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Sourdough: A Novel

Sourdough: A Novel

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Sourdough: A Novel

4/5 (129 ratings)
256 pages
3 hours
Sep 5, 2017


*One of Amazon's 20 Best Books of 2017*

Named one of the best books of 2017 by NPR, San Francisco Chronicle, Barnes & Noble, and Southern Living

In his much-anticipated new novel, Robin Sloan does for the world of food what he did for the world of books in Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

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?

Leavened by the same infectious intelligence that made Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore such a sensation, while taking on even more satisfying challenges, Sourdough marks the triumphant return of a unique and beloved young writer.

Sep 5, 2017

About the author

ROBIN SLOAN is a self-proclaimed media inventor and writer living in San Francisco. He grew up near Detroit and went to school at Michigan State, where he studied economics and co-founded a literary magazine. Since then, he’s worked at Poynter, Current TV and Twitter, figuring out the future of media. Visit his website at

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Sourdough - Robin Sloan



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.

I was just home from work and my face felt brittle from stress—this wasn’t unusual—and I would not normally have been interested in anything unfamiliar. My nightly ration of Slurry waited within.

But the menu intrigued me. The words were written in a dark, confident script—actually, two scripts: each dish was described once using the alphabet I recognized and again using one I didn’t, vaguely Cyrillic-seeming with a profusion of dots and curling connectors. In either case, the menu was compact: available was the Spicy Soup or a Spicy Sandwich or a Combo (double spicy), all of which, the menu explained, were vegetarian.

At the top, the restaurant’s name was written in humongous, exuberant letters: CLEMENT STREET SOUP AND SOURDOUGH. At the bottom, there was a phone number and the promise of quick delivery. Clement Street was just a few blocks away. The menu charmed me, and as a result, my night, and my life, bent off on a different track.

I dialed the number and my call was answered immediately. It was a man’s voice, slightly breathless. Clement Street Soup and Sourdough! Okay to hold?

I said yes, and music played—a song in some other language. Clement Street was a polyglot artery that pulsed with Cantonese, Burmese, Russian, Thai, and even scraps of Gaelic. This was none of those.

The voice returned. Okay! Hello! What can I make for you?

I ordered the double spicy.

*   *   *

I CAME TO SAN FRANCISCO from Michigan, where I was raised and educated and where my body’s functioning was placid and predictable, mostly.

My father was a database programmer for General Motors who liked his work and had endeavored to surround me with computers from toddlerhood onward, and whose plan succeeded because I never thought of anything except following his path, especially at a time when programming was taking on a sheen of dynamism and computer science departments were wooing young women aggressively. It’s nice to be wooed.

It helped that I was good at it. I liked the rhythm of challenge and solution; it felt very satisfying to solve programming problems. For two summers during college, I interned at Crowley Control Systems, a company in Southfield that provided motor control software for one of Chevrolet’s electric cars, and when I graduated, there was a job waiting for me. The work was minutely specified and cautiously tested, and it had the feeling of laying bricks: put them down carefully, because you won’t get another chance. The computer on my desk was old, used by at least two programmers before me, but the codebase was modern and interesting. I kept a picture of my parents next to my monitor, along with a tiny cactus I’d named Kubrick. I bought a house two towns over, in Ferndale.

Then I was recruited. A woman contacted me through my stubby LinkedIn profile—her own identifying her as a talent associate at a company called General Dexterity in San Francisco—with a request for an exploratory phone call, which I accepted. I could hear her bright smile through the speaker. General Dexterity, she said, designed industry-leading robot arms for laboratories and factories. The company needed programmers with a background in motor control, and in San Francisco, she said, such programmers were rare. She explained that a software sieve had flagged my résumé 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.

Sitting there in my car in the little parking lot behind Crowley Control Systems on West 10 Mile Road in Southfield, my world cracked open a tiny bit. It was only a hairline fracture, but that was enough to see through.

On the other end of the line, the talent associate conjured difficult problems suited to only the fiercest intellects. She conjured generous benefits and free food and, oh, was I vegetarian? Not anymore, no. But maybe I could try again, in California. She conjured sunshine. The sky above the Crowley parking lot was gray and drippy like the undercarriage of a car.

