Was Clay able to stick by that injunction? Of course not. The books contain clues to an ancient puzzle. That's where the adventure begins.
I loved the way this book led me off onto tangents. For example, when a protagonist "produces another e-reader -- it's a Nook. Then another one, a Sony. Another one, marked KOBO. Really? Who has a Kobo?" (Answer: Canadians. I see patrons with Kobo e-readers in my library all the time.)
Clay's clandestine activities involve "a pair of white Stormtrooper binoculars" at one point, which reminded me of a great vlog post by author John Green, where he talks about book editors and whether stormtroopers is one word or two (and many other things), and I had to go find it again here. Come to think of it, Clay bonded with his friend Neel over a fantasy novel that they read as kids in much the same way as Green's protagonists in The Fault in our Stars.
Even though I was going off onto side roads, I never found these detracted from the main journey. It's all a brain game, really. Also, Sloan's humour hit the right notes for me, like naming a bibliophile 'Mr. Deckle.' Clay's girlfriend Kat gushes about her employer's (Google) projects:
"They are making a 3-D web bowser. They are making a car that drives itself. They are making a sushi search engine -- here she pokes a chopstick down at our dinner -- to help people find fish that is sustainable and mercury-free. They are building a time machine. They are developing a form of renewable energy that runs on hubris."
Clay's description of his first experience with audiobooks got me thinking about why I love them so much:
"I've never listened to an audiobook before, and I have to say, it's a totally different experience. When you read a book, the story definitely happens inside your head. When you listen, it seems to happen in a little cloud all around it, like a fuzzy knit cap pulled down over your eyes."
Yes, that is how it is for me. Sound adds a visceral element to books also; a gut sensation. I nearly missed my bus stop yesterday because I was so absorbed by Amanda Plummer's audiobook narration of Wildwood by Colin Meloy. (My literal knit cap did not cover my eyes, but it was about 15 below, and I put my headphones on top of my hat. Then my hood.)
I leave you with Sloan's final paragraph (and don't worry, it isn't a spoiler):
"A man walking fast down a dark lonely street. Quick steps and hard breathing, all wonder and need. A bell above a door and the tinkle it makes. A clerk and a ladder and warm golden light, and then: the right book exactly, at exactly the right time."
That special book is Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.
Readalikes with underdog nerds banding together to problem-solve at the intersection of old and new technologies: Ready Player One (Ernest Cline); For the Win (Cory Doctorow).