Lois Clary is a software engineer at General Dexterity, a San Francisco robotics company with world-changing ambitions. She codes all day and collapses at night, her human contact limited to the two brothers who run the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall from which she orders dinner every evening. Then, disaster! Visa issues. The brothers close up shop, and fast. But they have one last delivery for Lois: their culture, the sourdough starter used to bake their bread. She must keep it alive, they tell her—feed it daily, play it music, and learn to bake with it.
Lois is no baker, but she could use a roommate, even if it is a needy colony of microorganisms. Soon, not only is she eating her own homemade bread, she’s providing loaves daily to the General Dexterity cafeteria. The company chef urges her to take her product to the farmer’s market, and a whole new world opens up.
When Lois comes before the jury that decides who sells what at Bay Area markets, she encounters a close-knit club with no appetite for new members. But then, an alternative emerges: a secret market that aims to fuse food and technology. But who are these people, exactly?
This book was great! It is fun and quirky. I think you can read it either to find purpose and meaning, or just for a nice, quick read.
I am definitely a Robin Sloan fan. I enjoyed Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore as well so I was looking forward to this one. While his stuff can be a bit out there (it definitely falls in the Magical Realism category), it is not so out there that it is hard to stay engaged. It is like he takes things from our normal, everyday lives and tweaks them slightly towards the bizarre. After finishing his works, you may not look at the little things quite the same anymore.
Also, this is definitely a book for foodies! If you love food, baking, unique culinary trends, farmer’s markets, ordering new takeout food that takes you out of your comfort zone (see what I did there . . . take out . . . takes you out . . . ah, well, at least I thought it was clever! ;)), then you must read this book.
Oh, and now I want ALL THE SOURDOUGH! If you read this near a bakery you will give them ALL YOUR MONEY and OD on bread.
oooh, goodreads choice awards semifinalist for best fiction! what will happen?
this is the same kind of breezy good fun as the author’s debut, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, but while that one was about computer-savvy booknerds having secret-society-based adventures in san francisco, this one is about computer-savvy FOODnerds having secret-society-based adventures in san francisco. so, totes different dynamic.
that might sound like me having a go at sloane, but i’m not at all - i love books and i love food and i love mysterious adventures involving secret societies. if his third book turns out to be about a secret cabal of adorable fuzzy baby animalnerds who have adventures in san francisco, i’m not gonna say no, especially if it glows in the dark the way the first two do (including the arcs), which is thoughtful AND fun:
he is hard to review, though. a lot of the fun of his books is in that journey of discovery where a thing leads to an unexpected thing leads to a weird thing leads to…adventure! they’re all brisk movement, full of heart and charming characters with nothing to offend any reader, all without coming across as cloying or cheesy. except when he is actually writing about cheese, which he does at great length in this book.
it’s a quick read that doesn’t skimp on details or research; there are fun food facts, clever ha-has sprinkled throughout, and it’s got this really appealing tone of bonhomie, which is just what the doctor ordered to offset all the discord spinning through the world right now. a very pleasant distraction that will make you smile and desperately crave bread (slathered in butter, please). if i had to point out one negative thing, it’s that his characters aren’t as developed or complex as you may find elsewhere, but in a way it’s a little freeing to read something that isn’t concerned with psychological scrutiny, and i kind of loved that it was fun without being “dumb” fun.
OH - i just realized - this book is "adventures in food and fun!!" which is a thing that used to happen here on goodreads and no longer does. quick - gimmie some bread to dry these nostalgic tears!
review to come post-vacation/when sober - whichever comes first.
Well, now that we've gotten that out of the way...
The above GIF probably clues you in on one of the reasons I requested this book from NetGalley the minute I saw it. (My obsessive love of carbs aside, I was a huge fan of Robin Sloan's last book, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore—see my original review—so that had something to do with it, too!)
Lois Clary is a software engineer who moves her life from Michigan to San Francisco after receiving a job offer from General Dexterity, a prestigious robotics company with the ambition of replacing the actual workforce with robots. She and her fellow Dextrous spend days, nights, every waking minute coding and rewriting lines of code to make the company's robotic arms function in a more human way.
Even though she's surrounded by people, and sometimes finds herself sleeping at work, Lois still leads a fairly lonely existence. The only person she sees outside of the office is one of the two brothers who run Clement Street Soup and Sourdough, the hole-in-the-wall takeout place from where she orders dinner nearly every night. She orders the same thing all the time, too—a "double spicy"—a combo of Spicy Soup and Spicy Sandwich.
"If Vietnamese pho's healing powers, physical and psychic, make traditional chicken noodle soup seem like dishwater—and they do—then this spicy soup, in turn, dishwatered pho. It was an elixir. The sandwich was spicier still, thin-sliced vegetables slathered with a fluorescent red sauce, the burn buffered by thick slabs of bread artfully toasted. First my stomach unclenched, and then my brain."
Lois quickly becomes the brothers' "Number one eater," but her dependence on them isn't enough to keep them in San Francisco, as visa issues force them to leave the country. But they don't leave Lois empty-handed. Beoreg, the creator of the double spicy, gifts Lois their culture—err, the sourdough starter they use to make their bread. He gives Lois explicit instructions on how to feed and care for it so it stays alive, which includes playing it music.
It's not long before Lois, who has never cooked a thing in her life, starts baking sourdough, and she quickly becomes immersed in the baking community, particularly the sourdough community, which is a pretty passionate one. Not only is her bread good, but each loaf somehow bakes with a face forming on the top. Her bread becomes a favorite of her colleagues, neighbors, and friends, until the demand starts increasing beyond what someone with an intense full-time job can handle.
