I decided to read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore after hearing my friend talk about it and spotting it at the library. A book about a bookstore? Well, I love books, so this must be something I’d love, right?
I was not disappointed.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour bookstore is more than just a bookstore. It’s a bookstore filled with magic and secrets just waiting to be decoded. The bookstore simply needs the right person at the right time to decode the messages. Clay Jannon is that person.
Clay begins working as a clerk at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore after losing his job in marketing at a bagel shop, NewBagel. However, it turns out to be more than just a job and more than just a bookstore. Clay becomes friends with the bookstore owner, Mr. Penumbra rather quickly and soon learns that the bookstore is far from ordinary. He is given some rather unusual instructions such as the importance of keeping a logbook and not to read the books from a specific corner of the store — books that are placed on the Waybacklist.
It doesn’t take Clay long to realize that these books aren’t the same as regular books and that the “customers” that come to Mr. Penunmbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore aren’t really customers at all. Rather than buying books, Mr. Penumbra’s most frequent visitors all borrow books from the Waybacklist, and the books are filled with strange codes that they spend years trying to comprehend or decode.
Clay soon learns from Mr. Penumbra that these codes are written and read by members of a society known as the The Society of the Unbroken Spine, the leaders to be exact. They are known as their Codex Vitae, which are like memoirs of their lives and they possess wisdom and knowledge on key elements of life, one of the biggest of which is the secret for longevity or perhaps even immortality. How will you live on even after you are long gone?
Clay may not be an expert at cracking codes, but if there’s one thing he is good at it’s marketing and technology. After running a semi-successful Google Adwords campaign, Kat Potente, a member of Clay’s target audience, wanders into Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Clay soon learns that Kat is an employee of Google, and the possible key to decoding the books from the Waybacklist.
The two of them launch a campaign with Mr. Penumbra himself, believing that if they simply use Google’s technology such as their book scanners and computers, they should easily be able to decode the books and find out what the secret to immortality is.
However, much to their dismay, they soon learn that there are some things technology is not, nor will ever be capable of doing. Decoding Aldus Manutius’ Codex Vitae is one of those things. This is because while Google’s machines are capable of reading codes and analyzing them, they fail to really LOOK at the code.
The code was written entirely in a special font known as Gerritszoon. This is a popular font that is frequently in stores, on computers, and everywhere else imaginable. It is even used in Mr. Penunmbra’s shop sign. It turns out, Manutius was really good friends with the founder of this font, and the font is the real key to decoding the message.
After doing his own research that includes completing a mission from an outsider to track down the original punches for the Gerritszoon font, Clay discovers the font is very unique in that each letter contains different shapes and indentations that represent a message. Once Clay figures this out he is able to decode the message in his Codex Vitae, which is simply:
Thank you, Teobaldo
You are my greatest friend
This has been the key to everything.
I loved Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore because it is the perfect blend of old and new technology. I related to both Clay and Kat because I work in the field of digital marketing. Google and technology like Google plays a large role in my career, and I do much of the same marketing that Clay has done for NewBagel and Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour bookstore. I also love books (physical books, to be specific) and bookstores. I always believed that no matter how advanced we as a society become with our technology, it will never fully be able to replace books.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore successfully demonstrates the importance of books. It shows us how there are some things books can do that technology cannot. It shows us how to be better researchers and listeners. We can’t simply rely on technology for everything and we can merely look at the surface of things like text, we need to go deeper to really understand what one another is saying.
The final message, or what Manutius hid in his Codex Vitae was disappointing to many members of the Unbroken Spine, but it was actually far more significant than they realize. Manutius is saying that friendship and fellowship is one of the secrets to success or immorality. We cannot succeed in life alone, we need to depend on one another to understand life, to progress, and to make contributions to the world that help to make our short time on life worthwhile or memorable so that we will be remembered long after we die.
Technology may continue to advance in time, but there is one thing that is certain: it will never be able to fully replace traditional books and the unique magic and stories they contain.