In Which A Book Makes Me Want to Be a Programmer


Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Robin Sloan


You know this might be arrogant, but part of me thinks I could have excelled as a programmer.

When I was in my final year of high school and wondering what course to take up, all I could think of was that I didn’t want to take up Computer Science.

It was a rebellious teenager kind of thing.

My parents were enthralled with all the people they knew who had kids taking up the course because it was the course to be taking up at that time. You know how you have fad courses from time to time? Now it’s Nursing, but back then it was Com Sci.

So I figured I didn’t want it. Besides, I suck at math. It would be no good trying to take up something that I wouldn’t excel in.

(Also, at that time I thought I wanted to be a copywriter. I was wrong. I switched majors half-way through.)

But now that I’m working in a rather techie position, I’m thinking I might have been wrong about my career choice. I love being an academic, and I can live in a library (except ghosts tend to stick around in libraries, and I prefer not having my work environment populated by ghosts), but the money’s in programming.

Plus, when you’re a programmer, people expect you to be odd. They expect you to be cranky and socially awkward so you don’t really have to talk to people. Anything horrible you might do can and will be chalked up to your weird nerd brain.

(Granted, life as an academic gives you all that, too, but with a huge hunking side helping of poverty. I do not like poverty, so in this regard being a programmer sort of wins out.)

And programming is logic, when you think about it. You have languages, and you make computers do stuff with your words. How is that not the closing thing we have to wizardry?

But I have been distracted from the true purpose of this post (as always).

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a rather unique book. It’s not every day you get a novel that combines an ancient cult, Google, and data visualization.

The constant mention of things like social media, the Internet, and even bloody Fruit Ninja can get tiring after a while, but what right do I have to complain? I’m the one who gets antsy when my phone gets no 3G signal.

Maybe real life is annoying, and the book simply reflects that.

Anyway, I don’t exactly know how to describe it. The novel is sprawling, which is weird for something so short. Here’s a better way to put it: I’m not sure it even follows the three-act structure.

But it’s an interesting novel, and it’s worth a read. It’s kind of funny, actually (such as when it mentions a new Google project that seeks to harness the power of hubris).

Best of all, this has to be the only book I’ve read with a disgustingly lavish paean to a programming language. It’s so nerdy I think Urkel tried to kill himself after reading it.

And so now I figure I want to learn how to code Ruby. Dude was gushing so hard about it I just can’t help myself. Whether I do end up learning how to code, though, is another story.


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