Lois also quickly realizes that the starter Beoreg gave her isn't just your run-of-the-mill starter. It has distinct behavior patterns and enjoys different types of music. What has she gotten herself into?
The General Dexterity chef convinces Lois to take her bread to the "auditions" for the Bay Area's farmers market community, and Lois finds herself connecting with a mysterious underground market in the developmental stages. The people in this market are at the fringes of the culinary world, and they are increasingly dependent on technology to produce their wares. For the first time in her life, Lois discovers her true passion and a fascinating group of people who are passionate about food and technology.
"Food is history of the deepest kind. Everything we eat tells a tale of ingenuity and creation, domination and injustice—and does so more vividly than any other artifact, any other media."
Sourdough is quirky, compelling, thought-provoking, and tremendously enjoyable, even if you have to suspend your disbelief a bit, particularly as the book reaches its conclusion. The book has a fascinating cast of characters and a terrific premise. Who among us hasn't wished we could be in a position to pursue what we feel most passionate about? How many of us have dreamed of being part of a community of people that truly "gets" us? And how many of us have really stopped to consider just what fuels the production of sourdough?
As I discovered when I read Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, I love the way Robin Sloan writes. Food is the source of different types of passion for so many people, and if you throw in a sourdough starter of mysterious provenance and a bunch of people striving to change the culinary world, how can you go wrong? At times the book may be a little too zany for its own good, but I was hooked from the very start.
If you're afraid of carbs, you may want to steer clear of this book, because I definitely have been craving big slabs of sourdough since I read this!!
NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!
Living in Silicon Valley for many years - the Bay Area my entire life - Berkeley- Oakland- San Francisco - and San Jose.... I know many techie-self starters .... Startup companies is synonymous with Silicon Valley as Sourdough French Bread is synonymous with San Francisco. Mix it all together and Robin Sloan has written the ultimate startup-sourdough novel that could ‘only’ have taken place in the Bay Area.
Software robotics developer - Lois Clary - from Michigan- moved to the heart of the start up district, in the San Francisco-Richmond district. For a girl who had never even boiled an egg- ( she ate nutritive gel packs named Slurry), she became an overnight self-starter sourdough baker.
Oh there are tons of chuckles - lots of details to learn about baking sourdough- quirky characters to share those loaves, and just an overall enjoyable book ( a few parts were too techie for my taste just as Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore was for me too)..... But.... this is charming novel baked with warmth.
I’m looking forward to breaking bread with Celia when we both go see Robin Sloan!
1) You don’t want to stand behind an elephant after it eats spicy food; and
2) It’s really hard to read a book called Sourdough and not want sourdough bread, especially when said book includes numerous scenes in which the main character is baking said deliciousness.
Notwithstanding that constant distraction, what stands out most about Sourdough is Robin Sloan’s ability to marry technology and whimsy in a way that feels organic (and yes, pun intended vis-à-vis the strange foodie subculture explored in the book). Sloan tripped the light fantastic with that idea to great effect in Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, though if he danced with the idea there, he downright makes sweet, yeasty love to it here.
Sourdough is a very weird book that doesn’t feel weird when you read it; it’s only when you think too hard about it or try to explain it to someone that things get strange. It’s a little bit like a pleasant version of chewing on aluminum foil—you know exactly what’s going on when it’s in your mouth, but the moment you try to explain to someone who’s never tried it before what it feels like, you realize you can���t accurately describe the sensation (so, if you’re like me, you just shove aluminum foil in the other person’s mouth and forcibly masticate on their behalf, but I’m given to understand that such behavior is frowned upon in “polite” society (which, incidentally, is why I tend to shun polite society, though I have heard that the feeling is mutual, and that polite society allegedly once said of me, “I would aim a swift kick at his dangleknockers if it were in my nature; sadly, it’s not, though I have considered the possibility of subcontracting that unpleasant task to a more willing steel-toed boot wearer,” which should tell you all you need to know about polite society, the wanker)).
Suffice it to say, if you liked Penumbra, odds are good that you’ll like Sourdough, though it’s not a certainty. If you haven’t read Penumbra and are wondering whether you should give this a go, I would first point you toward Penumbra (simply because I think it’s excellent) and then tell you to come back here if you’re in the mood for something a little bit different, a little bit sci-fi, a little bit magical, and a lot San Francisco, all blended together by a writer who has a knack for finding a likable voice no matter what he’s writing.
A novel that begins with such promise as it opens with a witty look at office life for the employees of the pioneering San Francisco technology companies and the fortunes of newly recruited and blissfully naive Lois Clary ends up with author Robin Sloan overworking the dough. Stretching credibility in the second half, what starts as an engaging comedy focusing on a young robotics engineer descends into a convoluted fairytale whilst attempting to make some wider commentary with parallels to society which never resonated with me.
Sourdough opens vibrantly and the plot moves quickly, sweeping the reader along in a breezy tale of slave to technology, Lois, having her eyes opened to the potential for something other than the tech heavy world that she has seen little outside of. This first half is full of whimsy and gives a take on life inside at the global technology powerhouses and the never-ending quest for increasing productivity and automating every repetitive task. Before robotics engineer Lois Clary was recruited by a talent associate on behalf of General Dexterity in San Francisco she had spent her life to date close to her family in Michigan. But when the company at the forefront of designing the industry leading robot arms for factories and labs offered her such an eye watering array of benefits and a huge salary it proved impossible to turn them down (and every woman likes to be wooed)! After two months of exhausting hours and a culture of sleeping in the office Lois spends her rare moments of downtime in a state of catatonic recovery. A trip to the in-house medical centre diagnoses her with stress which goes a long way to explaining the pains in her upset stomach. Her colleagues at work swear by the waxy green Tetra-Pak’s of Slurry, the nutritionally complete and rich in probiotics gel which has the consistency of a thick milkshake. The only upside of dining in the lunchtime Slurry corner is the chance for Lois to interact with her colleagues. Working in the control branch of the company Lois focuses on instructing the robotic arms on how to move; no easy task when they cannot even be programmed to crack an egg successfully!
