Sourdough by Robin Sloan: A tasty bit of fun

Cover image Robin Sloan’s Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore was a 2013 favourite for me. I’ve been waiting patiently for something else from him having been a little disappointed by Mr Penumbra’s prequel, Ajax Penumbra 1969, and was delighted to spot Sourdough on the January horizon. It’s the story of a young woman who is given a sourdough starter, so hungry it may take over the world.

Just a year out of college, Lois lands a plum job in San Francisco helping to design the perfect robotic arm but it’s far from the dream she envisaged. Her nose firmly to the grindstone, her stomach cramped with stress, she exists on a diet of Slurry, the convenient nutritive gel championed by her boss. One day she finds a flyer advertising spicy soup and bread stuck to her apartment door. Desperate for comfort, she places her order with a friendly young man and another delivers it. Soon she’s addicted to their lip-smacking produce but Beo and Chaiman are moving back to their parents in Edinburgh. Before they go, Beo gives Lois his sourdough starter with instructions to play it the background music she’s familiar with from her nightly orders, and an email address. Lois, of course, has no clue how to bake bread but she knows how to set about learning. Soon she discovers there’s more to life than robotics, setting up a small sideline selling bread to General Dexterity’s trophy chef who suggests she auditions for a coveted stall at a farmers market. There she meets a young woman who offers her a place at a market no one else seems to have heard of where all manner of weird and wonderful food is being developed.

Sourdough is just the thing to brighten up a dull winter evening. Lois is an engaging narrator, determined to find a way to make her new hobby pay enough to liberate herself from the grind of her day job, and there’s the promise of a tentative love story threaded through Beo’s emails. A few well-aimed swipes are taken at the modern world which seems either to have lost its taste buds or to have become obsessed with them and is unable to find a middle way. And who can resist a novel whose star is a megalomaniac sourdough starter that puts on a light show, sings to itself and is kept in check by Grateful Dead tracks. A thoroughly enjoyable piece of entertainment which, like Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, has something to say about the way we live – and eat – now.

26 thoughts on “Sourdough by Robin Sloan: A tasty bit of fun”

  1. This reminds me of the homemade yoghurt starters that were the rage in the seventies. They clearly had pretensions to world domination. Everyone was desperately trying to give them away but no one with even half a little grey cell would go anywhere near them. Definitely one for the tbr pile.

  2. I have not read Penumbra’s book store. But the premise of Sour dough really attracted my attention when it came out. Glad you enjoyed it. I must pick it up for a relaxing read on a quiet evening. It sounds perfect for that. Plus I like food in books

  3. I don’t remember the yoghurt starters (although I did have a yoghurt machine in the 80s!) but did have a starter for a cake which came round again as Herman! This sounds a lovely read – another on the tbr list!

  4. This sounds like a lovely fun read, a cheery counterpoint to the long, grey days of January. I love the idea of a megalomaniac sourdough starter inadvertently opening up someone’s eyes to the tasty richness of the world. Lovely review, Susan.

  5. I love that someone has written a novel around baking bread. I used to bake all my own bread until the kids got older and begged for the kind of bread all their friends had (Ha! sounds kind of funny). And now I’ve gotten out of the habit. Just thinking about this book is making my mouth water.

  6. Mr. P’s bookstore has been on my TBR forever. I need to get it from the library! I did just check out Sourdough though and I’m very excited. I have a newish starter – his name is Bruce – so I can’t wait to read this one. Great review!

  7. I enjoyed Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore. In fact it is featured on my 400th post on Bookword on Wednesday. So good timing to introduce us to this one, by Robin Sloan. Thank you

  8. Everyone on my Twitter feed has been raving about this book for some time now, and I was just wondering why. But taking into account the current state of affairs, I can now see why! It reminds me of Where’d You Go Bernadette and The Portable Veblen, but with a much better tone. I’ll keep it mind for reading in between my dark and bloody crime novels.

  9. We had Herman at our house when I was growing up, for a time. I think he was lodging with us because another relative was going away for awhile. He didn’t stay long but seemed exceptionally needy. This novel sounds like one I would really enjoy: I’m off to check the library!

Leave a comment ...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.