NYT Posts

Nell Zink, “The Wallcreeper”

The WallcreeperNell Zink’s debut novel, The Wallcreeper, was published in 2014. (It has recently been followed by Mislaid.) The Wallcreeper is a slim novel, about Tiffany and Stephen who met when they were colleagues at a pharmaceutical firm in Philadelphia USA. They married within few weeks and relocated to Berlin, Germany. Tiffany learns, “I wasn’t a feminist. Even men in their seventies…would raise their eyebrows when I said I had followed my husband from Philadelphia to Berne and then to Berlin. I couldn’t come up with a step I’d taken in life for my own sake.” The Wallcreeper  is also about birding, open marriage, environmental activism and later, environmental sabotage too.

From the opening line of the novel you are hooked to the story. “I was looking at the map when Stephen swerved, hit the rock, and occasioned the marriage.” The novel continues in the same calm, confident, feisty and forthright tone. The former bricklayer and secretary, fifty-year-old Nell Zink was published for the first time last year at the insistence of Jonathan Franzen. She had written a fanzine to him a few years ago. Upon reading her prose that she began sending him regularly, he persuaded her to stop writing for an audience of one and consider a larger readership. Her debut novel, The Wallcreeper, had already been accepted by a small press called Dorothy that specialises in women’s writing. So Nell Zink’s second novel, Mislaid, was represented by Franzen’s agent and got Zink a six-figure advance. Both the novels have received a resounding reception in USA and are soon to be available in India too.

When you write for an audience of one, it is inevitable that the writing is imbued with a rawness and a sense of intimacy that is refreshingly confident. It a no-holds-barred style of writing. Surprisingly Nell Zink’s novels are churned out rapidly in a period of three weeks. They are well structured, with no flabbiness to the prose and bring in pithy observations on issues such as science, ethics, environment, feminism, freedom, the institution of marriage etc. On marriage, Nell Zink writes, “Marriage isn’t a sacrament. It’s just a bunch of forms to fill out. It either works or it doesn’t. Do what you want.” She is an eclectic and voracious reader judging by the literary references sprinkled throughout the novel. Otherwise how else do you account for a casual reference made yoking together Stanislaw Lem and The World of Apu in one paragraph? ( The World of Apu is a 1959 Bengali film drama made by noted filmmaker Satyajit Ray. It was based on the 1932 Bengali novel, Aparajito, by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay.) She writes as people would speak when sure that their statements are being made in confidence. The one-liners that are embedded throughout her story come across as off-the-cuff perceptive comments that seem to have been carried over from the spoken word onto paper and fixed. This probably occurs due to the speed at which she thinks and writes prose. It is an incredible form of writing.

The cover design for the book is stupendous showing a wallcreeper feather. Yet I cannot help but think the design is Burial Ritesvery similar to another fantastic debut novel, Burial Rites by Hannah Kent.

This profile of Nell Zink in the New Yorker by Kathryn Schulz published on 18 May 2015 is fabulous. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/05/18/outside-in . Some other links worth reading are:

Robin Romm, review of The Wallcreeper, NYT, 17 Oct 2014  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/books/review/nell-zink-wallcreeper-review.html?_r=0

From the Guardian, January 2015: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/04/nell-zink-jonathan-franzen-clear-distinction-taking-career-seriously-writing-seriously

The Paris Review, December 2014:  http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2014/12/08/purity-of-essence-one-question-for-nell-zink/

An interview in  Vice, June 2015: http://www.vice.com/read/nell-zink-is-damn-free-585

A profile in The Literary Hub, May 2015: http://lithub.com/the-mislaid-plans-of-nell-zink/

I cannot recommend this book enough. It is not necessarily only for the story, but the style too.

Nell Zink The Wallcreeper Fourth Estate, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, London, 2014. Hb. pp.168 

4 September 2015 

 

A fistful of journalism: An interview with Deca collective

Deca( I interviewed some members of  the DECA collective. Founder-member, Sonia Faleiro facilitated the conversation via email. This was uploaded on the Hindu website on 11 April 2015 at: http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/a-fistful-of-journalism/article7088990.ece and a shorter version of it in print on 12 April 2015. I am also c&p the text below.) 

The members of Deca, a global journalism cooperative, share the reason for sharing it, and the future of web publishing. 

