Olivia Struggles with Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
Rarely do I want to give up on a novel. No matter how frustrating, I persevere and refuse to consider the possibility of giving up. The only time I can remember actually abandoning a book in recent memory was around page 62 of The Essex Serpent, and still, I sometimes think I will go back to it. Maybe I was wrong, I'll think. Maybe it wasn't so bad and maybe I'm missing out. Curiosity and guilt tend to get the better of me, no matter how many times I tell myself that I don't owe it to anybody to leisure read something I don't enjoy. In the end, I always decide that I need to know what something looks like as a whole picture.
Yet, I almost gave up on Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is one of those books that you see everywhere in shops and online and that you mean to pick up but don't because you read so many good things about it that you build up your expectations and decide to keep it for a rainy day or a terrible reading slump. I hit that reading slump (something that inescapably happens when you write a thesis), and I remembered that, yes! I had just the book to cure it. Except it turned out not to be that book.
Somehow, I had decided that Mr. Penumbra's bookstore would have sprawling bookshelves (it did), comfy armchairs (it did not), maybe a café, and certainly lots of engaged readers. Instead, it turned out that the novel's protagonist was a tech bro who only seemed to have ever enjoyed one fantasy book series and who was working in the shop because he'd lost his tech job. Instead of being the nice, warming book that I expected about people who love literature, most of the novel turned out to read like an episode of The Big Bang Theory where the characters come across a mysterious bookshop and decide to crack it.
There was, despite that, a certain charm to the book. Though it annoyed me endlessly in certain passages (one in particular where the protagonist is really excited because he never thought there would be female "wizards" out there and somehow, he's in bed with one!), the book was still readable. I went through the second half of it in one sitting, admittedly against my will as I sat in an administrative queue for three hours this morning (the joys of being a foreigner!), but in one sitting nonetheless. And honestly? I'm glad that I did. I considered giving up on the book after the same protagonist made a joke about "drawing power from [his girlfriend's] USB port," but after staring at my phone for twenty glacial minutes as it failed to even get a 3G signal, I decided that I still wanted to know how the book ended.
And it ended rather nicely. The tech bro aspects took a backseat. The bookish aspects came forward, and I found some of the charm that I had been searching for. The novel's protagonist might have been obnoxious, but the titular Mr. Penumbra still made the read an interesting one.
Do I recommend reading the novel to get yourself out of a reading slump? Absolutely not. But it's still a relatively fun read. (Warning: Robin Sloan is, in fact, not a woman, and as I told you in November, his second book, Sourdough, is far more and genuinely enjoyable.) I personally enjoyed the similarly themed The Shadow of the Wind far more. I've received quite a few messages since I Instagram storied my disappointment with the book the other night, so this seems to be quite a popular assessment. What do you think?
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