Monday, March 04, 2013

Mr. Penumbra Stands Alone

February was the least prolific reading month I've had in the ten years or so I've been keeping track, and very possibly ever.  I finished two novels and one collection of comics--and one of the novels I started in January. There were a few factors there--an emotional slump, a few false starts, and at least four really long reads that I've put a ton of time into but not yet finished.  Hopefully this means March will make me look like a whiz kid, but right now I'm feeling kind of a reading slump, where everything I pick up seems either too hard or just bad.

I have WAY more to say about the graphic novel, Fairest, but I think that needs a post of its own.  so let me just give a little shout out of love to Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour BookstoreThis book absolutely made my month--it was just what I needed to read.

I knew almost nothing about this book when I started it, and you don't really need to.  The only thing I think it helps to know from the beginning is that this is a bright, hopeful book.  I kept waiting with dread for the grimness to come in, but it never does.  There's a bad guy, kind of, but although he's sinister, he's more of a B-conflict; the main conflict of the book is The Mystery.

Clay is an unemployed graphic designer in desperate need of a job, so when he lands the role of night clerk at a small "independent" bookstore, he's not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.  But he realizes that the store is kind of a front for a lending library for the terminally eccentric, and he starts to learn more about books and the goals of a secret society.  With the help of a girlfriend who lives her job at Google, some of the smartest technology in the world, and some of the oldest examples of the printed word, Clay assembles a crack team of brilliant, kooky friends and allies to solve the mystery of centuries.

I loved almost every character in this book--they were all super-competent and passionate, and they were all great ambassadors for their little worlds--the artists, designers, programmers, researchers, antiquarians, anthropologists, bibliophiles.  Each of them got a chance to showcase their arena, and nobody got sniffed at.  Not so realistic--almost cartoonish in its upbeatness--but so right for me at the exact moment I read it.

There was an exception; I hated Kat.  Everyone in my book club hated Kat.  I think it was easy to hate Kat, partly because Clay LOVED Kat--every sentence she appeared in for the first third of the book involved the word "cute," or maybe "gorgeous" or "adorable."  Or else Clay was distracted by how awesome and charming and frigging cute she was, wearing the same shirt every day.  Kat is kind of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl--not quite the traditional definition, because she definitely has her own goals, but she's definitely the perfect girl who is just totally on board with whatever the hero wants to do and opens up a whole new world of possibility to him as though she had nothing else to do with her time.  Even the changes she goes through in the story make her seem kind of sad and childish, like an object lesson--which wouldn't be so bad if she had started out more complex than "supersmart and adorable."

Anyway, she was by far the weakest part of the story.  Everyone else shone.  I'm not going to read too much into her being the only major female character--I loved the book too much.  I'll read more Robin Sloane (please, I'd like him to write some more, please) and hope he does something a little more interesting with women then.

1 comment:

Aarti said...

Ooh, I must read this one! Though I think Kat would really bother me, too. First, I don't like that she is called Kat. And second, I don't like when people are described solely by their positive traits all the time - it just seems unreasonable.