Having just come off of reading Matthew Pearl's tome, The Technologists it seemed a perfect segue to move to a novel that is all wrapped up in the latest techno change within the literary world ... digital literature, smart phone apps, Kindles, website proliferation, media mash that can be overwhelming and so plentiful that one can get lost in the pixels and gigabytes. It is a fact that today's world is fast becoming one of two layers - the virtual and the physical. Today's young people have learned to absorb the use of every new bit of hand-held technology to negotiate both planes of existence, but there are still places where the printed page holds sway.
Those places - bookstores, tag sales, estate auctions and the like - are places where great mysteries and treasures sit. They are just waiting for some person's hands to latch on, for some person's eyes and brains to engage, for some person's soul to become a willing participant in the story told, the question posed, the dilemma debated, the life exposed.
Robin Sloan gives us two characters, Chris and Kat, young residents of the techno-culture of San Francisco trying their best to make it through this latest economic downturn. One character is successfully riding the techno tide and the other has struggled to keep head above water in San Francisco's work world. Chris happens into a small 'hole in the wall' bookstore one day that is a cross between black hole and Diagon Alley. Before he knows it, he's the newest night clerk at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. His enthusiasm for using technology to improve business and his curiosity about the intriguing customers that frequent the store and their interest in what lies in the stacks toward the back of the store meld in a fast paced race to solve an ancient mystery, save his employer's reputation, and maybe 'get the girl' ... read on, friends. This is a really fun book!
Sloan has a sharp savvy wit that gives a good chuckle now and then. He weaves the current names and corporate powerhouses into the story, uses the geography of the Bay Area to bring the setting up before your mind's eye, and has techno-speak down and uses it to create a nerdy jargon that moves the computer-esque element of the story right along. At the heart of the story, though, are the books and the type and the Old Knowledge that is a firm foundation for all that has come from it and the heartfelt sense that the power of the word will carry on ... in all its manifestations.
For a neat interview, see NPR's link here