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Book Discussion Questions: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

mr. penumbra's 24-hour bookstore book coverTitle: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
Author: Robin Sloan
Page Count: 288 pages
Genre: Tech Fiction, Adult Fiction for Teens
Tone: Likeable, Quirky, Offbeat

Summary: The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco web-design drone and landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, and never seem to actually buy anything. Soon he ropes his friends into helping him figure out just what’s going on.

 

SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement: 2018 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Why did Ajax Penumbra hire Clay?

2. What is the purpose of recording everything about the customer’s physical features? (p. 19, “…were there button on his coat made of mother-of-pearl? Or were they horn? Some kind of metal? Copper?”)

3. What do you think of Clay? Was he an accessible protagonist? How was he uniquely able to help Mr. Penumbra on his quest?

4. How does the novel deal with old and new technology? What do you think about that?

5. As the “information superhighway” began to really take off, many predicted that there would no longer be any use for libraries. What do you think about that? What has happened? Can the old ways coexist with the new? What does the book say about the idea that you can find everything on Google?

6. What did you think was happening in the bookstore? Did you think there was something nefarious happening?

7. What role does Corvina play in the story? What does he represent? How do you feel about him? Is he right to act as he does?

8. Kat introduces the concept of Singularity – “the hypothesis that the invention of artificial superintelligence will abruptly trigger runaway technological growth, resulting in unfathomable changes to human civilization” – on p. 58 (Wikipedia). She says you have to be an optimist. Is our feeling toward the future regarding technology’s role dependent upon how optimistic or pessimistic we are?

9. Mr. Penumbra tells Clay he didn’t know young people still read books. (p. 65) He looks at Clay’s Kindle, noticing things that are good about, such as being able to make the font bigger. He also notices the font is a very old one, Gerritszoon. Is/was the Kindle a positive example of a new way to interface with the old?

10. Why is the book set in San Francisco? What role did that city play in the story? Why did New York make an appearance?

11. There was a lot of concern during the time of Guttenberg and Manutius, as people worried printing houses would take work away from monks, and would replace skilled labor with unskilled labor, and take away the prestige of books as they became more accessible to common people. Was that concerned founded? What is the similarity between that and what is happening today as far as books and technology?

12. What role did The Dragonslayer Chronicles play in this book? Would you publish the third book or leave it hidden forever?

13. Describe Clay’s friend Neel and their relationship?

14. Which character did you most relate to? Why? Which character did you least relate to?

15. What do you think about the answer to “our greatest question”/how to live forever?

16. Why does the Festina Lente company embrace technology but the Unbroken Spine does not?

17. Society’s reaction to the advent of the printing press was somewhat similar to society’s reaction to the Kindle. Why? Were the opponents of printing houses correct to feel as they did? What about those who felt the Kindle and ebooks would destroy reading and book culture?

“ChurchHatesTucker points us to a wonderful historical analysis of a 15th century luddite, abbot Johannes Trithemius, who was no fan of the printing press, because of what it was going to do to those poor monks. It wasn’t just that it would put them out of work, but that it would impact their souls. He worried that the printing press would make monks lazy.

It was okay that the act of copying was hard. It built character, in Trithemius’s opinion, the same way as chopping wood (though to this “interior exercise,” i.e. exercise of the spirit, he assigned far more importance). For monks, labor was part and parcel of devotion, and if you weren’t good at writing, you could do binding, or painting, or for heaven’s sake practice. And it goes even further: the labor of manuscript writing was something for monks to do — for there was no greater danger for the devout soul than idleness.

For among all the manual exercises, none is so seemly to monks as devotion to the writing of sacred texts.

He also pulls out the typical “but this new fangled thing just isn’t as nice as the old stuff”: He does spend some time talking about practical reasons that printed books weren’t anything to get bothered about: their paper wasn’t as permanent as the parchment the monks used (he even advocates the hand-copying of “useful” printed works for their preservation); there weren’t very many books in print, and they were hard to find; they were constrained by the limitations of type, and were therefore ugly.” (Predictions by Mike Masnick, www.techdirt.com February 25. 2011)

18. There were many opposing reviews of this book. How many of you found the book to be charming? Overly-convenient? Clever? Implausible? Fun? Did you think ever-present synchronistic elements add to or detracted from the plot?

19. Would you recommend Mr. Penumbra to a friend? What other books would you recommend to a fan of this book?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!

