Don't judge a book by its cover, but how can I not fall in love with the book jacket cover of a floating sourdough loaf above the skyline of San Francisco? Sourdough, written by Robin Sloane, is a weird, funny story of a burnt out techie living in the Inner Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco and her unexpected shift into becoming a bread baker. This new job change shifts her life drastically, giving her purpose and joy, something that resonates with me in my own life actually, but enough about me, let's talk about this bread book that is not a cookbook!! If you are at all familiar with the Bay Area food scene and celebrities (here's looking at you, Alice Waters), this hysterical, fast-moving piece of fiction is a hoot and a half. Maybe it's from living in the Bay Area that it's extra fun to figure out the people and places Sloane bases his story on. Honestly, even if you don't know about Bay Area food icons, this is still a fantastically enjoyable read, making you root for Lois the whole way through. The narration is fun as it alternates between the perspective of Lois and emails from Beo, the former owner of the fictitious Clement Street Soup and Sourdough, who gifted her the sourdough starter. This book is full of quirky bits, like the narrator's participation of the Lois Club, or the Hybrid Lembas ballooning into the size reminiscent of "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs". One of my favorite parts was the concept of farmers and culinary artisans being placed at certain markets in a very competitive Hunger Games-style placement. Who thinks of a sourdough starter as a character in itself, that has a personality based off of music and will sing along? Who thinks of creating a cutthroat character like Charlotte Clingstone based off of a beloved Bay Area food superstar? Robin Sloane does this in Sourdough, and now I'm going to eat a piece of toast after all this talk about bread.
For as long as I can remember, cookbooks have always surrounded me. Everywhere I went as a child (i.e. my house and my grandma's house in midtown) always had massive collections of cookbooks. I have now fallen into the trap of cookbook hoarding myself, though I fully embrace it because now it feels like adult picture books. To be fair, the book hoarding has expanded from just cookbooks to historical narratives on a specific food or the linguistic background on food. I think it's so cool to see the similarities and the vast differences between food throughout the world. Bread, for instance, has been through massive transformations throughout the world due to geographical differences, through regional ingredients and colonization. Food has been both the result of society's changes and the force behind societal shifts.
This section of my site will be dedicated to all books that involve food to varying degrees. This could be a cookbook, novel, history book or anything else where food is the centerpiece. I love working with my hands to create something beautiful and delicious, but at the end of the day, I want to unwind with a book. These will be quickie summaries and reviews of the books I come across.
Three Squares is the book I wish I had found in college to help guide me towards combining food and history. It is the exhaustive version of what I would have been interested in writing about for my senior thesis. With that being said, Carroll's storytelling is informative, but sometimes stiff and academic. If you're looking for a lighthearted narrative, Carroll kind of misses the mark. But before I totally drag this book, some personal interests of mine (enter: carbs) were spectacularly written and explained within the context of American society.
Chapters such as "Reinventing Breakfast" or "The British Invasion" were my favorites because there was a big emphasis on food groups that I adore and the way the foods folded into society was fascinating to me. "The British Invasion" was my favorite chapter of the whole book because of its origin stories of doughnuts, breads and cakes and their place into the United States and eventually into breakfast. Carroll's chapter on the invention of lunch - including its ever-changing terminology due to a growing industrial society- was fascinating. I never knew about women's lunch clubs and their philanthropic influence to their schools and communities. Additionally, I never knew about the existence of communal kitchens and their failed efforts to become a popular way of living.
The conclusion was sadly unsatisfying, especially since the majority of the book had been so descriptive and thorough. To be fair, Carroll is an excellent historian and there is plenty of reading material that discuss the future of the American meal (read everything Michael Pollan has written). While some online book reviewers were lukewarm about the extensive endnotes and bibliography, I'm actually looking forward to browsing through the materials she chose from. This plethora of even more reading material about food is a win for me.