Deca is a global journalism cooperative that creates long-form stories about the world to read on mobile devices ( www.decastories.com and @decastories). It takes its cue from Magnum Photos, a member-owned cooperative that changed the rules of photojournalism in the 1950s. Magnum’s founders, including Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson, took advantage of the technological shifts of the time — portable 35mm cameras and fast, cheap film processing —to strike out on their own, covering the stories they felt were most important. With journalism entering an era of dramatic change with tablets and smartphones replacing print books and newspapers, established journalists can now bring their stories directly to readers. These shifts — and agencies like Magnum — are Deca’s inspiration.

Deca’s members have authored acclaimed books and articles in magazines like Harper’sThe Atlantic,The New YorkerTimeScienceRolling StoneGQNational GeographicOutsideBloomberg Businessweek, and The New York Times Magazine. The members — who are based in Rome, London, Shanghai, Barcelona, Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, Seattle, Washington DC, UAE, Lebanon, and South Africa — include winners and finalists of prestigious awards like Pulitzer Prize, National Magazine Award, PEN Literary Award, Livingston Award, Whiting Writers’ Award, and Los Angeles Book Prize. Since Deca’s launch in mid-2014, five stories have been published. Sonia Faleiro’s 13 Men was No. 1 on Amazon India and was selected as a ‘Kindle Select 25’ (one of 25 best books in the Amazon Kindle storefront across all markets).

Once a month, Deca publishes a non-fiction story about the world, somewhere between a long article and a short book. Each piece is written by one member, edited by another, and approved by the rest. The eight founding members are Sonia Faleiro, Stephan Faris, McKenzie Funk, Vanessa M. Gezari, Marc Herman, Mara Hvistendahl, Delphine Schrank, and Tom Zoellner. Recently, Elizabeth Dickinson, Rania Abouzeid, and Richard Poplak became members too. In a freewheeling interview, Deca’s members talk about why they started Deca and the future of publishing on the web. Excerpts:

What prompted the creation of Deca?

Our inspiration — and proposed response to any coming changes — are one and the same. New technologies may be gutting the market for print journalism but they have a silver-ish lining: If journalists want to write directly for their readers, it’s now cheap and easy to pull off. No longer do the two sides need a magazine in order to find one another. Note that we also found inspiration in newer photo cooperatives like Noor and VII, which came about after a more recent sea change in photography: digital cameras. We wanted to tell the important stories of our times, to do so in detail, and for as wide a readership as possible. But we also wanted to maintain the standards we’ve become used to working for great traditional media. We wanted to be sure we’d be well edited, copy edited, and beautifully published. Deca does all of this along with providing us the support and security of working with a group of similarly idealistic but also very hard-working people.

Once you publish the long-form stories, what next?

Photo cooperatives have long functioned as a way to keep archival photos by its members from disappearing in the dust bin. It’s likewise possible that Deca could package and put out anthologies of its members’ work — stories sitting in our individual archives that are newly relevant today.

What are the rules that you foresee changing of making content available on smartphones?

A shocking proportion of people now read their news and books on their smartphones. It helps that screens keep on getting bigger, which is true of Amazon’s phone as well as the new iPhone, apparently. Stories can now live independently of their publications.

How will crowdsourcing work for this collective?

Kickstarter’s been a smashing success so far. But it will go on in some fashion via our website and a campaign on the new crowdsourcing platform Tugboat. Many publications are now using a slow-drip version of the NPR model: “If you like us, please support us.”

How will the collective work add new authors?

New authors will be added subject to a unanimous vote. We’re obviously looking to work with great writers. But we are a co-op so we also want to be sure that whoever we bring on board understands that this is about shared effort, responsibility, wins and losses. They must also be pretty easy to work with.

What is the selection process?

We publish only members’ work and have no plans to do otherwise. We do have plans to eventually translate members’ stories to other languages, however.

Will you develop this into a subscription model or will it remain as an offering of digital singles on KDP?

Yes. Subscribers are signing up now via Kickstarter. Our app is up and running and so is our subscription service. So basically we now sell singles on Amazon. We sell singles and subs through our app that people can download to their smartphones or digital devices. Readers can subscribe to Deca for $14.99, which buys them 10 stories (http://www.decastories.com/store/subscribe/). Readers can also buy singles from our website to read online (http://www.decastories.com/13men/)

Why did you opt for a Digital Restrictions Management (DRM model) when models such as Creative Commons are becoming popular?

