Simply, this is a book about books. It’s also a book about technology, immortality, and the future of books in a digital world, all wrapped up in an engaging mystery story with a strong cast of characters.
Clay Johnson, like many Millennials fresh out of college at the height of the Great Recession, is having trouble finding work. He’d had a short stint as a web designer and Twitter marketer for a fancy bagel shop, but that went from startup to belly up in less than a year, leaving Clay with little experience to help him land another job. As he gets increasingly desperate, he stumbles across an odd bookstore with a help-wanted sign. Very soon Clay finds himself employed as a clerk at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, and the adventure of his life begins. This is no ordinary bookstore. It sells books, sure, but, as Clay discovers, it’s also selling a chance for true immortality.
There’s so much to talk about in this book that I find it hard to summarize, but Farhad Manjoo’s review of this book in Slate definitely helps:
In an era of ubiquitous digitizing, in which books and music and pictures can all be turned into instantly transferrable streams of ones and zeroes—a fate that may soon await our bodies and brains, too—is human society close to achieving something like immortality? And, if so, is digital immortality anything like real, physical immortality—and should we be happy with it?
From typefaces to computer programming to book binding to Google, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore takes the reader on a thrill ride through a fictional world of bookish intrigue complete with a rag-tag team of tech-savvy young people to root for and a sinister cult of old-fashioned sticks-in-the-mud to despise. But, far from being a rallying cry to digitize everything, this book advocates for a technological balance. Precious information is lost in translation when we digitize, and there is much more to our physical world than can be rendered in ones and zeros.