And—no conjuring here—the talent associate made an offer. It was a salary that represented more money than both of my parents currently earned, combined. I was a year out of college. I was being wooed again.

Ten months into a Michigan-sized mortgage, I sold my house in Ferndale at a very small loss. I hadn’t hung a single thing on the walls. When I said goodbye to my parents, I cried. College had been less than an hour away, so this was the real departure. I set out across the country with all my belongings in the back of my car and my desk cactus strapped into the passenger seat.

I drove west through the narrow pass in the Rockies, crossed the dusty nothing of Nevada, and crashed into the verdant, vertical shock of California. I was agog. Southeastern Michigan is flat, almost concave; here was a world with a z-axis.

In San Francisco, a temporary apartment waited for me, and so did the talent associate, who met me on the sidewalk in front of General Dexterity’s brick-faced headquarters. She was tiny, barely five feet tall, but when she took my hand, her grip was viselike. Lois Clary! Welcome! You’re going to love it here!

The first week was amazing. Grouped with a dozen other newly Dextrous (as we were encouraged to call ourselves), I filled out health insurance forms and accepted a passel of phantasmal stock options and sat through recitations of the company’s short history. I saw the founder’s original prototype robot arm, a beefy three-jointed limb almost as tall as me, set up in a little shrine in the center of the cafeteria. You could call out Arm, change task. Say hello! and it would wave a wide, eager greeting.

I learned the anatomy of the software I’d be working on, called ArmOS. I met my manager, Peter, who shook my hand with a grip even firmer than the talent associate’s. An in-house apartment broker found me a place on Cabrillo Street in San Francisco’s Richmond District for which I would pay rent fully four times larger than my mortgage in Michigan. The broker dropped the keys into my hand and said, It’s not a lot of space, but you won’t be spending much time there!

General Dexterity’s founder, an astonishingly young man named Andrei, walked our group across Townsend Street to the Task Acquisition Center, a low-slung building that had once been a parking garage. The cement floor was still mottled with oil spots. Now, instead of cars in long lines, there were robot arms parked thirty to a row. Their plastic cladding was colored Dextrous blue, the contours friendly and capable with just the faintest suggestion of biceps—gentle swells marked with General Dexterity’s logo, an affable lightning bolt.

The arms were all going at once, sweeping and grasping and nudging and lifting. If it was supposed to impress us: it worked.

All of these were repetitive gestures, Andrei explained, currently executed by human muscles and human minds. Repetition was the enemy of creativity, he said. Repetition belonged to robots.

We were on a quest to end work.

And it would involve: a shit ton of work.

My orientation week ended on Friday night with celebratory beers and a ping-pong tournament against one of the robot arms, which of course emerged victorious. Then my job began. Not the following Monday. The next morning. Saturday.

I had the feeling of being sucked—floop—into a pneumatic tube.

The programmers at General Dexterity were utterly unlike my colleagues at Crowley, who had been middle-aged and chilled-out, and who enjoyed nothing as much as a patient explanation. The Dextrous were in no way patient. Many of them were college dropouts; they had been in a hurry to get here, and they were in a hurry now to be done, and rich. They were almost entirely young men, bony and cold-eyed, wraiths in Japanese denim and limited-edition sneakers. They started late in the morning, then worked past midnight. They slept at the office.

I hated the idea of it, but some nights I, too, succumbed to the cushy couches upholstered in Dextrous blue. Some nights, I’d lie there, staring up at the ceiling—the exposed ductwork, the rainbow braids of fiber channel ferrying data around the office—and feel a knot in my stomach that wouldn’t loosen. I would think I had to poop and I would go squat on a toilet, doing nothing. The motion sensor would time out and the lights would click off, leaving me in darkness. Sometimes I would sit like that for a while. Then a line of code would occur to me, and I would limp back to my desk to tap it out.

At Crowley Control Systems in Southfield, the message we received from Clark Crowley, delivered in an amble around the office every month or so, was: Keep up the fine work, folks! At General Dexterity in San Francisco, the message we received from Andrei, delivered in a quantitative business update every Tuesday and Thursday, was: We are on a mission to remake the conditions of human labor, so push harder, all of you.