Everything changes for Lois when she finds a menu stuck to her apartment door for the neighbourhood restaurant, Clement Street Soup and Sourdough, and after partaking of her first combo double spicy little does Lois know how her life is about be set on a very different track. For all its spice the meal she consumes sits perfectly in her belly and the accompanying sourdough bread proves positively heavenly with the baby faced delivery man guaranteeing that she will like the food of the “Mazg” (a reference to the cultural heritage of the two brothers, Boereg and Chaiman, who run the restaurant). When a Visa issue forces the brothers to relocate they bestow a crockpot containing the culture starter for making sourdough bread and transform their “Number one eater” from not just being a consumer but into a baker! What begins as an obligation not to let the brothers down slowly evolves into a simmering passion for Lois as her produce turns the eye of a few of her colleagues and is snapped up by the in-house chef at General Dexterity. Inspired and enjoying rewarding creative work Lois finds her world soon starts to open up, from making friends with her neighbours to pleasing the ladies of the local Lois Club (yes, they do simply share the same first name and they apparently have a club in every town). Whilst she might earn as much in twenty minutes of coding as she does from baking bread doing something that demands passion and a little physical effort suits Lois far better... she might even be happy..
The majority of the narrative is told from the perspective of Lois after she is left the starter culture of Clement Street and Soup when brothers Boereg and Chaiman move away. Through the form of emails from Boereg the history of the Magz people is told which disappointingly takes the focus away from Lois and her character development and proved tedious. Seeing the unfolding progress of Lois was markedly more fascinating than a character who appears sporadically in the form of occasional sketchy missives.
When chef Kate suggests that Lois could try out for the farmer’s markets things go rapidly downhill when she is given a spot at the cutting edge Marrow Fair, an underground market and experimental place for innovative techniques, new tools and “pizzazz”, in the words of manager Lily Belasco. In short, if Lois gets a robot on board then she gets a spot and as she slowly moves between part-time baker and solving the egg problem to quitting her job at General Dexterity and concentrating on her quest, my interest slowly waned. For starters, the members of the Marrow Fair are far less compelling to read about than either the General Dexterity oddball staff or the wacky women of the Lois Club. Even though some of the humorous interludes and the prissiness of the farmer’s market and its select foodstuffs works initially, Sourdough starts to take a more serious tone with attention turning to the relationship between bacteria and humans and other associated nonsense. In all honesty I found the ending made little sense and all became rather pretentious meaning that after a quirky and engaging first half, Sourdough became all ‘soggy bottom’ and proved a struggle to finish. Sadly the premise does not indicate that this novel turns increasingly fantastical and incidentally note that many reviewers fail to comment on the metaphorical meaning of the story, perhaps indicative of how obscure the bigger picture perspective remains even by the closing pages. In truth it is only the final fifty pages that go badly haywire and Sourdough is undoubtedly a well-written novel.
With thanks to Readers First who provided me with a free copy of this novel in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.
Nutritive gel for dinner! People do this! That sounds like a futuristic overpopulated planet and dwindling resources scenario. At least, Soylent Green looked like it had texture and mouthfeel.
Anyway, our young hero gets to eat something a lot better, than nutritive gel slurry. She becomes launched on an adventure in baking. It is all very cute and kind. Fluffy like the inside of the loaf. I didn’t get a lot out of it. It’s pleasant. Maybe, I’m jealous. My starter doesn’t sing and smile.
This is a quixotic and whimsical magical fantasy teeming with warmth, charm and quirky characters. Lois Clary is a software programmer lured from her home and comfortable job to move to San Francisco with a lucrative financial and benefits package offered by General Dexterity, a robotics company. There she finds she is expected to commit body and soul and every hour in search of cutting edge robotic arm improvements. This takes it toll on her life, health and spirits as she develops a knot in her stomach that persists. She exists on slurry, a nutritive gel, to keep her going until one day she orders the double spicy, a soup and sandwich with sourdough. This has remarkable healing properties as she immediately begins to feel better. Ordering this almost daily, Lois becomes the number one eater of brothers Beoreg and Chaiman's food. To counteract her social isolation, Lois joins the local chapter of the women named Lois group, finding herself friends and a support group.
Beoreg and Chaiman have to leave suddenly for Europe, and bequeath supplies and their unique live starter with an aroma of bananas to Lois. Lois has never cooked or baked in her life before, but something within her impels her to begin baking the sourdough. After some initial hiccups, she finds she bakes a wonderful sourdough always with faces on the crust, which Chef Kate at work orders on a daily basis. Kate encourages Lois to apply for a stall at the artisan food general market. However, she is turned down but offered an alternative venue at the Marrow Fair by Queen of the Underworld, Lily Belasco. This is a varied experimental biotechnological food community based on a ex-military base which emits low level radiation. It is funded by the remote and mysterious Mr Marrow, about whom there is much speculation and rumours. Lois is in her element, as she researches how to improve a robotic arm that could help her in her business. However, mass producing the sourdough leaves her magical starter in an extreme state of depression and in the doldrums for which Lois tries to find a remedy.
