But I kept at it with the help-wanted ads. My standards were sliding swiftly. At first I had insisted I would only work at a company with a mission I believed in. Then I thought maybe it would be fine as long as I was learning something new. After that I decided it just couldn't be evil. Now I was carefully delineating my personal definition of evil.
Thanks to the Great Recession, Clay Jannon is out of a job along with countless other people, and has been idling his time looking through the Classifieds and job websites. During one of his strolls through a San Francisco street, he comes across a midnight store clerk vacancy posting on the wall of the strangest looking bookstore ever. Knowing fully well that he may not be the intended applicant but feeling worried about his lack of job prospects, he takes the job, subject to certain conditions - no browsing through books in the Way Back Shelves (I forget what it was called in the book), and he had to note down details of every single customer in a book. Not expecting much activity during his night shift, he is greeted by the opposite instead. There are all kinds of customers who come to check out books from the Way Back Shelves and not buy anything. Also, they seem to be very purposeful when they request a book - almost as if they were hunting for clues for their next read in their current book.
After hearing about the charm and bookishness and eccentricities of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, I was quite eager to read it. It did turn out to be charming and very bookish, and some characters were even eccentric, but I also found it very silly, boring and filled with one-dimensional characters.
There is a lot going on in this book - a very mysterious book society that has been in existence for a few centuries, a secret code hidden in a much-used font type, a marriage of technology and books to try to solve a mystery. I liked how the author tried to bring books and technology together to wage a war between the two. I especially enjoyed it when he talked about a few technologies I had worked with or heard about - it's lovely when a book geeks you out. And it was fast-paced.
But, that's all I really liked about the book. The mystery felt really poor-constructed, and the final revelations were hastily narrated. I didn't particularly like any of the characters - they all felt heavily stereotyped (which, I realize, was the point), but what bugged me was how it seemed that each character had some ability that was put to use in this story. It was overwhelming at one point.
There is a lot of mention of Google. Really a lot. Some of my book club members that I read this book with didn't enjoy all that name-dropping, so if you tend to get annoyed with Google this, Google that, Google is great chatter, then this book is probably not for you. It didn't bother me much - I guess, because I hear that a lot in my real life, both at work and at home, but I definitely didn't find the Google-mentions subtle.
Despite the issues I had with Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, it was a page-turner. I have gotten into the habit of putting down a book if it wasn't working for me anymore, but luckily, I didn't have to do that to this book. Although I didn't care much for the characters or the book, I did want to know more about the secret society and what sort of mystery its members were trying to crack.
I borrowed this book from the good old library.