Tuesday, January 22

The Immortal Mr Penumbra


A month ago I had never heard of Robin Sloan's book, Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.  But within five minutes of first hearing of it, I knew that I had to read it.  I jumped straight onto the library website and ordered a copy, waiting on tenterhooks for almost a week before it finally arrived.  

I sat and read half of it in one sitting - which I pretty well never do - before easing up a bit and savouring the second half over the course of two quiet nights.  


This whole book, while 288 pages long, has the same pace as all the best adventure movies.  It is so grippingly readable that hours are turned to jelly which can be eaten voraciously in big spoonfuls with a serving of ice-cream - which is author, Robin Sloan's, great sense of humour and loveable empathy.  

I am always thrilled by a hint of centuries-old mystery and the whiff of a code to be cracked.  This is the ultimate book-lover's adventure/mystery read.  Not only because it is a brilliant book, but because it is about BOOKS.  

Everything relates to the life and importance of the written word, with a theme of books vs technology. While praising technology, it also presents a view that any reader would be proud to be represented by. The end... oh... it is the ultimate feel-good, must experience it for yourself, beautiful read.  

While it doesn't feel as glorified or important as, say Charles Dickens or Oscar Wilde, I finished reading this book with a sense that every word in it will ring truthfully in my heart forevermore.  It is a book that I am proud to love, especially as it, in turn, is in love with so many things: people, places, dreams, ideas, and especially books.  This is a must read.  And even more easier to take on than any of the other books on our 100 Books to Read Before You Die list, because you can potentially read it in three sittings.  It is easy to read, easy to love, compelling, moving and beautiful.  

I wish I could spoil the ending, but let it suffice to say that this book is immortal.


The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone—and serendipity, sheer curiosity, and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey has landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead “checking out” impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with the gnomic Mr. Penumbra. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he’s embarked on a complex analysis of the customers’ behavior and roped his friends into helping to figure out just what’s going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, it turns out the secrets extend far outside the walls of the bookstore. 
With irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan has crafted a literary adventure story for the twenty-first century, evoking both the fairy-tale charm of Haruki Murakami and the enthusiastic novel-of-ideas wizardry of Neal Stephenson or a young Umberto Eco, but with a unique and feisty sensibility that’s rare to the world of literary fiction. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave, a modern-day cabinet of wonders ready to give a jolt of energy to every curious reader, no matter the time of day.

Copied verbatim from www.goodreads.com 

Friday, January 18

Breaking the Mould

Preparing for my first semester of university has been equal parts exciting and terrifying.  Besides the enrolment forms, timetables, and book lists, the thing that I can't stop stressing about is... well... me.  


The thing that I have really enjoyed about my holidays so far is being alone with my family.  At home, I feel so Me.  At home, there are no assumptions or stereotypes and no pressure to warp myself to fit into a character mould.   

It seems to me that leaving school and having all this time to think about myself has resulted in me becoming surer and more confident in my identity as an individual.  I have had time to learn myself better, and really reflect deeply on my relationships with others in the past, with a mind to grow into healthier friendships.  

All in all, it scares me a little that I'm going to have to go back into the wild, messy world.  I'm nervous that after all the thinking and feeling that I've done over my break, I'll get lost again in it all.  Changing who I am to fit peoples' expectations of me; accepting stereotypes and situations that I don't sit comfortably with; even losing my authentic voice in the fog of self-doubt.  


I've even been concerned that the fact that I have a stereotype as top student will make me the go-to person for help again, as was always the case in high-school.  I have been stuck time and time again with the role of a strong, smart person.  And most of the time, this is the opposite of how I have felt.  

The ugly friendship I squirmed out of last year was in part fuelled by my acceptance of this role in our relationship.  I think that it will be hugely important for me to start expressing my vulnerabilities more with people whom I trust, and accept more that I am not always on top of everything.  I need to look after ME more.  

In regards to maintaining my sense of 'Me-ness' this year, it's impossible to tell from this side of it all how it will play out.  But the best I can do is to approach it with an attitude of doing it for ME.  I am going to try not to overcorrect this by stuffing everybody and being an insufferable egotist.  However, I intend to have a mindset of fulfilling my expectations of myself instead of everyone else's, and of caring for myself.  

Thursday, January 17

My Last Will and Testament

I am currently experiencing a sense of boredom and meaninglessness that belongs purely to the space between two books.  Left hanging for almost a week while I wait for my hold to arrive at the library, I've been trying to find other things to fill my time.  And, (as you do), I thought, well, I might as well write up my last will and testament.  That will occupy me for a day.  

