Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore

Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore

I love this novel! I’d really like to read your thoughts on the following questions:

  1. On Page 35, Mr Penumbra states that ‘the relationship between book and reader is private’. What does he mean by this? How does the novel complicate this relationship?
  2. On page 58, Kat says: ‘But I think writers had their turn…and now it’s programmers who get to upgrade the human operating system.’ Does the novel privilege programmers/digital over writers/print? Do you agree that programmers are now more important than writers?
  3. At the heart of the novel is the collision of old-world handwork and the automated digital age. How do Clay and Mat build a bridge between these two worlds?
  4. The characters remind us that fifteenth-century technologies of the book—from punch-cutting to typesetting—were met with fear and resistance, as well as with entrepreneurial competition and the need to teach new skills. How does this compare to the launch of e-books? If you try to picture what literacy will look like five hundred years from now, what do you see?

4 thoughts on “Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore

  1. 1. I think he means that everyone experiences a book differently and how you react to a book is something private. With everyone finding different meanings in the same book, your relationship with it is unique and private. However, when they scan the book and try and process it through Google, this complicates that. They are no longer looking for an individual, personal meaning but a universal one which, of course, they can’t find because it doesn’t exist.
    2. I don’t think the novel necessarily puts one above the other but rather tries to show how they can compliment each other. You can find a lot about a book using digital technology but somethings have to be found by the readers. And while programmers are important, they have quite a different role from a writer, you can’t really compare them. We need both. We need the new capabilities digital technology brings, we need the speed and efficiency of it. However, we also need the writers, we need the long form narratives that have for so long been the way we express ideas and thoughts.
    3. They sort of create a mirror between them. They created a digital copy of something physical. They used the digital world to give something a sort of immortality. Things in the real world will come and go and disappear as time goes on but by reflecting that world in the digital world they give those things an immortality, a way of living after they have gone from the real world.
    4. I think when eBooks came along people were reluctant and wanted to hold on to what we had. People, in general, do not like change even if it’s for the better and so there was resistance and the belief that it would somehow damage what we had. However, it didn’t take too long for the majority of people to at least not fear eBooks. Sure, not everyone uses eBooks but people adapted to their existence quite quickly.
    In five hundred years time I imagine that physical books will pretty much be gone. Not necessarily because digital literature is better but because our need for trees will be too great to waste the resources on something as unnecessary as physical books. Sure, when eBooks didn’t exist, we needed to use those trees to create the paper for the books, it was our way of education and entertainment but now that isn’t the only way, eventually we’ll need the trees more than we do physical books.

  2. 1. On Page 38, Mr Penumbra states that ‘the relationship between book and reader is private’. What does he mean by this? How does the novel complicate this relationship?

    When you are reading a book, no one else is involved in the experience apart from your own mind and the text. Those are the only two influences that are present when comprehending a novel. In Penumbra’s case he is more concerned about the trust of a reader, to keep the secret of the way back shelves safe.

    The novel itself complicates this issue as the main topic of the story is essentially about exposing the puzzle, however this is contradicted by the fact that, despite the efforts of Clay and Kat, the puzzle cannot be solved. I believe this is a type of metaphor for the idea that there is never one solution to a novel, every reader has their own interpretation, and there is no one sole answer.

    2. On page 61, Kat says: ‘But I think writers had their turn…and now it’s programmers who get to upgrade the human operating system.’ Does the novel privilege programmers/digital over writers/print? Do you agree that programmers are now more important than writers?

    The digital aspect is presented in the novel as the problem solver, and it’s definitely seen as the best route at first. Clay uses digital programming to uncover the order in which each member is taking out books, and this reveals the shape of the face in the shelves. But there is only so far technology can take them, as they cannot solve the puzzle using the digital equipment they have at Google. Therefore the reader looses their trust in digital and it is switched back around to tradition being on top.

    Of course writers will always be more powerful than programmers, because programmers have no content for such things as eBooks, without writers.

    3. At the heart of the novel is the collision of old-world handwork and the automated digital age. How do Clay and Mat build a bridge between these two worlds?

