Hello summer! I finished my semester at work about 10 days ago, and I thought I would relax and take it easy for a few days, but the universe had other plans and dumped a bunch of random stuff in my lap. I can't even remember what, but it sure kept me busy. Now $20booksofsummer has started, and I have six books waiting to be blogged about, all of which I started before June 1st. So I'm going to play a bit of catchup here...
My neighborhood has a Little Free Library, and I found this novel in there one morning. I was skeptical that it would be any good -- novels about bookstores abound, after all -- but I didn't quite want to not read it. The book startled me quite a bit by glowing at me in the dark after I'd gone to bed; all the books on the cover are printed in glow-in-the-dark ink, on the spine and the back and everything. And once I got into it, I found that I was pleasantly surprised by this very fun, beguiling novel.
Clay is an up-and-coming young designer in the Bay Area until the 2008 recession hits him hard and the startup he's been working for* fails. Desperate for work, he lands a spot as night clerk at this 24-hour bookstore, where almost nobody buys books. Instead, odd people come in and borrow mysterious books from the back room. The books are encoded; what are these people up to?
Clay ends up with a team of friends -- Kat, the Google genius he loves, his roommate the model builder, his best friend and software millionaire Neel, and eventually Mr. Penumbra himself -- working on solving the antique riddle set by Aldus Manutius himself. Kat figures the power of the internet can solve anything!
This was such a fun scavenger hunt novel. Also it's much better written than The Da Vinci Code, which apparently it has been compared to. Yes, there is an old puzzle and a scavenger hunt, but those are the only resemblances. Sloan deliberately occupies a space at the intersection of technology and antiquity, and he has a great time doing it. I would have expected him to do it really badly, but no! it's so entertaining and witty and...fun!
There were some really good jokes and descriptions of the techie life. I insisted that my husband sit and listen to me read him a description of various coding languages (C, Ruby, etc.). Here are some other favorite bits:
Neel made his millions in middleware....He sells tools they cannot do without -- tools they will pay top dollar for. I'll cut to the chase: Neel Shah is the world's leading expert on boob physics.
Neel takes a sharp breath and I know exactly what that means. It means: I have waited my whole life to walk through a secret passage built into a bookshelf.**
Kate gushes about Google's projects, all revealed to her now. They are making a 3-D web browser. They are making a car that drives itself. They are making a sushi search engine...to help people find fish that is sustainable and mercury-free. They are building a time machine. They are developing a form of renewable energy that runs on hubris.
You know, I'm really starting to think the whole world is just a patchwork quilt of crazy little cults, all with their own secret spaces, their own records, their own rules.
Also, I suspect that the Emeryville-based "California Museum of Knitting Arts and Embroidery Sciences" is a jokey expansion of Lacis in Berkeley?
So, just a giddy romp through the meadows of bibliomania and techie dreams, and great fun. Oh, and guess what, there's a novella prequel as well, easiest to get on Kindle for a couple bucks. I just got it.
*NewBagel, which produces robotically perfect and uniform bagels and sounds positively Pinkwateresque.
**We all have, Neel. We know exactly how you feel.