Tuesday, October 24, 2017


Title:  Sourdough
Author:  Robin Sloan
Publication Information:  MCD. 2017. 272 pages.
ISBN:  0374203105 / 978-0374203108

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It would have been nutritive gel for dinner, same as always, if I had not discovered stuck to my apartment's front door a paper menu advertising the newly expanded delivery service of a neighborhood restaurant."

Favorite Quote:  "Here's a a thing I believe about people my age:  we are the children of Hogwarts, and more than anything, we just want to be sorted."

The mention of sourdough bread conjures up a smell and a taste, perhaps even a memory. The mention of bread conjures up images of hearths, homes, and warmth. This book takes those mental images and places them in the context of a post-modern futuristic world of genetically engineered food products, robots, and business intrigue. This book then takes this incongruous combination and places it in the sometimes beautiful and sometimes concrete industrial jungle of what seems to be present day San Francisco Bay.

Lois Clary is a worker at a company called General Dexterity. "At General Dexterity, I was contributing to an effort to make repetitive labor obsolete ... In other words, you solved a problem once, and then you moved on to more interesting things." Lois works on robot arms on a quest to forever improve the efficiency of repetitive motion tasks.

She goes to work. She comes home. She goes to work. She comes home. She goes to work. She comes home. Her life is a repetitive motion. She does not seem to have much in terms of family, friends, or other life other than the Lois Club of San Francisco. Yes, this is a club of women named Lois with chapters around the world apparently.

A brochure left in her apartment door brings escape in the form of food - spicy soup and bread from Clement Street Soup and Sourdough, a place that delivers. This soup and bread becomes Lois' sustenance both physically and emotionally. She in turn becomes the restaurant's Number One Eater.

Then, disaster strikes as the operators of the restaurant are forced to leave the country because of visa issues. They leave Lois with a gift - directions, kitchen utensils, and their very own, very old sourdough starter. Their one request is for Lois to keep the starter alive. It'll be easy, they say.

What is a girl who codes robots for a living and does not cook supposed to do with that? So begins Lois' adventures into baking, the world of science and food, the collaborative and competitive realities of artisan food vendors. "Baking, by contract, was solving the same problem over and over again, because every time, the solution was consumed. I mean, really:  chewed and digested."

The twists and turns in this book lead in some eccentric directions, but somehow it - singing bread starters, underground farmer's markets, scientifically engineered nutrition gone haywire - all works. The whole things is all together bizarre, but somehow it all forms a cohesive whole story I want to keep reading.

Some of the futuristic developments have me laughing with the eccentricities of the science and the characters. These element add a surreal touch to the entire book. Lois' story, however, has me caring as this chance encounter leads her down a path she could never have imagined and as she becomes the woman she never dreamt possible.

Robin Sloan's first book, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is a similar mix of old and new, technology and traditional tale set in San Francisco. Both books successfully create an intriguing fanciful world full of charm and adventure. The first book reaffirmed my love affair with bookstores. This one leaves me with an urge to start baking again.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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