Perhaps mainly because we’re a bunch of writers, not techies or business people, and funding our work via the DRM is the model we could most easily wrap our heads around. Creative Commons is great, but we’ve yet to understand how, if readers don’t pay, we can’t fund reporting trips, let alone pay ourselves. So we’ve started with a pay-to-read model and are crossing our fingers. The money for research has to come from somewhere. Readers supporting journalists directly — outside the framework of a magazine or a large media organisation — is also a trend. Even so, our subscription for a full year costs about the same as a single night out at the movies, and directly expresses your support for the continued existence of this kind of journalism.

Will you ever consider anthologising these e-singles in print? (Guernica announced in summer of 2014 it will be publishing an annual print-anthology.)

Absolutely considering. We’re still fond of print, even if we’re enabled by digital. And there may already be cases when you see Deca’s work in print: When new Deca stories come out, we aim to partner with magazines and publish excerpts therein. In fact, Of Ice and Men was on the cover of The New York Times Magazine. They published a whopping 9k word excerpt.

12 April 2015

Kazuo Ishiguro, “The Buried Giant”

The Buried GiantKazuo Ishiguro’s novel, The Buried Giant is set in medieval England, Arthurian England. It is about an elderly couple, Axl and Beatrice who set off on a quest to search for their son of whom they only have a foggy memory.  Along the way they meet Sir Gawain, a Knight of the Round Table and King Arthur’s nephew; Winstan, a Saxon warrior; Edwin, a young Saxon boy and the Boatman who flits in and out of the story. Not to forget Querig the ageing dragon, upon whom Merlin cast a magic spell. Her breath would cause a fog to form over the land, its sole purpose being to make the Britons and Saxons forget they were ever at war. Unfortunately it does away with all memory. Oh, there is also a visit to a monastery thrown in for good measure, a very depressing interlude reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s film adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s short story “The Birds”.

Having spent a decade writing this novel, especially when it is a refashioning of the better known Romance cycle stories, there are details in it that are accurate — references to the tin trade, the war between Britons and Saxons, details about Sir Gawain and the quests the people are sent on. Yet there are details in The Buried Giant such as the references to practicing Christians which is never delineated very clearly in any of the stories of the Romance cycle. Even in the well-known retelling by Malory of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table — Morte D’Arthur  the confusion about some parts of the story lie in the influence Christianity has begun to have on these oral tales. So elements are borrowed and interwoven but never sit well yet Morte D’Arthur is immensely readable for its highly charged atmosphere, the quests, the stories etc. Similarly in Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, two-thirds of it are absorbing to read, but one keeps hoping that despite the bland and detached manner of telling a story involving monsters, knights, wars, and dragons, the diverse elements and characters will come together for a satisfactory end. Unfortunately it is not the case. Neil Gaiman’s review in The New York Times says it is “a novel that’s easy to admire, to respect and to enjoy, but difficult to love.” It is a balanced, constructive and informed critique by the superstar of contemporary mythographers of another exceptional storyteller. ( http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/01/books/review/kazuo-ishiguros-the-buried-giant.html?_r=0)

The Buried Giant is an oddly fascinating novel. I am glad I read it.

Kazuo Ishiguro The Buried Giant Faber & Faber, London, 2015. Pb. pp.350 Rs 799

 

“Price Fighters” ( The Hindu, 31 Aug 2014)

“Price Fighters” ( The Hindu, 31 Aug 2014)

( The Hindu asked me to write a short piece about the ongoing price war between Amazon and Hachette. It was published on 31 August 2014. Here is the link: http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-sundaymagazine/price-fighters/article6365601.ece . I am c&p a longer version of the article published. ) 

Cartoon accompanying the Hindu article On August 10, 2014, Authors United wrote an open letter decrying Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ pressure tactics on Hachette to lower ebook prices. The letter — written by thriller writer, Douglas Preston and placed as a two-page ad, costing $ 104,000, and signed by well-known names such as James Patterson, Stephen King, David Baldacci, Kamila Shamsie, Philip Pullman, Donna Tartt, Ann Patchett, Malcolm Gladwell, Paul Auster and Barbara Kingsolver —states, “As writers — most of us not published by Hachette — we feel strongly that no bookseller should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want. It is not right for Amazon to single out a group of authors, who are not involved in the dispute, for selective retaliation.” The writers printed Bezos’ e-mail id and asked authors to write to him directly.

This letter came after months of a public spat between publisher Hachette and online retailer Amazon. No one is privy to the details but it is widely speculated that the fight is about the pricing of books, especially e-books. Authors began to feel the effect of these business negotiations once Amazon stopped processing sales of their books or became extremely slow in fulfilling orders. It even removed an option to pre-order  The Silkworm , by J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith, prompting the author to respond on Twitter where she encouraged her three million followers to order  The Silkworm from high street stores and independent booksellers. Ironical given that Amazon’s motto is customer satisfaction.