I began to wonder if, in fact, I knew how to push hard. In Michigan, my colleagues all had families and extremely serious hobbies. Here, the wraiths were stripped bare: human-shaped generators of CAD and code. I tried to emulate them, but something hitched inside me. I couldn’t get my turbine spinning.

In the months that followed, I had the sense of some vital resource dwindling, and I tried to ignore it. My colleagues had been toiling at this pace for three years without a pause, and I was already flagging after a single San Francisco summer? I was supposed to be one of the bright new additions, the fresh-faced ones.

My face was not fresh.

My hair had gone 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. My parents were far away, locked in the frame of a video chat window. I didn’t have any friends in San Francisco aside from a handful of Dextrous, but they were just as traumatized as I was. My apartment was small and dark, and I paid too much for it, and the internet was slow.

*   *   *

TWELVE MINUTES after I had called it in, my order from Clement Street Soup and Sourdough arrived, carried to my door by a young man with a sweet face half hidden inside a ketchup-colored motorcycle helmet. A soft oonce-oonce of music emanated from within the helmet, and he bobbed to the beat.

He boomed his greeting in a heavy, hard-to-place accent: Good evening, my friend!

Greatest among us are those who can deploy my friend to total strangers in a way that is not hollow, but somehow real and deeply felt; those who can make you, within seconds of first contact, believe it.

I dug in my pocket for cash, and then, as I paid him, I thought to ask, What kind of food is this?

His face lit up like a neon sign. It is the food of the Mazg! I hope you like it. If not, call again. My brother will make it better next time. He jogged toward his motorcycle but, halfway there, turned back to say, You will like it, though. Above the rev of the engine he waved and repeated: You will like it!

Inside my apartment, on my kitchen countertop—utterly bare, free from any sign of food preparation or, really, human habitation—I unwrapped the sandwich and opened the soup and consumed the first combo (double spicy) of my life.

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. I let loose a long sigh that transformed into a rippling burp, which made me laugh out loud, alone, in my kitchen.

I lifted the lone magnet on my refrigerator, allowed a sheet of shiny pizza coupons to fall to the floor, and stuck the new menu reverently in its place.

*   *   *

I CALLED CLEMENT STREET SOUP AND SOURDOUGH again the next night, and the next. Then I skipped a night, feeling self-conscious, but I ordered again the night after that. For all its spiciness, the food sat perfectly in my traumatized stomach.

In the month that followed, I learned about it bit by bit:

• The restaurant was operated by two brothers.

• Beoreg, with the sweet voice and the perfect English, answered the phone and cooked the food.

• Chaiman, with the sweet face and the earbuds never not leaking dance music, rode the motorcycle and delivered the food.

• When pressed for more information on the food of the Mazg, Chaiman would only laugh and say, It’s famous!

• Beoreg and Chaiman had been slinging spicy soups and/or sandwiches in San Francisco for just over a year.

• They possessed no storefront: they cooked where they lived, in an apartment whose precise location they were reluctant to disclose.

• Chaiman said, It is okay. Just not legal. Definitely okay, though.

• With the double spicy, one bonus slab of sourdough bread was included, always, for dunking in your soup.

• That bread was the secret of the whole operation. Beoreg baked it himself every day.

• That bread was life.

Most nights, I called ahead and waited on hold (though I was recognized, and the greeting from brother Beoreg was not Okay to hold? but Lois! Hi! I have to put you on hold. Just a second, I promise) with the music in another language I’d grown to appreciate—it was sad, in a nice way—and then, rescued from purgatory, I placed my order (the same order every time), and when brother Chaiman brought it on his motorcycle, I greeted him warmly and tipped him generously, then carried my double spicy inside to eat it standing, my eyes watering from the heat and the happiness.

One Friday, after a particularly shattering day at the office, in which my code reviews had all come back red with snotty comments, and my manager, Peter, had gently inquired about the pace of my refactoring (perhaps not sufficiently turbocharged), I arrived home in a swirl of angst, with petulance and self-recrimination locked in ritual combat to determine which would ruin my night. On the phone with Beoreg, I ordered my food with a rattling sigh, and when his brother arrived at my door, he carried something different: a more compact tub containing a fiery red broth and not one but two slabs of bread for dipping. Secret spicy, he whispered. The soup was so hot it burned the frustration out of me, and I went to bed feeling like a fresh plate, scalded and scraped clean.

