I love this book.
But only in the print version.
When I recently had a lot of travel to do, I borrowed an e-reader from the library. My daughter noticed that Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, a novel, was one of the titles loaded onto the device's memory, and she recommended it to me.
Determined to see what I thought of an e-reader in general and this one in particular, I deliberately created a situation where I was stuck without a paper-and-ink book for part of the trip. I opened the file for this title, tried to read it, and decided the narrative felt cold and mechanical and that I would never develop any interest in, or empathy for, the main character. My daughter can tolerate some strongly idea-based books that I find tedious, and I pegged it as one of those. I quit after about the equivalent of fifteen pages. (I usually set fifty pages as my "trial amount" in a print book, but I find any quantity of text harder to gauge in e-format.) I ended up instead happily reading parts of Tina Fey's Bossypants. I didn't finish that book, and would like to. But it was episodic and immediately witty enough to survive the format.
When I got home, one of the library books my daughter had left for me to consider reading was Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. I was dubious. She'd forgotten she'd mentioned it to me in the previous context. She assured me it was good. I needed to grab a book when I was going somewhere that would potentially involve reading-appropriate types of waiting (rather than knitting-appropriate waiting), I needed something that would be diverting and not dismal, and that was the one I shoved in my bag. (Along with one of Alan Bradley's Flavia books, as backup. Just in case.)
Mr. Penumbra is a completely different experience in print.
Among its topics are technologies (old-style and electronic), ways we discover things about the world around us, typography, and (toward the end) even some knitting. Also about making things by hand or through computer-power. And human relationships and power dynamics and. . . . That's just skimming the surface. It's an entertaining and thoughtful book, and not at all cold and mechanical.
It has earned a space on my short shelf of favorites. That's a library copy above, indeed, but there will be a personal copy added to the household library by this evening.
IN PRINT FORM.
The jacket design, by Rodrigo Corral,* is kinda magical. That doesn't translate to the e-version, either. In fact, you can't experience it unless you have a physical copy of the book (looking at an image of it online won't do the job; even looking at it in a bookstore probably isn't adequate).
*Cool. He also did the cover for Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle.