The Font and the Fury

Bookstore cats are a breed apart.

While recovering from another losing battle between me and the Microsoft Word system that rules my computer I recently read Robin Sloan’s  Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, a literary pick-me-up about book lovers, computers, and the curious obsessives who thrive in the shadows of secret libraries.

What’s not to love, right?

Mr. Penumbra’s, as the name suggests, explores the uneasy interface between old school wisdom keepers and the new technocracy, with its wide open, full-throttle approach to problem solving. The story unfolds somewhere between genres, being neither a conventional mystery, nor a whiz-bang thriller. Some critics have compared it to recent novels such as Erin Morgenstern’s delightfully atmospheric The Night Circus and Neal Stephenson’s weighty Reamde. Yet, although the plot includes a hint of romance and a suggestion of immortal aspiration, it’s more Encyclopedia Brown than Thursday Next. The geek protagonist is a Leonard, not a Sheldon.

In truth, the soul of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore has less to do with technological or magical wizardry than it has to do with the clunky magnetism of age-old fonts.

That’s right. I said fonts. And this is where the Word Warrior in me lifted her shield and sword and embraced the cause.

A good book is a fine thing, but a great font is a rare and precious tool. Unfortunately the Word version on my computer thinks it knows what’s best for me when it comes to fonts. Anyone who has tried to format a document using Microsoft Word has probably grappled with the maddening “helpfulness” of its system. Sometimes, in my dark moments, I long for a typewriter. But then, I never did learn to type, so the computer is really a much better tool for me. If only Word wouldn’t keep second-guessing what I’m trying to do.

Ah well. As they say,  if uppity technology is your problem, you don’t have problems.

However, if you, like me, find yourself in need of a lift after a vexing session with your computer, you could do worse than dip into the pages of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

And, bonus happy points: the cover glows in the dark. Oh yeah. That’s technology anyone can love.