Is it an exaggeration to say Clement Street Soup and Sourdough saved me? At night, instead of fitfully reviewing the day’s errors while my stomach swam and churned, I … fell asleep. My course steadied. I had taken on ballast in the form of spicy broth and fragrant bread and, maybe, two new friends, or sort-of-friends, or

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What people think about Sourdough

129 ratings / 49 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (5/5)
    I thoroughly enjoyed this magical realism book about balance, self-discovery, and growth.While there were parts that seemed out of context to the flow of the rest of the novel, I was willing to forgive then, given how wrapped up in the development of Lois I had found myself.
  • (4/5)
    I liked the twists and turns this story took. There was a bit of magical realism tossed in with a storyline that somewhat explores our relationship with food. Lois moved across country and codes all day. She has similarly solitary friends at work, and her evening dinner, delivered from a local eatery owned by two immigrant brothers, is her only real contact with life. When they up and leave, the brothers leave her with their sourdough starter and challenge her to keep it alive. Of course, sourdough and San Fran go hand in hand, but the book gets a bit long as it veers into robotic arms and the lottery for space at a Farmer's Market.
  • (4/5)
    It has been a long wait since the author’s last book Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Book Store. It was worth it. Like a good sourdough bread the author takes a special starter and lets it bloom into a story that went places I never imagined and left me feeling very satisfied. We explore the world of food, where it comes from, and the simple joy of cooking. Then we add in a dash of technology and a hint of where food culture may be heading. All wrapped up with engaging characters, a sly sense of humor, and a bit of a love story. A sure fire recipe for a hot Fall read!
  • (3/5)
    I was loving this book and dying to tell my friends about it until I got to the last several chapters when it all fell apart for me. Loved Lois Clary and her quirkiness the way she was willing to challenge herself in different ways. But then it got to fantastical for me. Clouds of sourdough starter wafting above Marrow's Fair and all the strange ideas percolating inside. I did finish the book and the last two e-mail exchanges made me happy.
  • (5/5)
    Loved the book but then I love books about food especially with a fairy tale twist.
  • (4/5)
    Lois is an overworked software designer at a robot company in San Francisco. However, she leads a mundane life, with little human interaction or variety. One day, Lois orders delivery from a local spicy soup company and soon becomes their "Number One Eater". When the owners of the restaurant suddenly close the business, they leave Lois with their bread starter. With no experience in baking, Lois does her best to keep the starter alive and learns to bake amazing sourdough bread. From there, the story takes a strange twist involving robots, a strange farmer's market, and the San Francisco food scene. Like the author's first novel, Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore, this novel is rich with unusual characters and interesting twists, as well as elements of magical realism. In all, an interesting read with an unpredictable ending.
  • (4/5)
    This is another delightful and fun tale by Robin Sloan. He is pretty much a genius in my book.
  • (4/5)
    I love how Robin Sloan’s books always incorporate a bit of tech in them, and the way they are set in the Bay Area. Sourdough does require some suspension of disbelief but it was a fun delightful yeast-full romp that will make you want to eat (and in my case, make) bread.
  • (3/5)
    Sourdough was not a book I would normally choose for myself at a bookstore, but I selected it from a selection of Book of the Month choices; I wanted something airy. This book was not bad, but not my cup of tea. It felt a little rushed to me and the story was a bit loose especially the characters. However, it did have one positive outcome: I constantly craved gluten in my gullet. I even went as far as to purchase sourdough dough and made myself a loaf.
  • (4/5)
    Fun, quirky and different. This is a book readers will either like or hate.
  • (4/5)