Now, while writing a will may seem like a non-event, I took it very seriously to assign every last knick-knick in my possession to the person that it meant something to.  Bequeathing my library to my survivors was no mean feat.  I thought it was going to be fairly simple, but as I perused all the titles, I was hit by the revelation that every last book was a genie-bottle for a significant memory.  Every one reminded me of a time that I had sat up late reading aloud to Dad, or taken it in turns to read chapter by chapter with my brother, or searched Grandma's closets for Mum's childhood storybooks.  I thought about how everything that I owned, in some way, connected me to someone else.  An audiobook Dad gave me of his favourite story, 'The Little Prince', a CD of 'The Hobbit' movie soundtrack my brother gave me for my birthday because 'even the most epic soundtrack isn't epic enough to be my soundtrack', a bluebird of happiness locket that belonged to my Mum.  

Writing my will quickly stopped being merely a task or project.  It was a great reflection on my relationships, and left me with a sense of being truly loved and of loving truly.  Regardless of the fact that I'm not likely to die any time soon.  

Friday, January 11

A Casual Review


I was given J.K. Rowling's new novel, The Casual Vacancy, for Christmas.  I had read a lot of reviews about it before I started reading, and they all seemed to concur that it was dull, disturbing, and dark.  With such discouraging thoughts as this rattling in my mind, I felt a little trepidatious when I began to read.  

But my trust in Rowling to write honestly and beautifully gave me the spark of courage I needed, and as yet, she has not failed me.  

Yes, as the reviewers argue, the book is not a cheery one, but if you loved the way Rowling was always brave enough to take you places you could not have imagined, and show you people and make you feel emotions that you'd never known, then you can still appreciate this book.  


To give you a little bit of a clearer idea of how the story works, the plot centres upon the death of Parish Councilman, Barry Fairbrother.  Each chapter follows the thoughts of a different townsperson, exploring how Barry's death has affected their life.  

There is a menagerie of wildly different personalities at play, all thinking about the repercussions of the same event from completely different angles.  So far, I have loved how each short chapter (and I love short chapters) gives you the opportunity to delve into a new perspective.  And these perspectives are so brutally real and honest, coming from the silent insides of a person's heart, that I have found myself being shocked how Rowling can voice a dark thought I have never put into words, or give me the empathy to see a person I always disliked in a new way.  

Part of her courage comes to light as she strides into situations that I'm sure many of us are keen to avoid, but which, nevertheless, are irrefutably important.  

J.K. Rowling, even when writing a very different story, retains her familiar style.  I am frequently being gobsmacked by her metaphors, which she is masterful at only employing at perfect, unexpected moments.  


Even though I am only just half-way through The Casual Vacancy I think it is safe to conclude, that while this book may defy expectations and be darker than we are used to, J.K. Rowling is still raising her voice for truth.  

Monday, January 7

Books of 2012

Happy New Year!  As the start of 2013 is the beginning of a completely fresh page, I'd like to have a look at the books that made last year special.  So here they are - my 2012 reading list!


  • 30 Second Theories
  • Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
  • The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
  • A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
  • The Carnivorous Carnival by Lemony Snicket
  • The Slippery Slope  by Lemony Snicket
  • The Grim Grotto by Lemony Snicket
  • The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Time Travel for Beginners
  • The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis
  • Dear Enemy by Jean Webster
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'engle
  • Dune by Frank Herbert
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

And in case you were wondering, I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on the 2nd of January, so it just missed the cut off for 2012's reading list.  


And also in case you wondered, I would have posted - I would have posted many many times with growing enthusiasm - about reading Harry Potter for the very first time, except for the dilemma that I loved it so much that I just couldn't put it into words.  It seems that half the world has a similar problem concerning their passion for the miraculously brilliant series.  To clarify, I am so proud to have finally read them, and I deem it one of the most - if not THE MOST - exciting, compelling, and moving reading experiences of my life.  

I was blown away by how she chose the ultimate plot, the ultimate theme, the ultimate point and told it with a completely overwhelming integrity and love of truth.  It is truly the ultimate read.  

My enthusiasm will quickly render me dumb before I can properly explain myself.  


2012 was a really momentous year of books for me.  I have learnt to accept and love books from genres and eras that I had previously disregarded, as well as read three non-fiction books as well!  All in all, and obviously linked to my graduation, 2012 has been full of milestones.  I would love to hear what books made your year wonderful!  Have any of them earned a place on the list of Books to Read Before You Die?