 Amazon defended its actions through a letter released on its website, Readers United (http://www.readersunited.com/), and circulated it to self-published authors using their Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform. In it, the company said that for a “healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.” Amazon is asking for all e-books to be priced at $9.99 or less. Misquoting George Orwell’s ironic comment on the popularity of new format of paperbacks in the 1930s, Amazon wrote that even Orwell had suggested collusion among publishers. It released the e-mail id of Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch, asking readers to write to him directly to make books affordable since it is good for book culture.

 Pietsch replied to all those who wrote to him stating clearly, “Hachette sets prices for our books entirely on our own, not in collusion with anyone… More than 80 per cent of the e-books we publish are priced at $9.99 or lower. Those few priced higher — most at $11.99 and $12.99 — are less than half the price of their print versions. Those higher priced e-books will have lower prices soon, when the paperback version is published. … Unlike retailers, publishers invest heavily in individual books, often for years, before we see any revenue. We invest in advances against royalties, editing, design, production, marketing, warehousing, shipping, piracy protection, and more. We recoup these costs from sales of all the versions of the book that we publish — hardcover, paperback, large print, audio, and e-book. While e-books do not have the $2-$3 costs of manufacturing, warehousing, and shipping that print books have, their selling price carries a share of all our investments in the book.”

Amazon’s shareholders are getting tetchy with the massive losses the company has posted once again. For the current quarter, Amazon forecast that the losses would only grow. It expects a healthy rise in revenue but an operating loss of as much as $810 million, compared with a loss of $25 million in the third quarter of 2013. Losses increased as the firm spent heavily in a bid to expand its business with its first smartphone, the Fire Phone. Bob Kohn has pointed out the monopsony power of Amazon, which has a current market share of 65% of all online book units, digital and print, is not just theoretical; it’s real and formidable. When a company has dominant market power and sells goods for below marginal cost, it is engaging in predatory pricing, a violation of federal antitrust laws.”  There have been articles in USA for the government to enforce the Robinson-Patman Act of 1936, the law prohibits a retailer from wielding its mere size to bully suppliers for discounts. But as Colbert’s experiment of promoting debut author Edan Lepucki’s novel California showed that if readers want, they can procure a book from anywhere. His discussion about it, stemming from his anger for Amazon’s monopolistic practices, propelled California to becoming an NYT bestseller.

In India, commercially-successful author Ashwin Sanghi, drawing parallels between the music industry of 2002 and publishing of today, says, “Books are at an inflection point in 2014; a bit like music was in 2002. Music producers were accustomed to selling CDs whereas Apple wanted to sell singles at 99 cents. The face-off between Amazon and publishers/authors is similar. Publishers wish to charge prices that the industry is accustomed to while Amazon wishes to charge prices that customers will like, thus inducing more customers to buy on Amazon. I think the time has come for Jeff Bezos to sit across the table with publishers. There is no alternative.”

Another author, Rahul Saini writes “I have never supported the idea of monopoly and that is what Amazon is clearly trying to do here. Looking at the argument Amazon is making, it does make sense — buyers are always driven by low prices and heavy discounts (the Indian book market is a perfect example) but I firmly believe that the retailer does not own any right to dictate the pricing of a book. It has to be a mutual consent between the author and the publisher.”

 Popular author Ravinder Singh has his own take. “A publisher has the right to decide the cost of its books (in any format).  If the retailer really wants to bring down the price of the book, he can discount on his margins and should be free to do so. To decide the price tag of a book is a publisher’s (and not retailer’s) prerogative. Having said that, knowingly delaying shipment of titles of a particular publisher (and their authors’) just because it is not accepting the demand, leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth — readers, authors and publishers. Amazon may be right about the price-demand elasticity of the e-book and in saying that it can certainly bring more readership and thereby more money (offsetting the drop in price). But Hachette has all the right to decline it, even if it means letting go off money. As far as authors are concerned, they would not like to see one particular entity in the entire chain (that has accumulated huge powers), be it a publisher or a retailer, to decide their fate. They want to reach out to as many readers as possible, on time and make the royalties that they deserve.”

