Thursday, August 27, 2015

Audio Book Review: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

There are a number of topics contained in novels that I will instinctively flock to. Having worked in a bookstore for 7 years, and generally because of how much I love to read, stories that surround the concept of working in or running a bookstore have always been naturally fascinating to me. For example, I loved The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry so much that after I finished reading the book (borrowed from my aunt's copy that I bought her for Christmas XP), I ended up downloading the audio book so I could re-live the story in a whole new way. Stories that have a bookstore as a primary fixture of the plot or setting remind me of why I love to read so much, why I enjoy being transported by these words and characters and these exciting and unique plot lines.

This is what ultimately guided me towards Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.

I was working at Coles Bookstore when this book was originally released, and of course the inclusion of the word "bookstore" in the title originally drew me towards it. I couldn't pinpoint the exactly reason for you why I didn't pick up this book shortly after it hit the shelves, but I'm pretty sure there was something about the synopsis/jacket copy that just didn't grab me. When this title came my way on my Audible app (probably referred to me after I finished listening to The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry), there was no change in the writing of the synopsis, but I was gifted with something else that hadn't been provided to me when I originally looked at that hardcover copy; a sound sample, an excerpt from the beginning of the book. The sample offered to me was a longer one, which I appreciated, and from that I was able to learn that the main character of this book, Clay Jannon, works with technology and online marketing, having previously designed the website for a bagel shop that netted him a marketing award. Ultimately the recession is what lands Clay out of a job and applying to Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.

This book has helped to solidify the message that my studying technology in my publishing program has taught me; You cannot have traditional publishing without technology anymore; they go hand in hand, regardless of whether you're buying a physical book or an eBook on your Kobo device. In Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, a group exists that is very focused on the old ways of both printing books and of consuming information, trying to turn their backs on technology completely. The theory exists everywhere that eBooks and eReaders are on the rise and that soon physical books with their cloth covers and paper pages will become a thing of the past. Let me dispute that theory here and now.
Left: Author Robin Sloan. Right: Narrator Ari Fliakos

I don't have the exact statistics on-hand, for the US or for Canada, but since eBooks first became a viable alternative to physical books, everyone's been claiming that the sky is falling. The loss of CD stores to downloadable music and other such loses haven't helped people keep their optimistic attitude. But truth be told, over the past few years, the sale of eBooks has leveled out, with physical books still being the majority of people's go-to choice. So don't worry; you'll always have use for that cherry wood ladder bookcase mounted to your wall, stocked with your favorite reads. But that doesn't diminish the viability of eReaders, and technology as its applied to publishing. One thing I didn't know before studying book publishing is that making eBooks is an art, just as much as designing a book cover can be. There is particular detail dedicated to the layout and typography of what you're swiping through on your Kindle or Kobo device, and somebody has taken the time to put that eBook together for it to look the way it does. You might think that eBooks are just text that are dropped into your eReader, but trust me, there's an entire process that goes into making eBooks.

Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore is a compelling tale, in every sense of the word; there is mystery and intrigue embedded into every part of the plot, and it will keep you flipping pages - or swiping on your eReader - until the very end. As a book lover, I'm often attracted to reading about the people that write or sell books, but this title has the added benefit of a suspenseful story line, quirky and lovable characters, and a look at the technological side of book publishing. There's certainly quite the focus on typography in this novel, and after being in this program, I can't be asked about preferred fonts without my mind going to the pros and cons of serif and sans-serif fonts.

My apologies if this discussion/review was a little on the ramble-y side - just thought I'd take the opportunity to drop some publishing knowledge :P Let me know in the comments below if you prefer reading eBooks to regular books, or if you lean towards eBooks for particular works (text books, vacation reads, etc).

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