How can you not love this book? It's about a bookstore. It takes place, mostly, in San Francisco and, best of all, it glows in the dark. I was so excited the first time I put it on the nightstand and shut off the light and saw all those stacks of books glowing. I do concede that I am very easily amused.
You know how there are all those books where modern people stumble across a centuries old mystery and they solve it, all while being in dire peril? I can't stand those books. For a little bit, I was a little concerned this would be one of those. But, whew! I am happy to report, not only is it not, it's really really good.
Mr. Penumbra's bookstore has very little in the way of regular books, or foot traffic. But, it does had a three story section filled with very strange books written all in code, that are borrowed by a select group of people. When any of the "club" members comes in, the clerk (Clay on the night shift) has to record everything he can about them in a log book. Clay's expected to write down, what they are wearing, their mannerisms, the time they come in and leave, their excitement levels and which book they return and which they leave with. This strange behavior and the many hours spent in a store devoid of customers leaves Clay with plenty of time to think.
Pretty soon he's thinking of ways to increase traffic and book sales in the store. While computerizing the log book with a virtual bookstore he creates, he stumbles onto some interesting findings. Then, his curiosity and his great choice of friends, old and new, lead him on a quest to solve the mystery behind Mr. Penumbra, his strange book club and his store.
I get why this book got so much critical acclaim. The cast of characters is fun and interesting and it's well written. The pacing of the story was such that you wanted to fly through the pages and see what happened next, but the narrative didn't force you to speed, just to cover plot holes (yes, I'm looking at you, Dan Brown). There's an ages old mystery to be solved, but it's work that people have actively been expanding on all along. The torch continually gets passed to new generations of seekers who belong to this exclusive club. I want to join!
So, now that I've gushed like a fangirl all over this very good piece of literary fiction, you can decide whether or not I'm too biased to be believable. According to wikipedia (I know, not exactly the best resource, but who lies about books?) Mr. Penumbra made the New York Times Editor's Choice List, was one of the San Francisco Chronicles 100 best of the year, and the New York Times and NPR Hardcover Fiction Best Seller lists. Below, you will find a book trailer for Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore that won a public library contest. Enjoy (the book and the video)