    I’d never heard of Robin Sloan or any of his previous work so I had no expectations whatsoever of this book from Readers First before I started it. But I found it absolutely delightful. A wonderful piece of story telling, tender, simply told despite some of the complex science and technology. Uplifting and celebratory. It’s an unusual premise, possibly genre neutral although you could squeeze it into magical realism if you really wanted to.I cannot think of another story where a sourdough starter is one of the main characters. If anyone else can I’m all ears! The other characters are quirky and slightly off centre but there are no nasty people in this book, no one is unkind to anyone else, no unpleasant happenings, no violence, a gentle twist or two maybe but no one attempts to shock the reader with their behaviour.Structurally conformist, no dual/multi chronologies. It’s straightforward first person narration with the inclusion of emails detailing the parallel lives and dreams of the two brothers who start this whole thing rolling by making Lois Clary custodian of their sourdough starter. Lois is a computer/software programmer/engineer, what she actually does is crucial to the plot so I’m keeping stumm. Lois is such a sweet character, conscientious, self effacing but seizing opportunities, solving problems and ultimately taking risks to follow ambition but ambition in a life affirming sense rather than the more cut throat, desire to reach the top type of ambition we hear much of today. And despite the book being a work concerning technology, set in San Francisco as well, there’s barely a mobile phone or tablet in evidence. No mention of social media. So refreshing. You can simply enjoy this novel as a story but if you want to delve a little deeper there is plenty to think about in terms of technology, living organisms and their needs, nutrition and addressing the feeding of a growing population. Heaven help us if Heston Blumenthal gets hold of this. It seriously might give him ideas. But, is that necessarily a bad thing? Read this book and make up your own minds!!
  • (4/5)
    I loved this book at the beginning, but at end I was no longer enamored. I have to admit the author had a gullible reader in me who wanted to believe the story, the ending took care of that. But every time I have sourdough pancakes or bread I’ll think of this book, I’m going to be paying closer attention to the crust of sourdough bread as I look for faces in it.
  • (4/5)
    This was a really good read. Yes, it was somewhat cheesy, but cheese goes good with bread. Ha!A story of a woman, Lois, whose life makes a big change when she moves from Michigan to San Francisco to work at a tech company coding programs for robots. The new company sounds like a Google workplace with free food and beds which keep the employees there way after hours.Lois has no friends other than those few at work and spends most of her time at the company. She finds a menu for a new restaurant, a whole in the wall, and starts ordering from them. It ends up that she orders from them so much that the brother who own it call her "Number one Eater".Then the brothers Visa expires and they give Lois a going away present. Their starter for the Sourdough bread that they made.This makes a big change in Lois' life and all for the better. A little sappy towards the end - yes, this is the cheesy part - but a very enjoyable read.And yes, I looked it up, there is a "Lois Club". I didn't find any Debbie clubs, however. Ha!Thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
  • (3/5)
    I'm not quite sure what to think about this: I didn't understand the point about "technology", but it had a big part in the plot.For me it stood out as a slowly unfolding long-distance love story between two people.So the woman in the story: Lois, her name is Lois, writes codes for a technology company. She has little or no personal time and has come to depend on the delivery service of two brothers for the spicy & spicy dinner soup & sourdough bread they make.When the brothers unexpectedly have to leave the country; they leave Lois w/ their sourdough starter that has a secret life of its own & thrives on music.Lois also belongs to Groups of other women named Lois. Her current group encourages Lois to continue to bake the Sourdough bread & enter the try outs for an up & coming Farmers' Market.....which is really where the story picked-up for me.
  • (4/5)
