Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

penumbraMr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a story narrated by Clay Jannon, an unemployed web-designer desperately needing a job. To keep himself focused in actually finding one, he prints out ads and goes out to walk around San Francisco while reading them. On one of this walks he stumbles upon a small bookstore and before he knew it he was Penumbra’s new night clerk.

The floor of the bookstore is far below me, the surface of a planet I’ve left behind.

At first glance this seems like a book for book lovers, but if you bother to read it you’ll realize that it’s about so much more. It’s about human curiosity, the human need to always know what comes next, what came before and how it all connects together to form history, which is actually someone’s description of life so far. It’s really hard to talk about all the things I loved in this book without giving anything away, so I’ll try my best to keep to the spoiler free zones.

Our friendship is a nebula.

First: the characters. This book had all the nerds in it, the computer nerd (many of those, in many different areas), the book nerd, the history nerd, the art nerd and a bunch of others I can’t remember now. Which is brilliant, they’re my kind of crowd after all. But there are also some lost people – people who don’t know what to do with their lives and try to tag along with others in hopes of finding out. If they do or not depends on how important you think Griffo Gerritszoon’s final message is.

The Unbroken Spine. It sounds like a band of assassins, not a bunch of book lovers.

Second: the plot. This is a very intricate plot and Clay’s not really in the know for half of the book (maybe more) so we figure out what he figures out. And solving the mystery beforehand is kind of impossible (and cheating, right Clay?), at least I didn’t guess. Well, I did guess a couple of things, but others just flew over my head. Although I have to admit, because I want to be completely honest here, that the reason this is not a five star book for me is that there were some parts that had me yawning, especially in the first part. The pace really picked up by the second part though, so hang in there people.

Books used to be pretty high-tech, back in the day. Not anymore.

Third: books. Because despite that gloomy quote this is a book about books. About the meaning of them and that in the end no matter how evolved our technology gets there are certain kinds of knowledge that only come from living human lives (they might also be cyborg or android or alien lives, but you get my point). Why else would there be bookstore in the title if this wasn’t going to involve some amazing books?

Penumbra says, and produces another e-reader – it’s a Nook. Then another one, a Sony. Another one, marked KOBO. Really? Who has a Kobo?

Fourth: I resent that Robin Sloan (or Clay, but whatever, he didn’t write the book). I own a Kobo and I’m proud of it. I actually read this e-book in it, so yes, people do have Kobos. And I realize this is not one of the reasons I loved the book, but it needed to be said.

Your life must be an open city, with all sorts of ways to wander in.

And Finally: Thanks Aldrag the Wyrm-Father. And Moffat (not Steven, no).

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

ImageThere is an on-going trend with me and books: I mean to read them, but never get around to it. The Great Gatsby is one of those books, those famous classics that I’ve been meaning to read ever since I was old enough to want to. When I saw the trailer in the cinema I knew I had to read it before the movie came out, so I finally have.

For those who don’t know, The Great Gatsby is mainly about five people: Nick Carraway, Tom Buchanan, Daisy Buchanan, Jordan Backer (but not really) and (obviously) Jay Gatsby. When Nick comes to New York to work he ends up living next to Mr. Gatsby’s huge mansion, who is a mystery for all who attend his famous parties. Since this is an easy story to spoil I’ll stop here. Suffice to say Nick gets involved with Gatsby’s glamorous and strange life.

Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water, and the history of the summer really begins on the evening I drove over there to have dinner with the Tom Buchanans.

There is a great hype about this novel (see what I did there?), and I’m not completely sure it lives up to it. I liked it and thought there could be no better ending, but there were some things I could have done without. Like Daisy. To me she was a weak woman who wasn’t happy with her life, but when the chance came to change it she backed away. I honestly can’t sympathize with her much. I do pity her a bit though, but to me her problems are rich people’s problems and I find that rather hard to move me. Especially what she did in the end, I don’t think there’s any excuse for that.

I feel more or less the same about her husband, Tom. Except that in the end he didn’t really know what he was doing and ended up blaming an innocent man. Those are spoilers, so I’m not going into that, but if anyone has read it then come talk to me about it. But Nick (or F. Scott Fitzgerald, actually) rather describes both of the Buchanan’s really well here:

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…

I think I liked Nick the most, with his honest outlook on life and his honorable intentions and his loyal character. He was someone who didn’t belong in that abundant life, and so through him we see how deplorable some of these rich people are. He’s also quite funny at times and I think he’s the best narrator F. Scott Fitzgerald could have chosen between the available characters, like here:

To a certain temperament the situation might have seemed intriguing — my own instinct was to telephone immediately for the police.

