Further reading for Penumbra fans

So you read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, and you enjoyed it, and now you want something similar. Or maybe you didn’t enjoy it, and now you want something better! Either way: here are a handful of books that make great next steps. By listing them here, I don’t mean to imply equivalence; I think every one of these books is Penumbra’s superior, each in its own way. But I also think they all belong on the same shelf, somehow. So … here’s the shelf:

I feel like Amazon should be selling A Working Theory of Love with Penumbra in a little two-pack, because the similiarities are so striking. First novel: check. Set in San Francisco: check. Funny first-person narrator: check. Healthy dollop of technology: check. Published on October 2, 2012: check?! (That last one is spooky.) Scott Hutchins’ book is a dizzying read if you know San Francisco, because the landmarks are so precise. Mission residents in particular will find familiar storefronts and street corners in these pages.

I’ve talked about Close to the Machine ad nauseum, so I won’t repeat my entire rave here. Suffice it to say, this is one of the great San Francisco books, in large part because it renders so faithfully the new San Francisco. You’d think that more books would have done that by now! Sadly, no; there’s still a lot of chowder being peddled out there.

There’s a bit of early publishing history in Penumbra, and my main source for that was The Book in the Renaissance. I’ve written about Andrew Pettegree’s history elsewhere, so here I’ll just say this: if you are even a little bit interested in Gutenberg’s world, you will dig this. Turns out the book business circa 1450-1600 was just as competitive and chaotic — just as weird — as the internet business today.

Now this is definitely an aspirational association: The Information is one of the best books, on any subject, in any genre, of the last few years. Like Penumbra, it’s a book interested in messages and codes and the question of what endures, and how. But Gleick’s book, which is a sort of cross-cutting history, goes about a hundred times deeper. By the third chapter, your brain will be crackling. By the fifth, it will be on fire.

May 2011