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Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: 06/03/21
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan promises to be a book about books. It isn't. It's a misogynistic Google fetish wet dream.
Clay Jannon lost his web design job in one of the many recent recessions. Through dumb luck he found a graveyard shift job at a weird bookstore. He's given a couple rules: be on time, leave on time, don't explore the books that are for the special repeat customers.
At first he follows them and during this time the book is quirky and awkward but readable. In this time he tries to bring the bookstore into the modern century through some Google advertising, designing a website, and some other things. This section reads like any number of contemporary fiction. Given the setting it reminded me mostly of The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (a vastly better book).
And then one day his very targeted ad brings in a Google employee, Kat. He falls head over heels for her and thus begins the Google wet dream, from which the novel never recovers. Kat is smarter and better educated that he is. She's a vastly superior programmer and specializes in data analysis / visualization. And yet, Clay always calls her a girl and treats her like a teenager he's hitting on.
With her help (aka her work), Clay solves the mystery of bookshop. It's something the club members have been working on for decades and he, with Google's help (a high speed OCR scanner) and a Googler's help, he solves the puzzle of the books which isn't actually in the books themselves but in how they are shelved. Snarky me says: if the bookstore had better lighting, any artist with a sense of visual space would have already solved it.
Solving the puzzle a third of the way through the book results in trouble for Mr. Penumbra. Of course he needs to be tracked down and rescued. But by this time I didn't care and I chose to not finish.
Here's why: Clay's version of how Google works bears more resemblance to Live Corp from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (2013) than actual Google. I should point out that the year this novel released, my spouse had just started working at Google. I've also worked in Clay's industry (although I no longer do) and I know how to harness people, computers, and data to solve problems (although the actual programming I'll defer to people who have CS degrees as my background is UI/UX).
As much as I would normally love a puzzle book that results in a roadtrip, I hated Clay. I hated how the tech industry was described as it had no bearing on reality. It wasn't even reality adjacent. It was in its own universe of wacky land. I hated the so called puzzles in this book and how they were solved. But ultimately it was Clay's constant objectification of Kat that made me stop.