Mention Paris in the title, and I probably will buy the book. That’s a promise.
The word book itself will get my attention.
Describe a bookshop of vast proportions, with a resident population of birds flying in the dusty distance, with shelves towering over my head, and you will be my friend forever.
Three authors whom I have read lately have given me the book fantasies that I so much appreciate –
- In A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night, by Deborah Harkness, the plot moves on the discovery and concealment of a manuscript that will either unite or destroy a world of witches, vampires, daemons, and warmbloods that the writer builds before our eyes.
- In the latest book available in English translation by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Prisoner of Heaven, that vast bookshop with the dust, the birds, and the book with your name on it makes another appearance, to give me dreams of the beauty of the word, on the page, crowded together on the shelf.
- In a first novel for book folk, Robin Sloan, In Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, sticks that magical realism of the book on the shelf and gets a perfect score of 10.
I have recently sung the praises of the two books in a trilogy promised by Deborah Harkness. I have reveled in the third book in English from Zafon, who writes in Spanish, about Barcelona, and sets his story in a bookshop, with an even more amazing bookshop lurking on the edge of the reality of the story – a bookshop where you can buy but one book and only once. That is praise and promise enough for me. When it comes to the offerings of Carlos Ruiz Zafon, I am a big fan.
However, in this review I wish to focus on the third of the book lovers I am considering. Robin Sloan has produced a first novel of perfect pitch. The characters satisfy, the plot grabs. Of the three writers in question, this one has the least of magical realism in his approach, but his story would not fly if he had not earned his wings in understanding the magic of stories that turn on the mystery and power of books on the shelf.
Mr. Penumbra himself, halfway between the dawn and the dusk, on a cloudy day of diffuse light, runs a bookshop in San Francisco that has shelves of truly towering size, and books that defy readers who lack the inside knowledge of how to unlock their secrets.
The hero of the story, Clay Jannon, badly needs some magic in his life, to get him going on a career path. What he secures, in becoming the graveyard shift clerk in the 24-Hour Bookstore, proves to be not just something to keep the pot boiling but also a path to a future bright with promise.
On Clay’s way from misery to mastery, there is this geeky girl who works for Google; Clay’s best friend, a dot com millionaire; and Clay’s two housemates, who bring quirky and necessary skills to the table.
If you like books about books on the shelf, you will love this permutation.