    Lois is a programmer working for a robotics company that doesn't remotely understand the meaning of "work-life balance." Then she comes into possession of a very weird and special sourdough starter, learns to bake rather than just trying to teach robots to do it, and gets offered a stall in an extremely weird marketplace.It's hard for me to decide exactly how I feel about this one. The writing is pleasantly breezy and kind of amusing, in a low-key way, while also touching on some fairly complex questions about our relationships to food and technology. And it demonstrates a real sense of wonder about the world of microbes, which is something I can appreciate.But the whole conceit about the sourdough starter and its seemingly magical, even sentient properties... Well, I wavered back and forth a lot between finding that charmingly whimsical and just thinking it was silly, and I think by halfway through the novel that second feeling had started to dominate. It also eventually gets a little too, well, hipster-ish for me, and I'm not sure the ending is entirely satisfying.Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy it. I did enjoy it, but with a lot of reservations, and nowhere near as much as I enjoyed Sloan's previous novel, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.
  • (4/5)
    I was sucked into this book immediately! I picked it up primarily because of the title (I LOVE sourdough bread, and it's hard to find good loaves around here) but as soon as I started reading, I wanted to read more. It's very readable and affable, and while I appreciated the concise storytelling (omitted many tedious actions and dialogue) I was sorry the book is so short because it was so enjoyable. Without being scientific, the book balances a computer programmer as a protagonist who embarks in a venture of a rather science-forward community of food markerters. Yes, there's some fantasy to the book, but it's so minor and embedded into such a realistic community that it is believable. A good book to read when you're looking for something light that has substance (ooh-- like sourdough!)
  • (4/5)
    What an interesting read, as in, I’ve never read anything quite like that before, and I’ve never come away from a book that was NOT a cookbook, thinking about food like I have with this one. Bread, glorious bread! It’s the central subject, and I was actually warned before reading it about the ‘dangers’ of reading it on an empty stomach, and about how you end up craving your carbs afterwards. A young lady who discovers a love of baking bread and gives up her life in the tech world is the simplest way to put this book, but it’s SO much more.What I didn’t expect was the underlying long-distance love story, which I enjoyed very much, and several other little quirks that author Robin Sloan brings to the (restaurant) table. He has a way with words that is so unusual and full of fabulous descriptions that your senses are filled up when you read this book. I hate to admit it, but there were times that I was so distracted by the descriptions of noises (these were surprisingly the most amazing to me), smells, tastes, that I lost track of the story at times. Sloan also comes up with the most glorious names for characters! And the contrast in the book between technology and the basic act of doing something simple like baking bread is such a fantastic thing to think about. What may turn off some readers is the constant dialog about bacteria and fungus (which of course is central to the basis for starting off bread, as well as cheese); I’m not squeamish but it distracted me sometimes! But there’s a lot of science in cooking, and that has to brought up if you’re talking about this topic in-depth.I can absolutely see this novel being made into a TV show, and these characters and the concept being written about by the creators of maybe ‘The Good Place’ plus the writers of ‘The Office’. There’s a lot of ‘food for thought’ for a TV version for something even beyond the confines of this book. I can see why this has become an unusual, and almost ‘cult’ hit of a book; just don’t read it when you’re hungry. *It’s also the best advertisement I’ve ever seen for King Arthur Flour.
  • (3/5)
    This was different (but that's kind of Robin Sloan's thing).
    At first I thought it was cute.
    Then a "show millennials how to take chances and be happy" (except not).
    And then there was a twist - similar to in Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour bookstore (New Bagel makes a cameo!) The Marrow Fair is wild, I'd love to see/visit!

