A Winner of the Alex Award, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction, named a Best Book of the Year by NPR, Los Angeles Times, and San Francisco Chronicle
The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything―instead, they "check out" large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele's behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends. But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore's secrets extend far beyond its walls. Rendered with irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave.
Authors at Google
2. What were your initial theories about the bookstore’s mysterious patrons and their project? What did you predict Manutius’s message would be?
3. At the heart of the novel is the collision of old-world handwork and the automated digital age. How do Clay and Mat build a bridge between these two worlds?
4. Discuss Clay’s pursuit of love. What makes Kat attractive to him? What does it take to win her over?
5. The characters remind us that fifteenth-century technologies of the book—from punch-cutting to typesetting—were met with fear and resistance, as well as with entrepreneurial competition and the need to teach new skills. How does this compare to the launch of e-books? If you try to picture what literacy will look like five hundred years from now, what do you see?
6. If you were to file a codex vitae, capturing all you’ve learned throughout your life, what would it contain?
7. As Clay and the team of Google decoders take on the same challenge, what do they discover about the relative strengths of the human brain and technology?
8. Neel’s financial backing makes it possible for Clay to outwit Corvina and the Festina Lente Company, despite its many lucrative enterprises. In this novel, what can money buy, and what are the limitations of wealth?
9. Clay’s literary idol, Clark Moffat, was forced to make a choice between the Unbroken Spine project and his commercially successful fiction. If you had been Moffat, which path would you have chosen?
10. Are Penumbra and his colleagues motivated only by a quest for immortality? If not, what are the other rewards of their labor-intensive work? Can books give their authors immortality?
11. How did you react to Gerritszoon’s “message to eternity,” revealed in the closing passages? How can his wisdom apply to your life?
12. Discuss the physical traits of your copy of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Do you have a hard copy or an e-book, and where did you buy it? How does the design of the book enhance your reading experience?
(Questions issued by publisher.)