The narrative is interspersed with emails from Beoreg from Edinburgh and Berlin. He tells the personal history of his family, the Mazg culture, the sources of the singing starter, his desire to set up his own restaurant and his brother's forays into making Mazg music. If you like magical realism done with panache, then this is a brilliant and spellbinding book to read. I like the combination of biotechnology with fantasy, Robin Sloan makes this work well in the ideal location of San Francisco and its guiding spirit of the alternative. An enthralling and enchanting read which I highly recommend. Many thanks to Atlantic Books for an ARC.
Lois Clary is a software engineer writing codes for a San Francisco Robotic company. She notices a takeout menu and decides to make a purchase. It sure beats the "slurry" (nutritive gel packs) that she normally eats. Heck, she becomes Clement Street Soup and Sourdough’s “Number One eater” She then learns her favorite restaurant is closing and the two brothers who own it, leave her with the starter for their sourdough bread. This is not your usual starter!
Almost overnight, Lois becomes quite the bread maker and she soon finds it is hard to work full time and make her bread. Along the way she also meets an underground community who like her, are interested in both technology and food!
I liked this book - didn't love it. This book started great for me and then kind of lost my attention along the way. I wasn't a big fan of the ending. I do have to give this book props for originality and creativity. This book is at times witty, quirky, peculiar, strange, charming and weird. Yes, there is magical realism and I usually really enjoy that.
I have come to believe that food is history of the deepest kind. Everything we eat tells a tale of ingenuity and creation, domination and justice--and does so more vividly than any other artifact, any other medium.
I am a foodie. Not the annoying hoity toity variety, more that I subscribe to the live to eat versus eat to live motto. I love a sumptuous meal, skillfully prepared and artfully served; I also love an uncomplicated meal with simple ingredients shared with family or friends. And I love bread. As in I love the smell when it’s baking, the myriad ways to make it, the multiple things you can slather on it. Bread and I are soul mates. Cheese, don’t be jealous, you are my other food soul mate.
So when a book comes out with the name Sourdough, a batch of magical starter, secret foodie societies and pop culture references aplenty, I’m in! I really enjoyed Kitchens of the Great Midwest last year and was hoping for another trip through the world of culinary delights. This was and wasn’t that.
It all started well enough. The author’s take on the SF tech culture from the geeks working in robotics to the meal replacement slurries they ingest is amusing and pointed. Our smart and scrappy protagonist does a deep dive into baking netting loaves with faces (yes, faces!), then discovers a secret collective of foodies and meets an Alice Waters-like chef. All of which kept me reading, but then it started to devolve. Too many eccentric characters, too much strange food (Chernobyl honey, anyone?), add in out-of-the-blue social commentary and an out-of-control warrior starter and I was more confused than amused.
In the end, a lighthearted and fun first half, absurd plot twists the second, so let’s call it three stars. Enjoyable, just not memorable. And now I have a hankering for some sourdough.
This book is about a woman baking bread and how this process transforms her and her life.
I know, sounds simple, right?
Well, if you have baked bread you know there's a lot more to it than just putting the ingredients together. First, you have to understand that there is something different about baking sourdough bread, you have to have a "starter".
A "starter" is a fermented combination of yeast, good bacteria, bread and water. Generally, you have to feed it every day, it is alive and grows.
In the book the main character eats everyday from a place she loves, when the place closes the owners give her the "starter" that they use to make the sourdough bread and let her know that this is a special "starter".
The story is about her journey learning to bake sourdough bread and sharing it with her coworkers, neighbors and a special underground farmer's market. The novel is narrated by Louis, the main character and takes place in San Francisco.
4.5★ “She explained that a software sieve had scanned my résumé and flagged it as promising, and that she agreed with the computer’s assessment. Here’s a thing I believe about people my age: we are the children of Hogwarts, and more than anything, we just want to be sorted.”
Like the author’s earlier Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, this book is a quirky bit of fantasy, science fiction, and fun, and I enjoyed it equally. Lois grew up surrounded by computers at a time when she says they were wooing women into computer science and “it was nice to be wooed.” Of course it was.
She applies for a job at General Dexterity in San Francisco, where they have done their Hogwarts sorting and hired her to work on robots, mostly arms for labs and factories. Her job is to break down tasks into their component movements and find faster, easier, cheaper ways to do them with robots.
“How to swirl a petri dish containing a particular strain of bacteria. How to insert a fuel rod safely into a nuclear reactor. How to sew the laces into a football. Whole companies had formed around some of these tasks. The fuel rod people had just three customers, and they were rich.”
She feels as if everyone is working faster than she is and the pressure is stressing her out to the point that she works very long hours.
“I was supposed to be one of the bright new additions, the fresh-faced ones. My face was not fresh. My hair had turned flat and thin. My stomach hurt. In my apartment on Cabrillo Street, I existed mostly in a state of catatonic recovery, brain flaccid, cells gasping.”
Between the pressure and time constraints – and the fact that she doesn’t cook – she’s been living on Slurry (a space-age nutritive gel), and getting to know all the pizza delivery services. One day, she finds an ad for “Clement Street Soup and Sourdough” who make and deliver an exotic, secret, extra-spicy soup accompanied by slabs of fresh sourdough bread, the food of the Mazg, they say. She’s sleeping better and feeling so good she throws away all the pizza menus and sticks only this one on her fridge.
She visits her friends at the local Lois Club (saying Lois Clubs are everywhere, apparently) and settles into a comfortable routine as “Number One Eater”, as the brothers of the soup place call her.