    So: worth the read. I liked Mr. P's24HB better though, so read it first.
  • (5/5)
    4.5 starsI 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.
  • (5/5)
    When your culture stops singing, you've lost touch.Lois Clary is young programmer working for General Dexterity in San Francisco. She soon finds her dream job at the robotics company is draining her physically and emotionally. The one thing saving her is a meal from a mysterious carry-out run by two mysterious brothers. One night the brothers show up at her door to say they must leave and give her sourdough bread culture they have used for her meals. Hesitantly she accepts. This starts Lois on a path she could never anticipate baking bread, building an oven, goats, bones that are keys, and cricket cookies. As Lois moves into new territory with a farmers market that mixes technology with food she is happier then ever, but can she balance both and keep the culture singing?Robin Sloan has once again created a story that simply draws you in, you become immersed in, and hopefully you don't have other obligations for a couple of days because you really aren't going to want to stop reading. With Sourdough Sloan manages to serve up a book of the same creativity and storytelling, the same wonderful characters he did with Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore without falling into the trap of being formulaic. In short, it's everything fans of Robin Sloan love about his writing and completely new! I can not recommend this highly enough, five plus stars!I received an advanced reader copy (eGalley) from Farrar, Straus and Giroux through NetGalley. This review reflects my honest and unbiased opinion.
  • (4/5)
    Sometimes I'm not entirely sure how Robin Sloan's mind works ... but I really enjoy that he puts his clever ideas down on paper. This new novel focuses less on books (though not entirely to their exclusion, to my delight), and turns to food, with the continued technological element that Sloan usually brings to his work. A little weird, but that made it all the more fun to read.
  • (3/5)
    Just a little too “out there” for me.
  • (4/5)
    Set in the Bay Area, this is the story of Lois Clary, a successful software engineer at a tech startup who chooses to escape the high tech rat race for a life of artisan baking and gourmet markets. On the surface this book is humorous and light, but keep an eye out for some astute observations about our life choices, while mocking the crazy world of Silicon Valley.
  • (5/5)
    Lois is a programmer, and she is very good at what she does. Fresh out of college she gets a job in Michigan, buys a house, and is relatively content, until a large company in California offers her a seemingly better job for a lot more money. She moves across the country and she hates it, until she finds a delivery food flier on her door and takes a chance. Lois discovers a new love; double spicy soup and sourdough bread. When the cooks have to leave unexpectedly and leave her with their sourdough starter, a whole new world is opened up to her. I decided to join the Book of the Month club, and this was one of the September picks. After loving Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, my choice was pretty easy. This book wasn’t quite what I thought it would be; it was labelled as fantasy, and while there certainly are some fantastical elements to the story, it is not a fantasy book the way I normally think of fantasy (Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, The Night Circus, etc.). That being said, I still really enjoyed this book! Fair warning: this book made me really hungry. So much so that I ended up making my own loaf of bread (see above picture). Most of this story is told from the perspective of Lois, who I found to be a very relatable character. Her emotions are very well described which helped me ‘get into’ the story and understand her situation. I also loved how after Lois receives the sourdough starter and learns how to care for it, she is immediately all in with learning how to bake sourdough bread. I have a tendency to do this myself so this added to the ‘relatableness’ of the character; one particular scene in which Lois purchases a book on sourdough and immediately orders all of the supplies recommended by the book hit me a little too hard. My complaints are pretty minor. As previously mentioned, this book was not quite the fantasy book I thought it was going to be, and because of this I spent a lot of the book waiting for it to get really into the fantasy world, which it never does. It was very much along the same lines of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, and if you enjoyed that book I suspect you will also enjoy this one. My second complaint is that ending did not completely satisfy me, although it is growing on me with time. I am not sure why I feel this way, as it was not a vague or “cliffhanger” ending, but I walked away from the book feeling a little “eh” about it. Looking back now though, I really did enjoy this book and would highly recommend it. I hope you guys enjoy it! I am also pretty excited, because Robin Sloan is coming to my home state! I am not positive that I will be able to make it to his events, by I am certainly going to try! Happy reading! :)
  • (4/5)
    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.Even though I gave this author’s Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore 5 stars and I’m giving this 4 stars, in its own way I enjoyed this just as much.
  • (4/5)
    Although I was initially intrigued with the idea of sourdough bread as an occupation for the main character- Lois/ I became somewhat exhausted with the description of trying to find out the secrets of the 'special' starter. I was intrigued enough to remember trying to make sourdough bread myself, long ago. Yes, it was a clever story and the reader on the CD, Theresa Plummer, was very good. I wish I had liked it more.
  • (3/5)
    A young woman from Michigan moves to San Francisco to work at a tech company. After falling for the delicious food at a local take out restaurant her life takes a completely different turn and she begins baking bread. The novel was not what I was expecting, but I loved the descriptions of food. The characters were fun, though not well developed. The beginning as good, but it fell apart towards the end when it seemed to lose believability and focus. Still an enjoyable read. “The internet: always proving that you’re not quite as special as you suspected.”
  • (4/5)
    Sourdough is another light-hearted and entertaining read from the author of Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. Whereas the latter explored the tensions between lovers of modern technology and traditional books, Sourdough plays with ideas about old and new methods of food production and preparation. It is very much a fairy-tale set in San Francisco with its booming IT and foodie sectors. Here the appealing heroine is presented with a lively sourdough starter that may just be the means of releasing her from her stressful IT job to find a life she loves, though not quite in the way you might imagine.Her offbeat adventures and encounters with an array of quirky and often sympathetic characters make this uplifting and enjoyable.
  • (3/5)
    Well, that was weird. It nudges right up to the edge of going full sci-fi/horror and then backs off, which was a little disappointing.
  • (4/5)
    A wild romp into California foodie and tech culture including a rogue sourdough starter, liquid nutrition, software code, and some serious farmer's markets. Extra points for the Michigan and MSU connection. Therese Plummer is one of the best audiobook narrators that I've ever listened to. If you liked Mr Penunmbra's 24 Hour Book Store, then you'll love this. Super fun.