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The North Wind

The North Wind

The North Wind

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas WiertellaApril 30, 2024

Beneath glow-in-the-dark cover: quirky, smart, hilarious

For the first time in like three years, I started and finished a book that wasn’t the “Da Vinci Code,” “Pride and Prejudice” or (no judgment) “Twilight.”

I probably shouldn’t pat myself on the back, though. Robin Sloan’s first novel, “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore,” didn’t even exceed 300 pages.

Yet if every other author could generate such exuberant characters, execute a full-blown mystery and maintain the profound level of nerdiness Sloan somehow achieved in 288 pages, my Have-Read list might finally outweigh my Must-Finish list.

It’s a genre misfit, so if you’re fond of Dungeons and Dragons, typography, books (this is a book review, people), California culture, the World Wide Web, design, secret societies or philosophy, this should be on your radar. If you’re college bound, in college, a college graduate or job-seeking, this should be on your radar.

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Like many of us, protagonist Clay Jannon is desperate for employment. First in a noble design-oriented career; then at a company with good-to-subpar morals; then decidedly anywhere that would hire him. We’ve all been there.

And in wandering melancholy, he stumbles upon Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, a seemingly nondescript business hiring for the graveyard shift. The typical tale quickly turns into every Harry Potter fanatic’s wet-dream.

Sloan, who “splits his time between San Francisco and the Internet,” takes the opportunity to weave his deep knowledge of technology, computer programming and web design into a magical mystery. The book transcends the bridge between an antiquated literary society and the innovative Googlers of the West Coast.

I thought this all very cool and clever until I was drowning in search-bar tabs, trying to figure out how and why and where I could breach the sea of techy terms. Perhaps a prerequisite is to have more extensive knowledge than a 100-level HTML formatting class.

But what Sloan lacks in more thorough explanation of programming, he gains with character development.

Ironically enough, Sloan doesn’t give his main character all the props. He surrounds Jannon with quirky, successful friends, roommates and love interests. People living in nonchalant San Fran flats. Creative, driven, disgustingly brilliant. Employed by themselves; employed by Google.

He is the most underwhelming in terms of career and income, and probably even success. Jannon is consistently on some level of average.

But once he is able to utilize his friend’s intellectual (and sometimes financial) resources, it becomes clear that he might be just as clever as the lot of them.

BONUS: if you’re a fan of judging the literal book by its cover, this one glows in the dark.

An ode to the inner churnings of the novel, you’ll realize how sharp it really is. “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Book Store” will lead you to believe the unbelievable,  make you want to hang out with the characters, and most importantly, it will inspire you to want to hang up your degree and settle for work at a musty old book store for minimum wage. For better or worse.

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