Then, disaster! The brothers have to move before they get discovered and deported. They promise to stay in touch and leave her something to help her stay healthy. They arrive with some sourdough starter and explain that it is alive and she has to feed it. This to a young woman who has only ever had a cactus named Kubrick.
She attempts the impossible, practising with the starter and dough, and enjoying the music they've left her that she used to enjoy hearing in the background when she ordered her food – the music of the Mazg, who sound like some sort of nomadic peoples.
“There was dough on the faucet. Dough on the floor. It looked like the scene of a glutenous murder committed by a careless killer.”
She hunts down equipment on Amazon (“customers who bought this item also bought”) and barely sleeps, what with baking and working and baking and working.
She’s told about a special Farmer’s Market that is hard to get into where she might be able to sell product, and the story begins to get fantastical. To get a special spot, she’s going to need a point of differentiation and the market people discover she knows about robots.
And so it goes, with secret sites and a whole community of scientists and artists researching, experimenting and producing goods. I enjoyed the inventiveness and intriguing possibilities. Of course the fact that Robin Sloan is a good writer goes without saying.
I found it quite satisfying, especially when I had a flash of recognition at a character's reverence for Edward Espe Brown's old notes for his The Tassajara Bread Book, which is probably the first bread book I ever bought! It is hippy and fun, as I recall, but I'm afraid I never gave it the mystical respect that some may have.
A good read, and I thank NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for the preview copy from which I’ve quoted.
Interesting, entertaining, touches of magical realism. Who knew that so much could go on in the making of Sourdough bread!
So in case the reader is unaware, first we find out about the starter needed to make the bread and then we learn about microbes and what they do, and it is all very factual but delivered in a fun way via story. We are aware that the starter is a living organism and that the one we are dealing with is very special. Then the fun starts!
I enjoyed the book very much even when it became a little too fanciful. The ending was competent but rushed and left a fair bit to the reader's imagination. Four stars.
Very entertaining, breezy and quirky! I love Robin Sloan's unique "brand" - a mishmash of bleeding edge technology, magical realism and nerdy eccentricity. Stir it all together and you have an adventure like no one else's!
Lois Clary is a computer engineer specializing in robotics. She is lured from the Detroit auto industry to a cutting edge robotics firm in San Francisco where she works long stressful hours and subsists on a nutritive gel called "Slurry." (Yuck) One day she finds an advertisement taped to her apartment door for a food delivery service with a very limited but enticing menu. Lois begins to order the "Double Spicy' every night - a combo of a spicy soup and sandwich with a hunk of delicious sourdough bread for dunking. The spicy food clears her brain and relieves her stress. Lois comes to rely on her nightly food delivery and her interaction with the brothers that own the business, Beoreg and Chaiman. One night, Beoreg informs a disappointed Lois they have to leave the U.S. due to visa issues. Beoreg gifts Lois with a crock of their mysterious sourdough starter and a CD of music from his people, the Mazg. Lois decides to keep the sourdough starter alive and starts baking loaves of bread in a brick oven she builds in her backyard.
That's just the set-up. Where this twisty, turny story goes is for YOU to discover! If you enjoyed Sloan's "Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore," you will likely have fun with this. If you didn't like Penumbra, this book may not be for you. Although it's different, it has the same overall vibe. "Sourdough" does have a bit of a daffy ending so be forewarned.
I liked this modern bio-tech/culinary fairy tale enormously. I especially got a kick out of the Michigan references (Sloan is from the Bay City area), including a mention of the midwest supercenter chain Meijer. I worked at Meijer for many years in their IT department and don't believe I've ever seen them mentioned in anything I've ever read. It's a silly thing, but it made me smile. Actually, the whole book make me smile! Good reality-suspending fun.
A sourdough starter opens the door to a mysterious underground world in near future San Francisco. Like most Sloan stories, this requires a healthy amount of suspending disbelief, but worth it. This was a very fun read, in fact I feel I should use the word "delightful." I want a spicy sandwich!
Carb nerds.. malevolent bread... I feel like giggling again.
Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy through Edelweiss.
1 part Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore formula (bookstore/font = Farmer's Market/sourdough starter) 1 Evil corporation which wants to ruin food 1/2 glutinous plot 1/4 overt message 3/4 ridiculous denouement 1/8 tsp technology 8 trite caricatures
Mix together and foist on unsuspecting lovers of Mr. Penumbra, collect proceeds.
This book was so bad I'm angry. Sloan's first book was cute and fun because it was a surprise - this book was the same formula/different topic. Sorry, but you don't get a pass on originality. It was mercifully short, so I kept going because I couldn't believe that this book was really about bread. (It really was.)
It's a time in the world (which seems like exactly now) where people can choose to eat or live on Slurry which is a nutritionally perfect goo. Lois works at a tech company (duh, it's San Francisco) and one day she sees an advert for a spicy soup and sourdough bread, so she orders it, and becomes obsessed with it and eats it everyday. As a result she makes friends with the brothers who make the food and they decide to leave SF so they leave her some sourdough starter, and lo, she becomes obsessed and starts making bread which is apparently really easy and everybody loves and lo, she takes it to the Farmer's Market and they love it, but they want a robot to make so, lo, she buys a robot arm and the robot arm can make the bread. But lo, the sourdough starter is high maintenance and needs music and competition and lo, spoiler alert, evil corporation wants the starter because, lo ... see below.
Talking about the bacteria (in food) "they do things we only dream of. They are fecund and potent, they can speak to one another with chemicals and light, they can form teams, oh the teams they can form all working perfectly." Eye roll.
