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Reader Response: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

2013 July 29
by Guest Blogger
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This post is a reader’s response to a book read for the 2013 Hub Reading Challenge.

MrPenumbrasIt’s summer and I’ve been procrastinating with my reader’s response for the Hub Reading Challenge. I’ve been shuttling from camp to swimming lessons at the beach and letting the warm sun and relaxed schedule erase my memory of the school year — except for all the good bits, of course. But the time is nigh, and I must pull myself temporarily out of my summer reverie and focus on one of favorite books from my challenge list, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan.

This book really resonated with me. It’s clever and witty and any time a story explores the interconnectedness of books and technology and includes romps with dungeon masters, computer hackers, and publications akin to the Gutenberg Bible, you really can’t go wrong, in my opinion. It even mentions the NSA!

I feel like we have been on the cusp of a literary format revolution for years, and I don’t know where on the cusp we are, or if it’s getting wider or longer (however cusps are measured…). But somehow the “battle” between old knowledge (OK!) and traditional knowledge (TK!), and whatever we are generating, accumulating, and sharing now — and more so how we access that stuff: Can we touch it, or just view it? What container does it come in? — this battle continues. Maybe it’s not really a battle but a constant metamorphosis and paper vs. digital is just the latest phase.

A librarian colleague of mine who recently retired would lament the ease with which students could find the answers to our themed trivia contests simply by googling. As Kat, Google employee and programming genius, says in Mr. Penumbra’s, “This is one of the things you learn at Google. Stuff that used to be hard just isn’t hard anymore”. But making things that are hard into things that are easy is good, yes? Its called progress. Librarians love The Search. They are information detectives who thrill and rise to the challenge of hunting down those elusive full-text scholarly journals and primary source documents for National History Day projects. And what we really want to do is Find. Find the answer to whatever information need has blossomed, whatever research mystery needs to be solved. We want to connect our readers with the right book at the right time. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore intertwines those concepts where futuristic technology provides clues to mysteries of the past, and reading in whatever format you choose, paper or digital, is the key. Books, in whatever format, are powerful objects. They inspire us, unite us, develop friendships and alliances, and perhaps even medieval cults like the “Unbroken Spine” navigate around them. Plus reading is just so much fun, and so is this book.

Please read it; there is so much to enjoy, I could go on, but now I must slip back into summer vacation mode. Enjoy the rest of your summer!

— Lynn M. Ortleib

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