OTHER RESOURCES:

New York Times review, “Bookworms and Apples”
Slate review “Scanners”
Robin Sloan’s official author website
LitLovers discussion guide
NPR interview with Robin Sloan “‘Mr. Penumbra’ Bridges the Digital Divide”

READALIKES:

The Invisible Library book coverThe Invisible Library
by Genevieve Cogman

S book coverS.
by Doug Durst and J.J. Abrams

Asked at the Desk: Bookshop Fiction

Picture of Fiction/AV/Teen desk

J. R. R. Tolkien wrote, “Not all those who wander are lost.” Book lovers know the anticipation, excitement and joy they experience when wandering a bookshop, not quite sure what they are looking for until they’ve found it. This is why the allure of bookshops is so strong, and why a recent patron who visited the desk was inquiring about a publishing trend: bookshop fiction. If you’d like to explore some of these books yourself, check out the following titles:

Tried and True

The Thirteenth Tale book coverThe Thirteenth Tale
Diane Setterfield
The Shadow of the Wind book coverThe Shadow of the Wind
Carlos Ruiz Zafon

New to Me

A Novel Bookstore
Jenny Colgan
The Lost for Words Bookshop book coverThe Lost for Words Bookshop
Stephanie Butland

The Bookstore
Deborah Meyler

Interested in more suggestions? Stop by Fiction/AV/Teen Services on the second floor to ask at the desk yourself, or ask online to visit our virtual desk.

Books: Hispanic Heritage Month September 15 – October 15

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month we spotlight some of the best newer books by Latinx authors, both up-and-coming and familiar favorites.

Fruit of the Drunken TreeFruit of the Drunken Tree book cover by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

A novel set against the violence of 1990s Columbia follows a sheltered girl and a teen maid, who forge an unlikely friendship as the families of both struggle to maintain stability amidst Bogotá’s rapidly escalating violence.

The House of Impossible Beauties book cover

The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara

1980, New York City. Burned by her traumatic past, Angel is new to the drag world, new to ball culture, and has a yearning inside of her to help create family for those without. When she falls in love with Hector, a beautiful young man who dreams of becoming a professional dancer, the two decide to form the House of Xtravaganza, the first-ever all-Latino house in the Harlem ball circuit. But when Hector dies of AIDS-related complications, Angel must tend to their house alone. She recruits Venus, a whip-fast trans girl who dreams of finding a rich man to take care of her; Juanito, a quiet boy who loves fabrics and design; and Daniel, a butch queen who accidentally saves Venus’s life.

Lost EmpressLost Empress Book Cover by Sergio de la Pava

A shockingly hilarious novel that tackles both America’s most popular sport and its criminal justice system. From Paterson, New Jersey to Rikers Island to the streets of New York City, a cast of characters is assembled unlike any other in modern fiction: dreamers and exiles, immigrants and night-shift workers, lonely pastors and others at the fringes of society–each with their own impact on the fragile universe they navigate. At the story’s center is Nina Gill, daughter of the aging owner of the Dallas Cowboys. When her brother inherits the team and she is left with the Paterson Pork, New Jersey’s only Indoor Football League franchise, Nina vows to take on the NFL and make the Paterson Pork pigskin kings of America.

Her Body and Other PartiesHer Body and Other Parties book cover by Carmen Maria Machado

A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store’s prom dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted house guest.

The Friend book coverThe Friend by Sigrid Nunez

When a woman unexpectedly loses her lifelong best friend and mentor, she finds herself burdened with the unwanted dog he has left behind. Her own battle against grief is intensified by the mute suffering of the dog, a huge Great Dane traumatized by the inexplicable disappearance of its master, and by the threat of eviction: dogs are prohibited in her apartment building.

Short Story Discussion: The Short of It

The Short of It book coverIf you are a short story reader you won’t want to miss The Short of It, our upcoming discussion on Monday, September 17 at 7:00pm. Enjoy a compelling discussion and engage with other literature lovers! Join retired high school teacher Ron Crowley-Koch for a discussion revolving around the following three short stories freely available online and linked below. Please read the stories twice to glean their true beauty.

Revelation Book Cover

 

Revelation” by Flannery O’Connor

 

 

 

 

 

Haircut Book CoverHaircut” by Ring Lardner

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fly book coverThe Fly” by Katherine Mansfield.

Book Discussion Questions: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale book coverTitle: The Handmaid’s Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Page Count: 311 pages
Genre: Dystopian Fiction, Literary Fiction
Tone: Complex, Introspective, Disturbing, Reflective

Summary:
Offred, a Handmaid, describes life in what was once the United States, now the Republic of Gilead, a shockingly repressive and intolerant monotheocracy. It is set in the near future in which women are no longer allowed to read and are valued only as long as they are viable for reproduction.

SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

The Library is happy to share these original questions for your use. If reproducing, please credit with the following statement: 2018 Mount Prospect Public Library. All rights reserved. Used with Permission.

