On Saturday, Feb. 16, I got a library card from the Putnam County Library on East Poplar Street because I was bored. It was a great decision and completely free too with my DePauw Student ID. I checked out three books: “The Proposal” by Jasmine Guillory, “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore,” and “Sourdough,” both by Robin Sloan. In the span of a week, I, somehow, read all three of these books. I really enjoyed them all, so I of course need to share them through this column.
Guillroy’s “The Proposal” is not actually the movie “The Proposal” starring Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock, but it’s still a pretty cute book, perfect for a light read. Plus, Reese Witherspoon named this book her February book club pick. The novel has a fun premise. Nikole Paterson’s actor boyfriend unexpectedly proposes to her at a Dodgers baseball game using the jumbotron and spelling her name wrong in the process, and everyone sees. She says no, but luckily strangers Carlos Ibarra and his sister help Nikole escape before she’s hounded by the video crew. The story picks up from there. The book itself is slightly predictable, but Guillroy infuses her story with rounded characters, a dreamy L.A. setting, and some bumps for each character to overcome along the way.
There are no spoilers here, but the one awkward part is when one of the main characters first realizes that they love the other one (that’s not a surprise). It just kind of came out of nowhere. However, the may reflect how the other character felt about hearing “I love you.” Nevertheless, “The Proposal” is a fun read that will have one dreaming of spring break with its L.A. setting.
Robin Sloan’s two novels are both quirky, fun reads with a bit of science fiction elements. An added perk to both these books is that both clock in around 260 pages, so they’re quick reads too. “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore” has a fun plot, and I honestly had no idea how it would end until the final 20 pages. Again, no spoilers, but the ending is satisfying. The main character Clay lives in San Francisco and was recently laid off from his marketing job at a bagel startup because of the recession. Luckily, he finds work as the night salesperson at Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore. He only gets a handful of customers at night, but they weirdly checkout the most mysterious of books. They’re also a bit weird themselves. Clay decides to figure out what’s up and eventually comes to find out that the store is actually part of a secret society that’s been around for hundreds of years.
Everything about this book is unexpected. Sloan’s tongue-in-cheek narrator, short and sweet chapters, and eccentric characters make this book a fun one. I can’t delve into more without revealing spoilers, so I’ll just leave this portion of the review at that.
The same said above pretty much goes for Sloan’s “Sourdough” too. Also based in San Francisco, software engineer Lois has gotten into a pretty bad routine. Work consumes her, and she’s even succumb to drinking Slurry, a nutritious smoothie-like concoction, for every meal to save time. However, one day she receives a flyer for a not-very-restaurant-restaurant run by two brothers that promises a fantastic spicy soup. She orders and is instantly smitten by this soup and accompanying sourdough. Unfortunately, the brothers’ visas expire, so they need to leave. Yet they bequeath to Lois their strange sourdough starter, which brings her to an underground food culture in San Francisco.
It’s a strange, imaginative plot, but one that’s really engaging too. Lois takes the reader on her journey to bake the best sourdough, and Sloan conveys the excitement of Lois regarding her baking well. The only out of place portion were the emails as page long chapters from one of the brothers, but they make more sense at the end of the novel. It was also kind of hard to imagine some of the actions at the end of the book with the sourdough starter but that’s part of the fun.
Overall, This book has a little bit of mystery, some science fiction, and stomach-rumbling descriptions of its featured food. I definitely ended up googling how to make a sourdough starter after reading this book. And if someone happens to “Sourdough” too and enjoys it, then I recommend checking out the “It’s Alive” web series on Bon Appetit’s YouTube channel.
Now that I’ve finished reading these three books, I can’t wait to read something new next (maybe “My Oxford Year” or “Year of Yes”?) and from the Putnam County Library, of course.