In a post-Christmas reading spree, I gobbled The Fellowship of the Rings, inspired by our umpteenth watching of the films, a Christmas tradition, and I finished re-reading Paradise Lost, which I’ve had on the go for a month. (That one was inspired by reading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy to the boys earlier this year. It’s loosely based on Milton, and I wanted to remind myself of Milton’s Satan. Definitely the best character in the epic, all pale ire, envy and despair.)
You will understand, then, that I had quite a hefty hangover and could not settle into my next read. I wanted a bibliophilic one. I wanted a page-turner. I wanted humour and escape, but it had to be smart. I tried a few Jasper Ffordes, but reading out of sequence is something I do not do lightly, and Thursday Next is not a series to read out of sequence, apparently. (I really liked The Eyre Affair, but there are, what, eight books in the series now? I’m missing a few, but I have the most recent ones and just wanted to read them already. Didn’t work. Will I ever catch up?)
Thank heavens for Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, another suitably bibliophilic read, a page-turner, and a fun note on which to end the year. This book was under the tree for me this year, a perfect gift for holiday reading. Part bibliophilic novel, part mystery, part fantasy, it had a sprinkling of many things to please.
The narrator, Clay Jannon, is a newly-hired clerk in the eponymous San Francisco bookstore, which appears to be a front for a book-based cult.
Now: I was pretty sure “24-hour bookstore” was a euphemism for something. It was on Broadway, in a euphemistic part of town. (7)
We get an inside look at the cult’s underground library of leather-bound, one-of-a-kind books, as well as a look inside the operations at Google, where the narrator’s girlfriend works. It’s a wonderful mixture of old and new, with many a sly wink at the reader who knows better than to believe in rumors about the death of the book. Various generations of human readers file in and out of the narrative, as do generations of computers and electronic reading devices. Even the Canadian Kobo gets a walk-on part. Typography features heavily in the plot, and I found myself itching to google as I read in order to find the font the author describes. The narrator made me laugh out loud, and his arch humour was the perfect counterpoint to the more fantastical aspects of the plot. He does not take himself too seriously, and that, I think is the key to the book’s success for me.
I may be able to squeeze one more book in before the toll of midnight tomorrow, but if I don’t, I am content to end a year of reading on this book about books.
Happy New Year, all!