I don’t have much of an opinion on Jordan Backer, except that she was integral to the story in her own way. Gatsby though, I have a lot of feelings about him. During most of the book it was curiosity and a sort of awe, then a kind of disappointment with who he actually turned out to be and finally pity. Lots and lots of pity. He was a man in love with an idea, and that kind of love is not meant to last. Gatsby lived on hope alone and he was lost when it was gone. And to complete these passages about characters, here’s one on him:

“The poor son-of-a-bitch,” he said.

I also loved F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing, he painted such a complete and thorough picture that there was almost no need to imagine it. The glittering parties, the drunken people and the overflowing abundance reeked from every word. I think that was my favorite part.

People disappeared, reappeared, made plans to go somewhere, and then lost each other, searched for each other, found each other a few feet away.

So these are my thoughts on The Great Gatsby. If you’ve read it too what do you think of it? If not, do you plan on seeing the movie anyway?

Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers

ImageThis was the first book I read in my shiny new Kobo, which I’ll talk about in another post, and also my first Dorothy L. Sayers book. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of this, maybe a mixture of Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes? Which I suppose means high expectations for me. Well, it didn’t quite meet them.

Assigning a motive for the murder of a person without relations or antecedents or even clothes is like trying to visualize the fourth dimension – an admirable exercise for the imagination, but arduous and inconclusive.

Whose Body? is a crime novel, and as such the book starts with a murder. An unknown man is found naked in a bathtub wearing glasses; no one knows who he is or how he got there. In comes Lord Peter Wimsey, a detective by choice and English aristocrat by birth. He gets involved in the solution of this case, but is soon also dragged onto another parallel case: Sir Reuben Levy has gone missing, leaving all his clothes behind, and Inspector Parker has no idea how to find him. And it’s clear from the beginning the man in the tub is not Sir Reuben Levy.

Let’s start with the main character, shall we? Lord Peter Wimsey is definitely not Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, which is not to say he doesn’t have his own unique style of joining all the clues together and discovering the rest. I thought he was funny and although his ‘what?’ were really starting to irritate me, he got over them by the end of the book. Another thing he got over by the end was his flatness and we finally see some layers to his personality, which sadly isn’t that developed. But still, the story is not about him, yes? And I think he was the most complex character.

“You want to be consisted, you want to look pretty, you want to swagger debonairly through a comedy of puppets or else stalk magnificently through a tragedy of human sorrows and things. But that’s childish. If you’ve any duty to society in the way of finding out the truth about murders, you must do it in any attitude that comes handy.”

Regardless of all that I thought he was, rather like the whole book, fun. The book was in third person so we never really knew what he was thinking when he went on one of his tangents or made an off-hand comment to Bunter, his manservant, about something seemingly unrelated to anything. His partners in crime solving, Bunter and Parker, complement each other and become a sort of Watson/Hastings duo. Though Bunter was casually ironic and witty, talking back to Wimsey like nobody’s business and making the other man presentable at the same time. I liked his character a lot, maybe more than any other in this book.

Another flaw with this book is that I figured out who the murderer was long before the end, I don’t know if it was obvious or if simply being allowed a closer look at this person made me realize it. It was a click and suddenly I was like ‘Oh! That’s the murderer!’ and that was that. But that has never stopped me from enjoying the big reveal of crime novels and I really wanted to see how it had been done, if it had been planned or a spur of the moment decision. Also, why those freaking glasses and not, say, a hat? Or a shirt? Or anything else really.

The knowledge of good and evil is a phenomenon of the brain, and is removable, removable, removable. The knowledge of good and evil is removable.

So despite the lack of suspense and in depth characterization, I had fun. It was a light read and something I really wanted to read since I read Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue and the other Dupin tales, who is the inspiration for all this detective characters we have today. Which reminds me: I really need to read more of Poe. Something to think about, but only after I finish Possession and/or The First Man in the Moon by H. G. Wells.

Tchau!