Dumb. I'm moving on with my life now, and swear not to eat gluten for a week. I may never eat sourdough again.
***IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR A WELL WRITTEN FUN READ RIGHT NOW, I HIGHLY RECOMEND THIS BOOK, NOW IN PAPERBACK, ETC ***
Oh what a wonderful, funny, insightful, delightful and page turning read this book by Robin Sloan was! I had read Mr. Penumbra’s 24 hour bookstore and had always hoped that it had found a wide audience. This book is even better!
Our main character Lois has done everything right. She got a good degree from college, did a couple of summers of internships and was immediately offered a job where she lived in Michigan. Her father was a database worker for a large company and had surrounded Lois with computers since toddlerhood. Lois took her first job working with motor control software, it was very controlled and as she stated “had the feeling of laying bricks”. When she is recruited by a new company in San Francisco, General Dexterity, she decided it was time to leave the security of her job and family behind. They offered her a myriad of bonuses including free food and a salary that was more than both of her parents made in a year.
Once working for General Dexterity she was shocked to find that the programmers here worked Saturdays, evenings, even sometimes sleeping at the office. She got into the work but it was dragging her down, physically and emotionally.
Into her life comes the “Clement Street Soup and Sourdough” restaurant which delivers to her apartment. She hates to cook and finds that she is ordering the delicious “spicy” soup and sourdough bread almost daily. She made friends with the owners, Beoreg and Chaiman, brothers working through their kitchen apartment. Lois felt that the food had healing powers, she felt so good, her stomach unclenched from the day’s work and she slept.
There is so much story that follows this opening. The brothers must leave the US and entrust the “starter” for their sourdough to Lois with instructions how to feed it and keep it alive, they keep in touch via e mail. Lois becomes obsessed with the bread, making it in the wee hours of the night and even building a brick stove in the backyard. After winning her friends over with the bread she is asked by some people to sell her bread, make it in larger quantities and perhaps this can become her job?
Then she is approached by someone to join a sort of underground “futuristic” market where people were making and growing things in unique ways. They ultimately want Lois to make the bread using the robotic arm, because that would be very “unique”. Eventually she takes the job, then has the market purchase a used robotic arm from her past employer and she is on her way to producing larger loaves and in large quantities. But something is wrong, she can’t pinpoint what it is but the starter just isn’t working in the same way. It no longer sings while it is rising, no longer produces the same “faces” on the bread that it did before.
What happens next is for you to find out. I hope I haven’t divulged too much but there is lots to love, laugh about and reflect on. Pick up this ingenious book from Robin Sloan and you will have a delightful read! I received an ARC of this book through the publisher and NetGalley.
WARNING: Do not read this book on an empty stomach!
This book is about the greatest of all foods, BREAD! OK it's not exactly about bread its about passion, creativity, fulfillment and not being afraid to take the road less travelled.
This story revolves around Lois Clary a 20-something overworked underling at a robotics lab in San Francisco. Everyday she comes home mentally spent and completely drained collapsing into bed every night dreading the stressful hell that will await her tomorrow. She has even forgone the simple pleasure of eating choosing to supplement her diet with Slurry packets of nutritional gel that saves her precious minutes that she can redirect towards coding plus its easier on the stomach since Lois is so tightly wound her stomach can barely digest proper food anymore. Lois has become a zombie of her former self until she comes home one day to be surprised with the presence of a food banner on her door for a new Clement Street sandwich and soup take out. Lois on a whim feeling the calling of proper food decides to order and soon is a regular rushing home after work for her nightly treat of double spicy soup and sandwich even earning the title of number 1 customer from the two brothers that own the delivery service. unfortunately the brother's visa expire and they are unable to stay on Clement St anymore but they decide to leave their favourite gal there starter for their mouth watering Sourdough. Soon microwavable dinner Lois is brought into the world of culinary arts and later into the niche experimental cooking world combining her robotic knowledge with her Sourdough prowess.
I really enjoyed this book, especially the beginning I was absolutely hooked. Robin Sloan descriptions and detail is so intricate and passionate you may start googling bread-making classes after this read. I adore books where passions are sought after and pursued and this book fall into this category and then some. You are brought into a world of deep passion for all things food and then you are brought into a sector of a more niche place within the culinary world experimental cooking; using robots, or creating meals out of bugs. It was really fun to be brought into this world and I was hooked at the beginning....
The reason the ratings more mediocre then I really wanted is that the book lost me in the second half, it got a little odd and mythical like the Starter loaf has a weird power that took over a person and then went in a weird romance direction that felt a little out of left field to me. So unfortunately a book with so much promise lost me 50% in BUT and this is a big BUT I really like Robin Sloan as a writer and am definitely going to try another one of his books because his writing style draws you in, I just hope the next book doesn't lose me half way through.
I have no idea what happened with Sourdough. One minute I’m sure I’m going to rate it four stars; the next, I’m contemplating two stars. In simpler words: This was shaky.
The beginning, however, was pretty great. I enjoyed all the talk about sourdough and baking — I swear, reading this made my stomach growl. But then the writing and story started to drag (it’s all about work, work, robots, work, singing/magical bread, more work). I’m not sure if it’s me or if other’s would agree.
So, the main character, Lois, was unoriginal and bland; however, she wasn’t annoying, which made her OK. You’re probably thinking, “What?” Seriously though, annoying is 10x worse than boring/unoriginal.
