Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

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last posted Oct. 8, 2012, 11:55 p.m.
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Read a short story with this title a few months ago online and loved it. Found out it was being turned into a novel.

Novel came out this week so I ordered the hardcover from Amazon. Normally I would have ordered the Kindle edition but a book about the longevity of books needs to be read in an older form than an e-book.

Thrilled that there's a shout out to Borges on page 12. And in the same breath as Tolkien. No wonder I love this :-)

Note: I'm reading this at the same time as the 24 hour book club (although I doubt I'll have time to finish it in one day).

Front-flap describes it as part Stephenson, part Eco. Another pairing of authors that has me excited to read more :-)

So far it's an easier read than either (for which I'm relieved, having come off Cloud Atlas which was a lot of work :-))

There's something almost too realistic about this so far. The main character is a web designer; Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs just got mentioned; there's talk of Facebook groups and Google ads.

I'm not used to reading novels where the experience is so close to what I know :-)

Mention of Hacker News on page 40 and Ruby on page 41 :-)

I really hope Sloan has kept my favourite line from the short story:

I am really into the kind of girl you can impress with a prototype.

And bingo! There it is on page 55.

I find Kat walking into the store and being into data visualization a little contrived (it was different in the short story but I recall almost equally contrived). I'm hoping something better than serendipity will emerge as an explanation.

I sense an incompatibility between Kat's belief in a disembodied human future and her insistence on alcohol consumption

Love it!

And Robin Sloan himself just favourited a tweet about this ThoughtStream :-)

XKCD mention on page 69.

Ha, he just sold a book for "thirteen dollars" and "thirty seven cents" :-)

Now there's discussion of buying typefaces from

This is like watching a movie set in your home town and recognizing all the locations.

Robin Sloan told me:

I tried to make every number in the book meaningful, even the incidental ones. No random digits.

I work at the opposite of Google

something tells me this is thematically significant

Now Hadoop gets a mention. Although oddly it's in the context of Google using it. I thought Google did MapReduce first and Hadoop was Doug Cutting's implementation done at Yahoo.

At the time, I did notice that the amount Clay says he has in his bank account (page 34) is consecutive prime digits: $2,357.

Robin Sloan's tweet to me suggests that was quite a deliberate choice.

An earlier prime spotting: on page 12, "North Face" girl:

could be a tough twenty-three or a remarkable thirty-one

That Neel's company does realistic boob physics simulation made me laugh out loud. I remember when Neverwinter Nights first came out, a friend pointed out there was mesh animation on the boobs :-)

Her home is the burrow of a bibliophile hobbit

(page 101)

I wonder if Estonians really are big users of Mechanical Turk (page 120)

30,347 Mechanical Turk workers (page 120)

30,347 is another prime :-)

Ooh, just realized that not only is $2,357 made up of prime digits, it's also prime.

Spend much of today working, but now back for part 2, The Library.

The Strangest Clerk in Five Hundred Years — what a great chapter title!

And we have the big reveal on page 136. This is even more like Umberto Eco than I imagined.

totems of office ennui

Dolphin and Anchor was emblematic of the adage "make haste slowly" or festina lente. Aldus Manutius used it as his printer's mark.

The character name "Deckle" reminds me that I'm glad my copy of Penumbra isn't deckled. I don't mind old books being deckled but I dislike deckled new books, especially if they are artificially deckled.

Ha, Penumbra's first name is Ajax.

What typeface is Gerritszoon supposed to be?

Griffo Gerrtiszoon is almost certainly a merger of Francesco Griffo (the designer of typefaces at the Aldine Press) and Gerrit Gerritszoon (aka Erasmus, who worked for the Aldine Press as a Greek scholar).

We are told Gerritszoon was included on the Mac.

There is one typeface inspired by Francesco Griffo that has long been included on the Mac: Hermann Zapf's Palatino.

Interestingly Zapf considered Palatino a display typeface and designed a book weight complement called...wait for it...Aldus :-)

So I guess one could argue Zapf's Aldus is really Gerritszoon and Palatino is Gerritszoon Display.

But I think Palatino is most likely the typeface Sloan intended Gerritszoon to represent.

EDIT: see below

Penumbra is on Google Books. How appropriate :-)

When I said:

Palatino is most likely the typeface Sloan intended Gerritszoon to represent.

represent was too strong. Perhaps it would be best to say that if Gerritszoon was portrayed the typeface to portray it with would be Palatino.

Of course, now I'm wondering what typeface the titles in the book uses. It's not actually Palatino.

Bembo, which is more literally a Francesco Griffo typeface, isn't quite it.

Griffo Classico is almost right, but the apostrophe is wrong.

Poliphilus, Griffo Classico, Van Dijck—they all look so close and they're all based on the work of Francesco Griffo.

So one thing's for sure: the display face used in the book (and probably the book face too) is faithful to Francesco Griffo and the Aldine press.

Such a wonderful touch!

the right book exactly, at exactly the right time.

Such a wonderful book for a fantasy-quest-loving, secret-society-loving, typophile, bibliophile web developer :-)

Actually, I think the title face probably is Poliphilus. If I actually use U+2019 rather than U+0027 it seems to fit perfectly.

So would Gerritszoon (the typeface) be portrayed in a movie as Monotype Poliphilus or Palatino?

One thing I'm still confused by:

How do the novices know what book to request next?

The books they are borrowing are codices vitae right? And they take then away and crack their code right? Doesn't that just give them the decrypted life story of a bound member? How do they know whose codex vitae to request next?

Actually, now that I think of it, are they always returning a book when they pick up a new one?

Skimming over the short story again now. First thing I notice: the novel has a much more realistic description of the Googleplex.

Short story actually uses the word steganography but the novel doesn't mention it once and yet the novel has way more examples of steganography in it (it's a major theme).

Re: this card, Robin Sloan has confirmed to me that it is, in fact, Poliphilus.