 Writing in the Guardian, Kamila Shamsie says, “All writers should be deeply concerned by the strong-arm tactics Amazon is using in its contractual dispute with Hachette — similar to tactics used in 2008 with Bloomsbury titles.  Writers want their books to reach readers; and we want to be able to earn a living from our work. It’s a great irony that the world’s largest bookseller is prepared to trample over both those wants in order to gain a business advantage even while claiming to stand up for readers and writers.

Others disagree. Major names in self-publishing including Barry Eisler and Hugh Howey petitioned Hachette asking the publisher to “work on a resolution that keeps e-book prices reasonable and pays authors a fair wage”. This has gathered over 7,600 signatures.

 Publishing is not like selling biscuits or furniture. It isn’t a question of taste and preference but an exercise in social philosophy. Amazon is primarily a tech-company whose dominance in the book industry is unprecedented. There may be some similarities with what happened in the music industry 10 years ago but publishing thrives on editorial tastes, which requires human intervention, not a series of algorithms promoting and recommending books. The book industry relies upon editors who know the business of “discovering” authors and converting them into household names. This public outrage against the ongoing battle between Amazon and Hachette proves that books are important to the cultural dimension of society.

1 September 2014 

The Best of 2013, a list

The Best of 2013, a list

PubSpeak, Jaya

Update. 31 Dec 2013 

I had posted the “Best of 2013” on 22 Dec 2013. To which I have a few more links to add. Here they are. Of the Indian newspapers I have only been able to locate a couple of links online. If anyone can send me the missing urls, I would add them to the list.) 

 

Book Riot: The 10 Best Top 100 Books Lists
The 2013 PW Children’s Starred Reviews Annual, Available Now
Duckbill. Best Indian books of 2013

 

Stylist. CULT BOOKS OF 2013
Business Standard. A year when non-fiction made headlines (2013 in Retrospect)
USA Today: Close the chapter for 2013: Year in review in books
Guernica: Best of 2013, Editors’ Picks
The Guardian: Reader’s picks of 2013
The Mint: Pick of 2013
Daily Mail: Pick of 2013
The Economic Times ( I cannot find the link)
The Hindustan Times ( I cannot find the link)
The Indian Express
Asian Age: Best of 2013
Longform.org: Best of 2013
NewYorker: Best Business Journalism of 2013
The Independent
The Daily Beast
Kirkus Reviews: BOOKS TO GENUINELY INSPIRE YOUR NEW YEAR
Best books from Russia
BBC. Our pick of what’s to come in 2014
The Independent: Forthcoming in 2014
Salon’s What to Read Awards: Top critics choose the best books of 2013
The Express:  Hot 2014 books to tempt literary fans

 

(Early December is when the “best of” lists begin to make their presence. There are many to choose from. Mostly while reading them, I feel I have barely read anything at all! But here are a few of the lists that I found interesting to dip into and will bookmark for 2014.  It would be interesting to do a similar list for South Asia in English, the regional languages and in translation.) 

New Yorker, THE BEST BOOKS OF 2013, PART 1
New Yorker, THE BEST BOOKS OF 2013, PART 2

PW best of 2013

Boyd Tonkin’s list for Best of 2013, The Independent, 29 Nov 2013
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/books-of-the-year-2013-fiction-8970307.html