The writing, too, started off strong but got weaker towards the end. Or maybe I got bored towards the end and that’s why nothing was doing it for me. Probably. Speaking of writing, the writing font was not my favorite. I understand that it was trying to look futuristic, but it was an unattractive font style and oddly enough it made me enjoy the novel less.
Overall, a unique magical realism novel; one that was more enjoyable in the beginning than the end. However, I’d still recommend it to people who like baking, fantasy/futuristic novels—I think ya’ll would get more out of this than I did.
Real, actual thing that happened at family Thanksgiving 2017:
Me: "Where's the iPad I got for Dad? I'm paying for network service on it so I know it is working even though your WiFi isn't." Mom: "Oh. Well. It wasn't acting right one day, it wouldn't even turn on, so he threw it away." Me: "He threw away an iPad? That cost me hundreds of dollars?!?!?!?! It probably just needed a good long charge or a software update." Mom, becoming rather indignant: "IT WASN'T WORKING, PAULA. Anyway, he has a computer now so it's no big deal." Me: "This kinda is a big deal. When was this? Because I have also been paying for network service every month." Mom: "Meh. Three or four months ago." Me: "jkldsjhoiewlkejiofjhakfoaoiwjhernhj"
Explaining technology to elderly parents is hard.
I had a flashback to that scene yesterday while reading this book and my friend asked me to tell her what the book is about. "It's about a software engineer who learns to bake bread that might be magic? No thanks," my friend told me, now looking at me like I had lost my mind. "But it's more than that. It's clever and charming. It's weird. It's satire," I tried to explain. "Yeah, I gotta go. See you later." I heard her mumbling something about bread and weirdos as she walked away.
iPad in the garbage all over again. This book is hella difficult to explain.
The ending was a bit iffy for me, thus the 4 star rating, but I loved every other thing about this book (especially that the main character is a woman written by a male author, and she doesn't constantly look at her own breasts or compare the size of her breasts to other women she knows or wake up each morning in a flimsy nightgown, heaving her breasts toward the ceiling as she stretches). I finished it in a day, and it was delightful, engaging, smart, and funny in places.
I just can't really explain what it's about. You'll see what I mean when you read it.
Before you read this review, I need to issue a warning about this book. No, there aren’t any spoilers ahead. I just wanted to caution you to have plenty of freshly baked sourdough bread on hand because you’re going to crave the stuff like mad the moment you get into this story. Oh, the wonderful descriptions of the texture of the bread and its unusual crust, and the enticing aroma it emits, and the filling effect it has on the digestive system and the fulfilling effect it has on the nervous system and the soul. But here’s another warning. This story is light and fluffy, closer to Wonder Bread than a thickly cut nuanced sourdough. And there’s nothing wrong with such a pleasant read with its touches of magical realism, even though with a little more work, it could have had much more depth and touched a little harder upon the issues it raises more in jest than in all seriousness.
The story begins with Lois Clary, 23, gaining success as a software programmer for a robotics company in San Francisco, and already on her way to a probable ulcer with a work schedule like that of a lawyer going for a partnership in a prestigious law firm. She’s mostly a loner with no social life to speak of, having moved recently for her demanding job. Presently, her delicate stomach can only tolerate some weird manufactured liquid glop she sucks down that’s predigested. Until one day, arriving home from work, she sees a flyer pasted on the door to her closet-sized apartment for a new food place that delivers supposedly the most wonderful spicy soup and sandwiches. What the hell, Lois thinks. Her ruined stomach couldn’t get any worse. And to her surprise, the spicy food sits very nicely inside her and so does the amazing sourdough bread she starts ordering daily from the two immigrant brothers who own the business. Then one day, they are forced to leave the country, and leave her stranded without their near magical food, but they leave behind a treasure for their most valued customer—their sourdough starter, going back generations. Lois soon finds out it’s no regular starter when she begins cultivating it and baking with it herself. And before long, it leads her to do something she never could have imagined she would do, opening up a whole new world for her. But is this new world any better than the old one or just a matter of her leaping out of the bread pan and into the fire?
This is a nice story with likable characters that many people who don’t like their jobs or life choices can relate to, especially anyone stuck in some high pressure job when the possibility of fulfillment of a dream you didn’t even know you had comes along forcing you to rethink your priorities. It’s also a story about friendship, community, the effects of technology in our lives, for better or worse, and it’s about culture, the magical one found in the sourdough starter and the one found in San Francisco where farmers markets share space with high tech companies. It’s about following your dreams, for those privileged enough to be able to make life changes. It doesn’t pretend to be much more than a beach read, but somehow I wish the author could have dug in a little deeper to the issues of genetically and technologically modified food which it only touched on in a whimsical fashion. Recommended for those who want a light read and aren’t restricting carbs in their diet.
So I waffled between one and two stars for this, but ultimately settled on two because while I disliked it, it didn't inspire a fiery hatred the way most of the books I mark as one star usually do.
I'd call this a work of fabulism (NOT MAGICAL REALISM) with a heavy dose of "modern techy fable." Lois is an overworked tech employee living in San Francisco. She is exhausted, lonely, and generally joyless. Not exactly a fun place to start. But then, food! She starts ordering from a local "restaurant" and starts a friendship with two brothers, immigrants who are "Mazg."
Now, the Mazg. That part of the book felt WEIRD. And not the kind of weird I like in my fiction. They read as coded-Roma, but Sloan instead created a net-new culture/people for this book. It feels like in order to avoid criticisms about fetishizing/exocitizing/generally othering an existing culture/people, Sloan decided to create a new one. But that still feels weird? And very "magical, mysical other"? Yeah, no thanks. Very much rubbed me the wrong way.
