Guest Post: Sisters Book Club Review by My Sister

My sister Gabby and I have a Sisters Book Club. You may have already known this, but if you didn’t, now you know it. The Sisters Book Club is me and my sister picking one book to read together each month and then writing about it on my blog. In the past we’ve done joint book reviews, but we didn’t get it together to do that this time.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (Photo credit: dickiesandchucks)

A couple of weeks ago, I posted my review of our October selection, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, and now here’s Gabby’s take on the book. I’ll leave you to read the review yourself, but I will just add that while Gabby does not remember a time when our family didn’t have a computer, I do. I also remember when we got our VCR, and I bet she doesn’t remember that, either. That’s the advantage that four and half more years on Earth has given me.

If you want to join us in reading the next Sisters Book Club selection, you can follow this blog for the next announcement or join the discussion on our Goodreads group.

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For as long as I can remember, both tradition and technology have coexisted in my life. Growing up in the 80’s with a technology-minded father, I can’t recall a time when we did not have a computer in the house. At a time when a home computer meant little more to the general public than an interesting novelty, to me they were a strange device with lights and sounds that somehow captured my father’s attention most of his time at home. While I occasionally forayed into his “computer room” to peek over his shoulder at the glowing green screen to try and comprehend this strange hold, I myself spent my days playing outside and my nights sprawled in bed devouring novel after novel.

Much like the rest of the modern world, a few short decades later I routinely find myself watching TV while using my laptop and checking Facebook and email on my phone. I like to call this “multi-tasking” but what it really amounts to is trading devoted attention to one task, with giving half-assed attention to three or more. I still read (as presumably evidenced by this book review) but technology has managed to pervade my daily life. I use computers for work at both of my jobs, as well as for recreation. I am (I am sorry to admit) one of those annoying people who monitor texts, email, and social media ad nauseum. But I still maintain a love affair with the bound volume. While I’ve tried digital devices for reading and cannot deny their ease and nearly instantaneous accessibility, to me there is simply no comparison to holding a book in my hands. I love the feel of the pages as I turn them in anticipation of what’s ahead. I love the smell of the paper, the weight in my hands or propped on my knees, the sight of the font on the page.

The dichotomy between the “old fashioned” printed books and the “modern technology” in which I am otherwise immersed daily is comparable to the themes throughout Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. The main character, Clay, is no stranger to technology; as a recently unemployed up-and-coming web designer, he seems an unlikely employee of Mr. Penumbra’s “absurdly narrow and dizzyingly tall” cramped and crowded and beautifully tangible bookstore. But Clay grows fond of the bookstore with its odd assortment of strange clientele.

The book continued the theme of juxtaposition throughout: the old-fashioned stuffy bookstore compared to the ultra-modern Google campus; Clay’s interactions with the superlatively modern Kat with the staggering knowledge of technology compared to the elderly and old-fashioned bookstore owner and patrons; the modern methods employed in solving a comparatively ancient mystery Clay uncovers. The very polarity of the elements reminds me of our world in general, and my own in particular.

Without revealing the mystery at the core of the novel, I will say that I enjoyed Sloan’s writing style. While a bit “green,” he nonetheless employed a certain sentence structure and descriptive language that made the story seem more traditional than I had expected, tempering the thorough descriptions of technology. The mystery Clay uncovers has potentially a deeper meaning and context from which I found myself drawing surprising comparisons to modern societal values – but to fully explore that you will have to read the book. Preferably in print form, thank you very much.

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