NYT’s Best Illustrated Books for children
Writers and critics on the best books of 2013
Hilary Mantel, Jonathan Franzen, Mohsin Hamid, Ruth Rendell, Tom Stoppard, Malcolm Gladwell, Eleanor Catton and many more recommend the books that impressed them this year. The Guardian.
The Observer: The publishers’ year: hits and misses of 2013
Publishers choose their books of the year, and the ones that got away
The Observer’s books of the year
From new voices like NoViolet Bulawayo to rediscovered old voices like James Salter, from Dave Eggers’s satire to David Thomson’s history of film, writers, Observer critics and others pick their favourite reads of 2013. And they tell us what they hope to find under the tree … The Guardian
The Guardian, The Observer’s best fiction books of 2013
FT’s books of 2013 ( fiction, non-fiction, translation, poetry, business books, science fiction, young adult, picture books, children, gift books, crime, gardening, food, travel, style, film, pop, classical, architecture & design, art, sport, science, politics, history, and economics)
The Times Literary Supplement’s ( TLS) Books of the Year
The Times Higher Education’s Books of 2013
The Economist’s list of the Books of 2013
Kirkus’s Best Books of 2013  ( fiction, non-fiction, children’s, teen books, indie books and book apps!)
NYT’s Notable Children’s Books of 2013
NYPL’s children’s books of the year
Kirkus’s Best Children’s books of 2013
The Guardian, The best children’s literature of 2013: From picture books for toddlers to novels for teens, Julia Eccleshare and Michelle Pauli choose this year’s standout titles
Guardian’s the best crime and thrillers of 2013
The Globe Books 100: Best Canadian fiction
New Statesman Books of the year
Washington Post’s Best Books of 2013
Spectator writers’ Christmas book choices
Books of the year from Philip Hensher, Jane Ridley, Barry Humphries, Jane Ridley, Melanie McDonagh, Matthew Parris, Nicky Haslam and more
The best children’s books for Christmas
Melanie McDonagh picks The River Singers, The Demon Dentist, Rooftoppers, The Fault in Our Stars, Knight Crusader — and several beautiful Folio editions
Brain Pickings: Best of children’s and picture books for 2013
BBC, Best Books of 2013
NPR’s Book Concierge: Our Guide To 2013’s Great Reads
by Jeremy Bowers, Nicole Cohen, Danny DeBelius, Camila Domonoske, Rose Friedman, Christopher Groskopf, Petra Mayer, Beth Novey and Shelly Tan
Huffington Post 2013
Quill & Quire 2013
The Guardian: Independents’ view of 2013’s best books
Indie bookshops from all over the UK use their expertise and ‘handsellers” passion to choose their books of the year
The Guardian: The best poetry of 2013
From Fleur Adcock’s Glass Wings to Train Songs edited by Sean O’Brien and Don Paterson, Adam Newey rounds up the best poetry of the year
The Guardian: Best science fiction books of 2013
From Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam to Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, Adam Roberts rounds up the best science fiction of the year
Cosmopolitan, The 22 Best Books of the YearFor Women, by Women
Stylist UK, Best of 2013
Amazon.com ( Best books of 2013)
Oprah Winfrey
Pinterest Best of 2013
 
Forbes What Is Your Book Of The Year, 2013?
Lynn Rosen, The Best of the Best
 
Miscellaneous 
Foreign Policy. Global Thinkers of 2013
Reuters photos of the year, 2013
22 Dec 2013
Robin Sloan, “Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore”

Robin Sloan, “Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore”

That is super-depressing. If I made five million dollars selling books, I’d want people to carry me around in a palanquin constructed from the first editions of The Dragon-Song Chronicles. (p.99 )

Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
Web-designer Clay Jannon is a victim of the recession, desperate for a job when he discovers Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. The management is looking for a clerk to manage the musty and mysterious bookstore on the night shift. It suits Clay perfectly little realising what he is committing himself to. From there unravels a fabulous, charmingly told, rich with details and imaginatively narrated, a story about a young man’s quest in unravelling the mysteries of the bookstore where he works. It is a delicious and intoxicating mixture of good fiction, fantasy, mystery, and most definitely about contemporary publishing, its history and the impact of technology over time. There are delightful conversations about bookstores, technology in print and publishing, ebooks and print books. For instance:

“I was under the impression they [young people] read everything on their mobile phones.”

“Not everyone. there are plenty of people who, you know– people who still like the smell of books.”

“The smell!” Penumbra repeats.”You know you are finished when people start talking about the smell.”

p.65

Robin Sloan wrote this novel while working as Media Manager at Twitter. It was inspired by a friend’s tweet that read ““Just misread a sign for a 24-hour book drop for 24-hour bookshop. My disappointment is beyond words.” He wrote it down and it became a 6,000 word short story a few months later. He published it on his website http://www.robinsloan.com/ . Eventually it was the prototype for this novel, a 2012 New York Times Bestseller title.

It is a satisfying read because the storytelling is intelligently done. It is an absorbing account of a secret society called the Unbroken Spine that has a cult following. Its members are determined to unravel the 500-year-old “Founder’s Puzzle”. Unbroken Spine was established by Aldus Manutius, fifteenth century publisher, who “believed there were deep truths hidden in the writings of the ancients– among them, the answer to our greatest question…– How do you live forever?” Upon his death Manutius left behind a book called Codex Vitae — book of life. It was encrypted and the key was given to only one person: his great friend and partner, Griffo Gerriszoon. A book that lingers with you for a long time afterwards is a treasure, Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is one of those. 

There is a link that I came across. It is an online space about everything and anything related to the novel. http://readingmapofpenumbras24hourbookstore.wordpress.com/about-the-author/

Robin Sloan Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore Atlantic Books, Great Britain, 2013. Pb. pp. 290

1 Sept 2013