I felt little to no attachment to Lois. She doesn't really have a personality... In fact, a lot of the characters fell flat to me. In creating a fabulist fable, Sloan uses lots of caricatures, but not many complex characters.
Thematically, this book is pretty cut and dry. Lois's life quite literally has no flavor to it (she subsists on a goop called "Slurry" for the early chapters of the book), and all of a sudden the Mazg brothers LITERALLY introduce culture (which, again, feels VERY WEIRD given they are part of a made up ethnic group), also called a starter in the world of bread-making, into her life.
Like the characters themselves, the setting (primarily SF, but also parts of Oakland) feels like a caricature. Sloan crams in plenty of references that are probably only noticeable to Bay Area residents and frequent visitors, but he struggles to move beyond the surface and truly give the reader a sense of place or atmosphere.
Overall, this book did not rise to the occasion (heh).
I absolutely loved this unique, beautiful, frequently hilarious, life-affirming book. I am a huge fan of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore and was thrilled to have the opportunity to read Robin Sloan’s new work early; thankfully, Sourdough does not disappoint. Lois Clary works incredibly long hours at a robotics company in San Francisco and almost nightly orders takeout from two brothers who operate a nearby neighborhood restaurant. The brothers encounter visa issues and are forced to leave the U.S. They grant Lois a small gift of their special sourdough starter with instructions to keep it alive by feeding it and playing it music. This present sets Lois down a new path she never could have envisioned and changes the course of her life.
Although the book seems to take place in present day, the book includes futuristic components such as liquid meal replacement called Slurry consumed by some individuals in lieu of regular food and robotic elements not yet achieved in our everyday life. I enjoyed the occasional futuristic element and felt that these items added a thought-provoking component to the book. Sloan’s writing is lovely, and his frequent sly, witty comments had me constantly cracking up. I also like his method of alternating between Lois’ tale and emails from one of the brothers; it was a very effective way to allow the story to unfold. Sourdough is enhanced by clever, quirky things like Lois’ cactus named Kubrick, a Lois Club with chapters in numerous cities for women named Lois (the Lois Club in SF was one of my favorite parts of the story), Lois’ nickname by the brothers of “Number One Eater”, and a brochure offered to Lois by the company nurse when she is sick entitled “Taking Care of Yourself While You’re Changing the World”.
There is so much packed into this book, and I am still thinking about the story long after I finished it. I do not want to ruin the joy of reading Sourdough for the first time by describing any more of Lois’ adventures so I will end my review here. Sourdough is a quick, laugh-out-loud, very enjoyable read for anyone who enjoys creatively told tales. I highly recommend it. Thanks to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus, & Giroux for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Lois Clary has taken the plunge and moved away from her family, her home and safe job to work as a software engineer for a robotics firm. Although the pay is great the hours are long and she has no energy left to cook or socialise. She exists on a nutrient mixture called Slurry (doesn't that sound appetising?) and take out pizza until she discovers two brothers who home deliver the most amazing spicy soup with big hunks of sourdough bread. Real food that immediately makes her feel better and drains her stress away. But tragically the brothers visas expire and they return home to Europe leaving Lois a gift of their sourdough starter. This is not just any old boring starter but a very special starter that soon has Lois making amazing bread, not just for herself but her neighbour and the office canteen. Lois then receives an invitation to join a special experimental market, the Marrow Fair, that is looking at ways of improving food with technology and she enters an almost magical world where all types of amazing food is being made.
This was a lovely and engaging read, full of gentle, charming characters. I loved that there really is a club for people called Lois (who knew?) and I loved the people at the Marrow Fair - Stephen Agrippa the goat herder and cheese maker, Horace the librarian with his books on food and his menus and Dr Mitra trying to perfect Lembas, the fully nutrient rich food. I also loved the sweet emails from Beoreg, one of the brothers who gave Lois their sourdough starter, full of stories of his people, the Mazg and their history with food and music. It all comes together to make an enchanting novel sprinkled with just a little bit of magic. 4.5★
While not a mystery or thriller, this short, intensely readable book combines tech and food in San Francisco with a winning protagonist and her arc of development as she leaves Michigan, goes to work for a quite-credible arm robot company, and then one day is given sourdough starter from one of her favorite cooks, starter that has an unusual history. This novel captures perfectly the foodie and tech ethos of northern California.
I really loved this. I thought I didn’t like the “out there” parts but then I did. I thought I wasn’t liking the ending but then I liked most of it well enough.
The story is quirky and charming, imaginative, and fun.
I loved that Lois’s apartment is 2 blocks over from mine, but the cross street ins’t mentioned and I suspect it’s quite a few blocks farther to the east than mine.
I did enjoy the realistic parts the most: San Francisco, Richmond District, tech person changing course and becoming a bread baker, info about sourdough starter, etc. But also some of the “out there” parts such as the unique sourdough starter, described so well that at times it seemed realistic and that was how starter worked. I did enjoy that and I even came to enjoy the underground market parts.
I sort of liked the short Mazg stories/letters but it took me a bit to completely warm up to them.
This author defintely “gets” San Francisco, the Richmond District in San Francisco, etc. neighborhoods, and North Berkeley.
And, yes, I did buy a loaf of locally baked brick oven sourdough bread even though I couldn’t find a whole wheat/grain sourdough and white bread is not my favorite, but it tasted so good when I was reading this book. I’m sure I’d have craved it if I hadn’t had sourdough ready for eating. Reading this did make me want to make my own sourdough starter, though the King Arthur’s brand or some San Francisco origin starter would be my choice.