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Sourdough by Robin Sloan


by Robin Sloan

Quick take

Sourdough is less of a mystery to be solved than a joyful unfurling of its strange and inviting world, one almost like ours, but a bit more zany.

Why I love it

Dana Schwartz

Baking has always seemed a form of magic to me. You combine ingredients that you've had sitting in the pantry all along—nothing in my hat, nothing up my sleeve—and by stirring them in the right ratio and plopping in the oven, you've turned inedible, tasteless powders into bread.

This is the realization that San Francisco engineer Lois Clarry has in Sourdough, when she inherits a mysteriously potent sourdough starter from two brothers she orders delivery from every night. Lois, who works at a company that creates industrial robotic arms, quickly discovers how satisfying it is to create something using her own arms, fulfilling some human need she hadn't even realized had gone unfulfilled. And then she discovers something else: This starter, which needs music to bubble happily and creates loaves of bread with strange faces baked into them, isn't like other starters. But Sourdough is less of a mystery to be solved than a joyful unfurling of its strange and inviting world, one almost like ours, but a bit more zany. Like baking bread, the process of reading it is where the true pleasure lies, not the end result. And like baking bread, its quirky details (a secret, experimental farmers' market; a club for only women named Lois; an eccentric culinary librarian who collects stacks and stacks of old menus; a sourdough starter that's a little bit Little Shop of Horrors) work together to create a work that's greater than the sum of their parts.

For days after I finished the book, I found myself looking up from my laptop and towards my sad, New York City kitchen (an oven that only works half the time; no counter space) and wondering what might happen if I could bake bread. Maybe it wouldn't change my life—unlike Lois, I don't see myself having the wherewithal to construct a bread oven in my backyard, or wake up early enough to consider baking as a sustainable career—but after reading Sourdough, I'm convinced my life would become just a little more magical.

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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.

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Member thoughts

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All (2787)
Love (1521)
Like (1099)
Dislike (167)
2842 ratings
  • 54% Love
  • 39% Like
  • 6% Dislike
  • Fayetteville, NC

    I so loved this book! It stuck with me for days after finishing. I always love a little magic in my books, and this definitely had that slightly mystical element. And it’s a foodie book! Double love!

  • Winchester, IN

    I really enjoyed Lois and her adventures. She’s the embodiment of a successful young woman, and yet life keeps giving her huge choices to make. It took an unexpected turn in the end, but I liked it!

  • Fresno, CA

    Laughed out loud at the spot on winks at foodie culture in the Bay Area and utterly charmed by the Loises and the Mazg...and have definitely been that wary of rising foods! (And it glows in the dark!)

  • Harrisonburg, VA

    I loved the growth Lois showed throughout this book. I loved the intertwining of reality with fiction in the growth of the starter. A truly wonderful read with hints of Sloan's other work hidden away!

  • Harrisonburg, VA

    Hilarious, whimsical, wonderous. Sloan takes us careening through the bizarre, beautiful, and bread-y. Who knew a book about bread could be so compelling and exciting? Well, Robin Sloan did apparently

  • Rexburg, ID

    I liked the nerdiness and the strangeness of this book. I am majoring in Engineering, but I also don't really know if it's what I want to do. I'm glad Louise found what she actually wanted in life.

  • Hayward , CA

    Sloan's writing is lyrical & observant; his characters are endearing & compelling. Sourdough is a fun/ny portrait of the Bay Area, and of a woman coming to know herself and making her way in the world

  • New City, NY

    I loved this book. It's a great reminder of how capable humans are even in this age of technology. Everyone should learn how to cook or bake something so they get the grounding Lois (# 1 eater) did.

  • Grand Junction, CO

    I loved how Sourdough promoted the reader to follow passions in life-how something like an obsession with a small-time take-out service can turn into something more. Funny one-liners and great setting

  • Searcy, AR

    A funny and charmingly enigmatic tale, Sourdough is a delightful breath of fresh-baked air that has inspired me to do 2 things: learn how to bake my own bread and read Robin Sloan's other novel ASAP!


    I'm a longtime fan of the most quirky yet enchanting genre that is magical realism, and Mr. Sloan DELIVERS in this underappreciated literary genre as an American equilvalent of Haruki Murakami. Magic!

  • Thornton, PA

    A delightful read with good characters, weird food phenomena, and hilarious juxtaposition. Lois' journey to happiness, the result of a deviation from habit and the gift of bread, enthralled me. Bravo!

  • Silver Spring, MD

    WHAT A FUN BOOK!! A magical sourdough starter that goes crazy?! I love it!!! As a kombucha maker myself, I definitely related to talking and singing to the starter ha! The writer was wonderful too!!!

  • Arcata, CA

    I read this book at the perfect time having just moved to a new city and feeling isolated like the protagonist, it brought me joy and wonder. Highly recommend for those adrift and in need of some hope

  • Baltimore, MD

    Robin Sloan has an interesting take on blending technology with magical/mystical elements. But I think what makes his books so great are the characters. Sourdough has a cast of wacky characters, but t

  • Minneapolis, MN

    This book was an incredibly fast-paced read for me. It was totally different than anything I have read before and at times a sharp commentary an expectation of industriousness in the tech industry.

  • Souderton, PA

    Very quirky book for bread and magic lovers! EDIT: I originally just gave this book a like, but I keep thinking about it years later. What an interesting story and makes you want to make some bread.

  • Duluth, MN

    I loved that there really wasn’t romance in this, and it was more about food and the main character’s development. The ending is kind of weird (author did it purposely). I want the soup recipe!!!

  • Brooklyn, NY

    Sourdough is a great read. It moves with incredible pace and Lois Clary is a perfect protagonist for this sweet sourdough tale. You won't want to put this book down until you know what happens next.

  • Silverdale, WA

    A joyful tromp into the world of meticulously crafted goods with a touch of magic. "Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" but for the millennial generation. So many snarky characters, too. <3 it!

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