Mr. Penumbra s 24 Hour Bookstore 25


  It won’t only be me and Penumbra at those big desks. Rosemary Lapin will join us as employee number one. I’ll teach her Ruby, and she will build our website. Then we’ll poach Jad away from Google, and I’ll put Grumble on retainer, too.

  We’ll call the company Penumbra, just Penumbra, and the logo, designed by me, will be set—of course—in Gerritszoon.

  But what about Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore? For three months, it will stand empty with a FOR LEASE sign in the windows, because nobody will know what to do with that tall, skinny space. Then, finally, someone will figure it out.

  Ashley Adams will show up at the Telegraph Hill Credit Union’s small business office dressed in carbon and cream, carrying a letter of recommendation from the bank’s oldest living client. She will describe her vision with the polish and poise of a PR professional.

  It will be her last act as a PR professional.

  Ashley will dismantle the shelves, refinish the floor, put in new lights, and transform the bookstore into a climbing gym. The break room will become a locker room; the short shelves up front will become a row of iMacs where climbers can get online (still via bootynet). Where the front desk once sat, there will be a shiny white counter where North Face (a.k.a. Daphne) will get a new gig making kale shakes and risotto balls. The walls up front will be a riot of color: bright murals painted by Mat, all based on zoomed-in details from the bookstore. If you know what to look for, you’ll see them: a line of letters, a row of spines, a bright curving bell.

  Back where the Waybacklist once rose, Mat will direct a team of young artists in the construction of an enormous climbing wall. It will be a mottled field of green and gray dotted with glowing gold LEDs and traced with branching lines of blue, and the handholds for climbers will be sturdy white-capped mountains. Mat will build not merely a city this time, but a whole continent, a civilization tipped on its side. And here, too, if you know what to look for—if you know how to draw the lines between the handholds—you might just see a face peering out of the wall.

  I will buy a membership and start climbing again.

  And finally, I will write down everything that happened. I’ll copy some of it from the logbook, find more in old emails and text messages, and reconstitute the rest from memory. I’ll get Penumbra to look it over, then find a publisher and set it out for sale in all the places you find books these days: big Barnes & Nobles, bright Pygmalion, the quiet little store built into the Kindle.

  You will hold this book in your hands, and learn all the things I learned, right along with me:

  There is no immortality that is not built on friendship and work done with care. All the secrets in the world worth knowing are hiding in plain sight. It takes forty-one seconds to climb a ladder three stories tall. It’s not easy to imagine the year 3012, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. We have new capabilities now—strange powers we’re still getting used to. The mountains are a message from Aldrag the Wyrm-Father. Your life must be an open city, with all sorts of ways to wander in.

  After that, the book will fade, the way all books fade in your mind. But I hope you will remember this:

  A man walking fast down a dark lonely street. Quick steps and hard breathing, all wonder and need. A bell above a door and the tinkle it makes. A clerk and a ladder and warm golden light, and then: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.

  About the Author

  ROBIN SLOAN grew up in Michigan and now splits his time between San Francisco and the internet. Visit him online at

  Visit for exclusive information on your favorite HarperCollins authors.


  Advance praise for Mr. Penumbra’ 24-Hour Bookstore

  “[Robin Sloan] comes across as so big-hearted, so in love with the world—the ancient world, the contemporary world, the hi-tech world, the world of yellowing scrolls, in love with love, in love with friendship, you name it—and the reader is swept along by his positive enthusiasm.… It’s a lot of fun, a real tour de force… [and] a powerful reading experience.”

  — George Saunders in Bl.p Mogazine

  “It’s a good-hearted, optimistic book about friendship and being alive and the lure of the mysterious. It’s a book which shows you Google the way Google sees itself, and bookshops the way bookshops ought to be. It’s a tonal roadmap to a positive relationship between the old world and the new. It’s a book which gets it. Plus, you know: book cults, vertical bookshops, hot geeks, theft, and the pursuit of immortality. This book is in my emotional heartland.”

  — Nick Harkaway

  “In a time when actual books are filling up tag-sale dollar boxes, along with VHS tapes and old beepers, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore reminds us that there is an intimate, adventurous joy in the palpable papery things called novels, and in the warm little secret societies we used to call ’bookstores.’ Robin Sloan’s novel is delightfully funny, provocative, deft, and even thrilling. And for reasons more than just nostalgia, I could not stop turning these actual pages.”

  — John Hodgman


  Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

  Copyright © 2012 by Robin Sloan

  All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, nontransferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.

  EPub Edition © SEPTEMBER 2012 ISBN: 978-1-4434-1580-4

  Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, by arrangement with Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.


  No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.

  This is a work of fiction. All the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

  HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

  2 Bloor Street East, 20th Floor

  Toronto, Ontario, Canada

  M4W 1A8

  Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

  Sloan, Robin, 1979–

  Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore / Robin Sloan.

  ISBN 978-1-44341-578-1

  I. Title. II. Title: Mister Penumbra’s twenty-four-hour bookstore.

  PS3619.L6278M77 2012 813′.6 C2012-903096-1

  WEB 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  About the Publisher


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  Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore



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