    I believe that Clay and Mat try to build a bridge, with high hopes, but it doesn’t come through, purely because these two worlds are best kept separate. They involve the old and the new in terms of the people they come across in the Unbroken Spine, with members being very traditional thinking, in terms of the involvement of ancient coding. Ironically the technology that Clay organizes to use at Google to uncover the mystery also involves coding but neither approach works and certainly not simultaneously.

    4. The characters remind us that fifteenth-century technologies of the book—from punch-cutting to typesetting—were met with fear and resistance, as well as with entrepreneurial competition and the need to teach new skills. How does this compare to the launch of e-books? If you try to picture what literacy will look like five hundred years from now, what do you see?

    At first eBooks were perceived as a massive threat to the print world, and although it is increasing and I do believe that technology will evolve further, print will always be around. Unfortunately in 500 years time, it may not be as popular as it is now, and eBooks will take over.

  3. 1. To me this suggests how books are perhaps the only medium that present you with a blank visual slate. The places, characters and situations are laid out to you, but everyone’s imaginations will act upon the descriptions differently.

    Here you have books being digitised, and then represented visually on a computer, but computer will only ever come out with the same result (at least in this day and age). In this way the relationship is complicated. How can we hope to stay unique when computers begin perceive things for us? Clay’s method seems cheapened while the other members continue to slog away for years at a time.

    2. Logistically yes? The novel certainly deifies programmers, while also ostracising them. They’re in much higher demand in the real world. Also, video games wouldn’t exist without them so they’ve got that going on.

    I once heard someone say that ‘modern technology is our next evolution, and that phones have become extensions of out bodies’, a statement that is becoming increasingly difficult to deny. It is also completely in line with Kat’s quote, as programmers decide the future of what is capable through technology, and therefore the capabilities of most people in the first world.

    However, there’s something more eternal about a writer. I still feel a writer is more able to comment/criticise a society than a programmer is. Programmer’s are among society, they make their living by appealing to it. A writer is free to sit back and poke holes in the elements of a culture, and then be remembered/hailed for it.

    I found this to be the most interesting question as the lines between the two seem quite fine. Anyone feel the same?

    4. eBooks had a bit of delayed fear. It seems like the lust to switch back to hard copies has only just started recently. I always thought it was their convenience (and a lot of marketing) that attracted so many people to them when they were first released.

    Realistically I think the future of publishing will be much the same as the up and down with eBooks. Any new tech or method for reading will come in, get hyped by producers, sell enough units to make a few million, but then people will realise it sucks compared to just having a book in front of you.

  4. 1. How you interpret the book and the writer’s messages are completely private and a matter of individual opinion. Sure you may discuss this from time to time, but never in the depth that you may have experienced when reading the novel by yourself. In the case of the novel I think it’s geared more towards how the secrets of the books are meant to be found and kept hidden by those who found it, however this perhaps isn’t true once the book has been digitally converted through Google, as it is as if the entire internet is now processing this book.

    2. I disagree – what can the programmers program without the written content being produced first? Digital publishing is becoming a huge mass market, but this can’t be stemmed unless writers have their share in print too. The novel perhaps doesn’t advantage one or the other – after all, both are needed equally as much to solve the mystery – but I would say that perhaps programmers and writers are working together rather than replacing one or another. Writers’ work can be enhanced by a programmer or digitization, but then a programmer can produce better work if the writing is much better than before.

    3. Mat is a very practical person, as we can see through his construction of ‘Matopolis’ (or however it’s spelt). When Clay asks for something to examine his item in depth, he is given a magnifying class instead of anything digital. It’s almost as if through the entire novel they try to bridge the gap between physical and digital, but it never really works out until the end. After countless efforts of using technology to uncover the mystery, all has failed, and its down to Clay and his physical examination where he finally finds the answers.

    4. I personally think the launch of eBooks have been a success – perhaps not at first, since people were reluctant to give up their physical books, but over time, eBooks and digital publishing has dramatically launched into something that will perhaps eventually take over the print market. It is a huge debate as to whether it’s better to have a print book or a digital eBook, but one that will never universally be agreed with. The future of publishing is most certainly with technology – technology is the future! eBooks will probably be bigger than ever, with not as many printed books being sold, or even being made! Perhaps through generation after generation, people will forget what it was like to even hold a physical book in their hands.

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