Length: 288 pages
Setting: mostly San Fransisco and New York City, present day
Summary: Clay is an unemployed web-designer searching for a job. He manages to land one as the night shift clerk for Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore. It doesn’t take long before he realizes something odd is going on. There’s a group of patrons who borrow books from what Clay calls the Waybacklist. What’s even weirder, is the books are all in code. With the help of his new girlfriend, Kat from Google, Clay puts together a data visualization program ans sees those patrons check the books out in a pattern. Penumbra reveals to Clay he is part of the Unbroken Spine, an organization started by one of the first book publishers. The members are devoted to decoding the Founder’s book, which is supposed to provide the key to immortality for all members of the Unbroken Spine. Clay and his friends get involved in using computers to decode the book, even though the First Reader is against their use. Ultimately, Clay finds the key to the book in a set of font punches created by the Founder’s best friend.
Final thoughts: I loved this book. There’s a bit of a mystery here – what are Penumbra and those crazy borrowers up to, anyway? But, Clay doesn’t solve the mystery like a detective. Instead, he puts together an RPG party to go on a quest, and uses technology as much as possible. My favorite part was that Clay was able to solve the big mystery not because he was the smartest, or the fastest, or the strongest, but because he knew which people to ask to get the answers he needed. He got answers because he made connections and he wasn’t afraid to ask for help. It didn’t hurt that the secret society felt like it was out of a fantasy book, but everything else felt completely real, down to Clay losing his almost girlfriend to a job promotion. The epilogue felt like the tag end of a biopic that answers the question, “Where is everyone today?” And I totally loved it. It wrapped the book up in a neat little bow. Highly enjoyable!
Title comes from: The location of much of the action was Mr. Penumbra’s bookshop and it was open 24 hours a day.
Reading challenges fulfilled: book #23 for the year, and it’s my first book of the year that doesn’t fulfill a letter in my alphabet challenge
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