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Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Within the first chapter, Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (HarperCollins) had me hooked with its rickety bookstore ladders, unforgiving San Francisco hills, and promise of conspiracy theoriMr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstorees.

Clay Jannon, a designer recently laid off of his first post-college job, takes the night shift at the eponymous bookstore to make ends meet. Soon he realizes that there’s something strange about the books his middle-of-the-night customers buy. Clay discovers that Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore is a part of an ancient secret society, and he too attempts to solve the 500-year-old mystery in an RPG-style quest that takes him and his friends from the Google headquarters in San Francisco to hidden underground reading rooms in New York. As a book-loving, technology-embracing, Latin-enthused, typographically-inclined, designer-type twenty-something, I found Clay instantly relatable and his experiences almost frighteningly realistic.

At its heart, this book is about the intersection of books and technology: Sloan deftly avoids implying that computers are going to erase print books and instead crafts a narrative that shows how the digital can enhance the physical and vice versa.  Nerdy and charming, this book rewards readers with references to typography, Latin, literature, role-playing games and more. The main female character, Kat Potente, is a pleasingly complex, geeky character who is the technological mastermind behind the adventure, and is not solely defined by her relationship with Clay.

If the mix of bookstores, secret societies, technology and Latin sounds exciting (it is!), Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is for you.

reviews

Review: Nox by Anne Carson

The appeal of Nox (New Directions), Anne Carson’s collection of poems eulogizing the unexpected death of her brother Michael, is not only its skillful verse but also its unusual format: it is printed on a single long piece of paper which is folded like an accordion into a sturdy box.noxstory_1687842f

The book opens with Catullus’s ancient poem of brotherly loss in Latin (Catullus 101); Carson proceeds to give a dictionary-length definition of each word in the poem on the left hand pages, while the right sides are reserved for Carson’s poems, black and white photographs, collages, graphite smudges and/or fragments of handwritten letters, each appearing to be pasted onto the pages. The poems themselves are understated remembrances of Michael’s “windswept spirit” and his absence in her adult life.

The power of the collection comes from the juxtaposition of the debris of Carson’s sorrow and the Latin vocabulary that makes up Catullus’ 2000-year-old elegy: Carson suggests that grief, like the work of translation, is forever a work-in-progress.

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This review originally appeared as “Grief-in-Progress” in Geist 85.