My Recipe for: Novels of Vexing Perplexity
Sometimes when I’m choosing my next book to read, I go with my gut. Sometimes I rely on recommendations from others. And sometimes a book will appear to glow on my shelf like a magical orb from space.
No, really. I swear.
The other night I woke up in the wee hours to find a book glowing on my book shelf. Not shining a little bit. Not catching the moonlight in a weird way. On my bookshelf was a neon-yellowish-green-glow-in-the-dark-star-variety glowing book. This was definitely a first, y’all. It goes without saying that I felt, well, compelled to examine the situation further. (Proof!) And so began my journey into Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. And what an awesome journey it was.
Stumbling upon this book in such a peculiar way definitely added to its charm in my reading of it. But my glowing review (pun definitely intended) really stems from the delightful content. This book is fantastical without being too entirely inconceivable, and it’s a “book for people who love books” without being stuffy and unreadable.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
On to the story! This tale is all about down-on-his-luck former web designer Clay Jannon who is desperate for a job. After a year of unemployment he stumbles upon employment as the late shift clerk for the mysterious Mr. Penumbra’s eponymous 24-hour bookstore. It seems like a pretty cush job. But this is no ordinary book store. There are little to no customers. And the ones that do appear never buy anything. They “check out” odd books with strange names only to return the books and borrow new ones.
With so little to do, Clay mostly spends his evenings killing time and fulfilling his one most important book store duty: painstakingly recording the comings and goings of each visitor down to the color and shape of the buttons on the customer’s coat in an ancient log book. This rather odd responsibility coupled with strange goings on lead Clay to begin to question just what is really going on at this place! Clay reaches out to a few friends to begin a quest to solve the mystery of the bookstore that leads them on a journey into an unexpected secret.
Quote: “I walk alone in the darkness and wonder how a person would begin to determine the circumference of the earth. I have no idea. I’d probably just google it.”
You’ll like this if: you want something fantastical but still within the realms of relative possibility and you were a fan of The Night Circus and/or The Magicians
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
There are few books that I have read that make me question the fragility of our state in the universe. And by this I mean in a visit to the planetarium kind of way. In the growing trend of “dystopian fiction” finding a novel that treats the end (almost end? Is it the end?) of the universe in a way that still remains somewhat hopeful makes The Age of Miracles a really good read. Many have hailed this as a Ray Bradbury-esque book, and I was definitely skeptical of that, but I felt that it rang true. At the very same time, the novel retains an air of freshness through its narrator, Julia, who is a middle schooler that doesn’t quite know how to reconcile the changes in the universe when her own universe is so consumed with changes in friendships, boys, and her body.
The story begins on an ordinary Saturday when Julia, along with the rest of the world, discovers that something has changed in the rotation of the earth. The days and nights are getting longer, gravity is affected, and nature itself is in a state of utter disarray. It starts being called “the slowing” and no one knows quite what to do except go on with “business as usual,” which causes quite a calamity.
Julia and her family face these changes and attempt a return to normalcy while Julia’s personal life shifts and changes seemingly also with the whims of the world. When middle school itself is a time of constant change and strange happenings, Julia struggles to find a sense of comfort when she doesn’t even know when or if the sun will rise again.
Quote: “At the beginning, people stood on street corners and shouted about the end of the world. Counselors came to talk to us at school…The freeways clogged immediately. People heard the news, and they wanted to move. Families piled into minivans and crossed state lines. They scurried in every direction like small animals caught suddenly under a light.
But, of course, there was nowhere on earth to go.”
You’ll like this if: you’re a fan of Ray Bradbury, you like your science fiction with a healthy dose of science fact, and you’re not afraid to be a bit unsettled.