or, Lois and Her Adventures in the Underground Market: A Novel
From Robin Sloan, the New York Times bestselling author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, comes Sourdough, "a perfect parable for our times" (San Francisco Magazine): a delicious and funny novel about an overworked and under-socialized software engineer discovering a calling and a community as a baker.
Named One of the Best Books of the Year by NPR, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Southern Living
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 quickly close up shop. 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 to the General Dexterity cafeteria every day. Then the company chef urges her to take her product to the farmer’s market—and a whole new world opens up.
Praise For Sourdough: or, Lois and Her Adventures in the Underground Market: A Novel…
"Delicious fun . . . a novel as delectable as its namesake." —Elizabeth Hand, The Washington Post
“A culinary delight . . . Sourdough is the story we all secretly dream about. Could we leave our mundane lives and take a leap of faith in the direction of our newfound passion? Sloan takes readers on a thought-provoking journey to answer that question and asks them to consider the irony that it takes a living concoction of yeast and microbes to force Lois to consider living her best life.” —Lincee Ray, The Associated Press
“[Sourdough] plunges through so much terrain: microbial nations, assimilation and tradition, embodied consciousness and the crisis of the tech industry, all without losing the light, sweet, ironic Sloanian voice familiar from Mr. Penumbra’s, a plot that makes the book a page-turner and a laugh-out-louder, with sweetness and romance and tartness and irony in perfect balance. What a great book, seriously.” —Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
"Sloan’s prose is sharp, and his critiques of capitalism, Silicon Valley and foodie culture are finely cut." —Everdeen Mason, The Washington Post
“Fascinating . . . insightful . . . One of the more cogent novels this year on the fertile tensions that exist between culture and technology” —Andy Newman, The Atlantic
"If you’ve ever been confused about what’s artificial and what’s authentic—can you really tell anymore?—Sourdough is a book for you." —Jeffery Gleaves, The Paris Review Daily
“Sourdough rises like a good loaf . . . Beautiful . . . Fight Club meets The Great British Bake Off . . . [Sourdough] knows as much about the strange extremes of food as Mr. Penumbra did about the dark latitudes of the book community. [Sloan’s] voice . . . fits so beautifully into the time and place and moment he is writing about.” —Jason Sheehan, NPR Books
“Baking, foodie culture, and a club made up of women named Lois all figure in this charming story about a coder slogging away at a trendy tech company. When friends give her some sourdough starter and she begins making her own bread, everything changes.” —Entertainment Weekly
"Delightful . . . equal measures techie and foodie fodder, a perfect parable for our times." –San Francisco Magazine
"As he did in Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan will have readers looking for magic in the mundane." –Nora Horvath, Real Simple
"Filled with crisp humor and weird but endearing characters . . . At once a parody of startup culture and a foodie romp . . . [A] delight, perfect for those who like a little magic with their meals." —Booklist (starred review)
" A wild, geeky, flour-dusted ride through the oddball food and techie communities of San Francisco . . . A winning story that—like its namesake bread--carries a satisfying tang.” —Shelf Awareness
“[Sourdough] fuses the story of worker alienation and embodied consciousness and microbiomes and microbiology with robotics in a beautiful way . . . A Robert Pirsig or Armisted Maupin kind of novel, but it’s about robotic arms and sourdough bread!” —Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing on KDNK Radio
“How many novels can boast an obstreperous sourdough starter as a key character? A delightful and heartfelt read.” —Library Journal
"Sloan's comic but smart tone never flags, and Lois is an easy hero to root for." —Kirkus Reviews
"Through narrative and email correspondence, Sloan captures contemporary work environments, current reality, and future trends . . . [Sourdough] offers much to savor." —Publishers Weekly
“Sloan has imagined a funny and curious novel unlike anything else, a perfect combination of self-discovery through all sorts of weird passions. Like truly good sourdough, this namesake is the perfectly tangy, chewy, and airy addition to anyone’s reading list—minus the gluten and calories, of course.” —Chika Gujarathi, BookPage
“On the crust, Sourdough is a buddy book . . . But slice a little deeper, and you will discover, Sourdough is a novel about work . . . Sloan's sense of place is palpable, and his prose is dusted with luxurious lines to be savored . . .” —David LaBounty, Dallas Morning News
“In his novel Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Sloan unraveled a mystery about a web designer who takes a job in a peculiar all-night Bay area book shop. New technology clashed, then melded, with classic history. Sourdough promises a similar sort of tech and analog mashup, in this case involving the food industry: a software engineer learns to bake bread and uncovers a secret underground market.” —The Miami Herald, Fall Books Preview
Picador, 9781250192752, 272pp.
Publication Date: September 18, 2018
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. Lois defines proprioception as “the process by which organisms judge the position of their own body parts in space.” (16) She inhabits various and distinct environments in the novel, most significantly General Dexterity, Camillo Street, the Marrow Fair, and the Lois Club. How does her proprioception adapt to or resist these places?
2. After the “fungal party hellscape” at the Fair, Lois is relieved to find that her name is not mentioned in the newspaper (241). The mishap is credited to Lembas Labs. What other examples of ownership and sharing—both of ideas and of commodities—occur in Sourdough? To what degree is working and creating independently useful, both within the novel and hypothetically? What about working and creating collaboratively?
3. The hazy Mr. Marrow is kind of the lovechild between Dumbledore and the Wizard of Oz. It is notable that the Marrow Fair workers assume the creator of the market to be a man; it is also notable that Lois suspects a very specific type of man to be Mr. Marrow (Andrei or Klamath). Think about the powerful women and men in the novel. How do they transgress their stereotypes?
4. Only Beo’s half of the correspondence is relayed in the novel. What do you make of this? Trace this romantic subplot—in what ways do you see it emerge over the course of Sourdough?
5. Discussion of food is highly political within several of the book’s communities, whether on a personal or systematic scale. Lois moves from being, essentially, clueless about food to operating within the highest ranks of food culture. By the end of the novel, how would you say her view on food and the culinary arts inform her view of the world, at large?
6. The members of the Lois Club tack adjectives to their names for ease in conversation, which activates the need for self-identifying. How might being given a certain name influence the course of a lifetime? How much do you think, upon meeting someone, that you signify your name and hold agency over it? How much does your name signify you?
7. General Dexterity’s founder, Andrei, states: “Repetition [is] the enemy of creativity. Repetition belong[s] to robots.” (7) The confluence of technology and the naturally-occurring is neither dystopian nor utopian in Sourdough. What kind of contemporary self-portrait emerges? How do the fantastical-seeming elements of the book portray the world in which we live today?
8. The starter is one of the main characters in the novel. It is somewhat of a stray-turned-domestic dog: unpredictable, devoted, a bit wild. How does Lois’ understanding of the starter shift throughout their relationship? What do you make of the starter’s unexplainable consciousness, for example, the shapes it forms on its crust as a result of listening to certain kinds of music?
9. When Jaina Mitra asks to study the starter and becomes “suddenly sweet and solicitous,” Lois gets uneasy and declines. What kind of mentality is expected at the Marrow Fair? What, aside from a love for food, is the foundation of the workers’ relationships to one another?
10. Horace Portacio’s library is somewhat unexpected in the market. Consider the practices of archiving and collecting within the context of the novel. How is the library both a crucial and revealing tool for recording history while also existing autonomously as a site of creation?