I’ve decided to do a fun thing where I read a book set in the destination that I am visiting during a holiday! (Wow, what a sentence that was!)
I recently went to San Francisco, and I brought along with me Sourdough by Robin Sloan. I’d read his first novel, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore, and had really felt the city of San Francisco come alive in that book. I found out that he’d written a second book that was similar and so I went to the library the day before my flight and checked it out! (I know, I know – taking library books on vacation? I like to live on the edge.)
What’s the book about?
Sourdough tells the story of a tired robot, Lois, who leads a monotonous life in San Francisco. (She’s not actually a robot! She works with robots. But her life at the beginning of the book is so boring that she might as well be a robot. She even eats slush!) However, things change when she is gifted a mysterious sourdough starter from an even more mysterious pair of brothers. Lois starts to bake loaves and loaves of delicious bread, and eventually finds herself on the fringes of a food revolution, where food and technology come together and the things we eat start to have a mind of their own!
What did I think of the book?
I enjoyed it! The story was fantastical and interesting, and the descriptions of food were poetic and romantic. Sloan is a pretty talented writer, in that he was able to make me feel feelings – fear, wonder, affection, etc. – for a LUMP OF BACTERIA. (Yuck!) The story was exciting as well, with its twists and turns. The main protagonist Lois is pretty excited about her bread, and her excitement makes it easy for the reader to follow along for the ride!
How important is the setting?
Some authors choose an arbitrary setting for their books, while others use the setting as an essential element to the story.
Sourdough needed to be set in San Francisco. Where else would the world of the technology/startup industry collide with the world of bread?! San Francisco has a love affair with sourdough bread – it’s the preferred medium for the city’s famous clam chowder bread bowls – so the important role of sourdough bread in the book really only made sense if the story was set in San Francisco!
Reading a book set in San Francisco while planning a trip to San Francisco actually had a tiny effect on my itinerary! There were some buildings and places that I wanted to visit after having read about them in the book, and I was constantly saying to Dangerous Dan, “This street was mentioned in the book! This is where that character did that thing!” It was probably very annoying for him. I probably wouldn’t have even noticed the prevalence of sourdough bread in the city without this novel. Overall, reading Sourdough while in San Francisco enriched my experience while there, and I’m so glad to have read it where I did!