1. Did you find this book relatable and believable, or did you find it far-fetched as Mary McCarthy did in her 1986 New York Times’ book review? What triggered the rise of this theonomy in the pre-Gilead United States? What part did infertility and declining birthrates play? Is this a realistic premise?

2. Let’s talk about taking away the credit cards and freezing the bank assets. Did you understand Offred and her husband Luke’s reaction to the situation? Did you understand Luke’s reasoning that he would be able to help her in spite of the government restrictions? In times of sudden conflict, do people generally try to rationalize rather than react swiftly? Could Offred and Luke have done anything to stop what happened after the coup? As the U. S. government was collapsing, why didn’t Luke and Offred do more to escape?

3. If you read this in 1986 when it was written, would anything resonate differently for you? Did anyone read this long ago? Is history repeating itself, or why has this story made a comeback?

4. What accounts for the Commander’s interest in Offred? Is it genuine? Is genuine possible in Gilead?

5. What do you think of Moira’s placement at the brothel? Why was she not simply killed or made to work in the radioactive fields? What happens to strong women who don’t follow the crowd? Is it different than what happens to strong men who don’t follow the crowd?

6. In this novel handmaids no longer have unique names, but are given the name of the male head of the household, e.g. Of-Fred, Offred. How is that effective in eliminating these women’s identity? Is there any modern day custom in our culture that is similar? What are your thoughts about that?

7. Author Margaret Atwood said, “I didn’t put in anything that we haven’t already done, we’re not already doing, we’re seriously trying to do, coupled with trends that are already in progress… So all of those things are real, and therefore the amount of pure invention is close to nil.” What means of effective oppression previously used in history did the rulers of Gilead use to keep their system in place?

8. Why, if many of the novel’s plot points were literally true, would people have difficulty finding them believable or relatable?

9. Let’s talk about Serena Joy, the commander’s wife. How did you feel about her? What made her who she was? Talk about her life before Gilead? Was this what she wanted, did she “buy into” the premise of Gilead? Did she have more of voice that the handmaids? Did she have a better position?

10. Ofglen is the first character Offred meets who is a part of the resistance. How does she know Offred would be a potential member of the resistance? Why would any handmaid not be a part of the resistance?

11. How did you feel religion was handled in this book? It is a missive against religion? Atwood said the people running Gilead are “”not really interested in religion; they’re interested in power.” Do you agree?

12. How would you classify this book?

13. As Anna Sheffer writes in “The Epilogue of the Handmaid’s Tale Changes Everything You Thought You Knew About the Book,” “Pieixoto himself describes the process of naming the transcribed document, saying that “all puns were intentional, particularly that having to do with the archaic vulgar signification of the word tail; that being, to some extent, the bone, as it were, of Gileadean society.” The two male researchers take full advantage of their ability to title the manuscript and bestow on it a cheeky name that alludes to and, by making a pun, mocks Offred’s sexual servitude.” How does that make you feel?

14. Offred’s true identity was never discovered, but the commander was believed to have been one of two men, both of whom were glorified for their services to Gilead. How does that resonate with the way in which history is communicated? Does that weaken Offred’s story?

15. This book was written in a way that was less polished and more disjointed than other Atwood books. Why might that be? What is the book supposed to be? How did Offred communicate her story?

16. There was not much written about the powerful people at the top of the government who ran Gilead? Why would that be? In this story we are looking back a couple hundred years in the past. How does that vantage point affect what we’ve learned? How is history illuminated or distorted by the way it is told? Who usually writes history?

17. Are you glad you read this story? Why or why not?

Want help with your book discussion group? Check out tips, advice, and all the ways the Library can help support your group!

OTHER RESOURCES:

Why The Handmaid’s Tale Is So Relevant Today” via The BBC
“The Epilogue of The Handmaid’s Tale Changes Everything You Thought You Knew About the Book” via Electric Lit
interview with Forbes: “Author Margaret Atwood On Why ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Resonates in 2018
New York Times 1986 book review
SparkNotes literary guide
Margaret Atwood’s official author website
LitLovers discussion guide
Literary Hub interview with Margaret Atwood

READALIKES:

When She Woke book coverWhen She Woke
by Hillary Jordan

1984 book cover1984
by George Orwell

The Silence of the Girls book coverThe Silence of the Girls
by Pat Barker

The Swallows of Kabul book coverThe Swallows of Kabul
by Yasmina Khadra

Future Home of the Living God book coverFuture Home of the Living God
by Louise Erdrich

Brave New World book coverBrave New World
by Aldous Huxley

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