What an absolute treat this book turned out to be. An unwieldy title and a premise that doesn’t exactly scream “fascinating” immediately and a debut author, this could have gone so very very wrong. Instead, it ended up being so enjoyable, that it’s firmly in the top ten of this year’s Cannonball Read for me.
Clay Jannon lives in San Francisco. He’s a web designer and the recession has put him out of work. A pavement pounding desperate job hunt leads him to the titular bookstore, where he lands the job of night clerk. But it soon becomes clear that this is not really a bookstore in the normal sense. Hardly anyone buys anything, instead a steady stream of people come in and borrow obscure volumes from the hidden tall shelves at the back of the store (which Clay dubs “the Waybacklist”). A mix of curiosity and boredom causes Clay to poke around in what’s really going on and he finds MUCH more than he ever bargained for.
There are so many wonderful things about this book. Firstly, the collision of old and new is tackled head on. Like Clay, I actually felt a bit bad reading this book on a Kindle. Mr Penumbra is delightfully eccentric. When he’s explaining to Clay he has to record every visitor to the Waybacklist in a log book, he tells him that he needs to record “the customer’s appearance. His state of mind. How he asks for the book. How he receives it. Does he appear to be injured. Is he wearing a sprig of rosemary in his hat. And so on”. If you don’t love him by that point, you should probably stop reading.
Moreover, this book is a geek’s paradise. From the most devoted googler, to the old school cosplay role players, this book covers a smorgasbord of nerdiness. And at no point does Sloan sneer at or look down on his assembled squadron of geeks. The tone of this book is so warm, in places it borders on an admiration of its characters that is almost reverential. Jannon is a brilliantly complacent narrator. The journey he goes in is fantastic, but its arc is firmly grounded in the real world too. And it’s a brave author who tells his story in the present tense but uses only future tense in his epilogue.
Basically, what I’m saying is read it. You won’t be sorry.