What are the books that inspired you the most?
I posed this question to prominent people in the barbecue world, the barbecue-adjacent world, and respected professionals in creative and business settings about what 5 books (or more) inspired them the most during their life and career journey, along with providing some explanation as to why they chose each book. The answers (and the manner that the answers are presented) are as interesting as the book choices themselves.
Below is Part FOUR of a fun and hopefully inspiring companion project to a book I published in 1996 called Books That Shaped Successful People.
You can see the first 3 posts here:
I hope that the responses below provide you with some additional insight into each person and in turn give you the opportunity to get the know the person a little more. Possibly find some common interests. Also, as always, I hope you venture out to your local bookstore to purchase one of these or any book that interests you. They need your business more than ever.
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies . . . The man who never reads lives only one.” – George R.R. Martin
Here are the responses in their own words in no particular order:
Patricia Sharpe – Texas Monthly Magazine – Executive Editor and Food Writer / Restaurant Critic. She grew up in Austin and holds a master’s degree in English from the University of Texas at Austin. After working as a teacher (in English and Spanish) and at the Texas Historical Commission (writing historical markers), she joined the staff of Texas Monthly in 1974.
I’m inspired by the depth and variety of responses you’ve received. If I can delve into long-ago reading, that makes a huge difference.
- The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame – My mother read this 1908 English children’s novel aloud to me and I’m sure it sparked my love of words. The animal characters—the practical Rat, the sentimental Mole, the blow-hard, ridiculous Toad—were like friends. I used to get out my dog-eared copy and re-read it every few years.
- Larousse Gastronomique: The World’s Greatest Culinary Encyclopedia by Librairie Larousse – I learned about fine dining of all types from this massive book, an encyclopedia of gastronomy. Before the internet was invented, I spent hours at the office just reading its fascinating pages, which focused on France but covered countries worldwide. Do you know, for instance, that an acroama was a spectacle that livened up a banquet in Roman times and that agar-agar is an extract of seaweed used in the food industry to thicken soups, desserts, and ice creams?
- Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry – I couldn’t sleep the rest of the night after reading about Blue Duck jumping out of that jail window. And I’m still a little bit in love with Gus McCrae. Texas is lucky to have a great novel that sums up the cattle drive era and all it meant for our identity. I remember getting on a Southwest Airlines flight in 1986 and looking down the aisle. I counted five people with copies of Lonesome Dove on their tray tables.
Dr. Nick Nickelson – Co-owner of The Meat Board in Fort Worth, Texas. Dr. Ranzell “Nick” Nickelson II has degrees from Texas A&M in Animal Science, Food Technology, and Food Microbiology. Dr. Nick has dedicated over 12 years to teaching and research, as well as 30+ years leading food quality for companies such as KPR Foods, Tyson Foods, CTI Foods, and Standard Meat Company.
Books of importance to me and my career:
- Killing Jesus by Bill O’Reilly (2013) – Much easier to read than the Bible and graphically depicts the sacrifice Jesus made to save mankind. The brutality of his death was unimaginable and he never complained or placed blame. The book also sets a vivid image of the world at that time. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” John 15:13.
- The Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif (1926) – When I fell in love with microbiology this was a must-read for me. The lives of Koch, Pasteur, Leeuwenhoek (Dutch and Father of Microbiology), Walter Reed, and others are inspiring by their tenacity in solving unknown maladies. My major Professor and Mentor, Dr. Carl Vanderzant, also of Dutch descent, was a microbe hunter and superb teacher. As a result of his leadership, I have hunted the food pathogens E coli O157, Listeria, Salmonella, Vibrio, Staphylococcus, and others since 1968.
- The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (1906) – Meant to expose the working conditions of immigrants, this book exposed the careless conditions of quality and safety in the meat processing industry and led the way to the first meat and poultry inspection in 1906. Modern food safety evolved with NASA and the Pillsbury Corporation in the development of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) for the space program. HACCP became a regulatory requirement for meat and poultry plants in the late 90s. Needless to say, these newer regulations created a demand for food safety microbiologists!
- The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (1975) – This book was required reading at The Army War College and depicts both sides in the battle of Gettysburg; from intelligence, communications, terrain (ground), egos, leadership, and heroism. The primary hero is an officer from Maine who modifies Hamlet to say “ What a piece of work man is – the killer angel”. Key teaching points for me – “Stop, Look, and Listen”.
- A Salty Piece of Land by Jimmy Buffet (1998) – My first job out of graduate school was Seafood Technology Specialist at Texas A&M University. I learned to love the ocean and the philosophy of shrimpers to work hard and have fun. I loved all of Jimmy’s books but part of the lyrics to a song in this book: “Survivors seem to function best”, “when peril is at hand”, “where the song of the ocean”, “meets a salty piece of land” seems to resonate! By the way, Jimmy, as an author, is in the same boat as Earnest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and Dr. Seuss in that he had at least three number-one best sellers in both fiction and non-fiction categories.
Lupe Nevarez – Co-owner of LaVaca BBQ with locations in Port Lavaca and Victoria. He is beyond passionate about providing not only the best barbecue he can (they made the Texas Monthly Top 50) but he is keen to make the experience match the food. Family is top on his list of priorities and from our chat HERE you can see that he treats his staff like family too. Check out this BBQ Joint & Pit Tour that he did of the Port Lavaca location to see that passion. Great guy and friend.
From Lupe: Looking back in time I never have had time to sit and read a novel or a three-inch-thick paperback book. My readings consist of resource material used as a reference. Most of the time they are used to multitasking while watching a cooking or car-building show on TV. If I’m not reading reference material, I keep a sketch pad near buy to draw up my new ideas. I have all the BBQ books like most who are reading this. From the early days of Paul Kirk to Rodney Scott’s new book. The following books may not seem relevant to BBQ but they are.
- International Builders Code – remodeling three restaurants from the CAD blueprints to the actual grand opening makes this book a requirement. Knowing ADA standards is a must for entryways and public bathrooms. We 1st started reading these types of books over 20 years ago when we built our own 4300sf metal frame home. True metal frame, before barn kits were being converted.
- A Guide to Building a 32 Hot Rod by Street Rodder Magazine by Ron Ceridono – Hot Rods have been a love for years. The old idea of making things basic. Showing the mechanics of old-school ways of doing things. I have used several of my car books as a crossover to our pit building. Cool Pits our Stainless double-walled smoker is all hotrod. From its cut-out flames to the drilled-out shelves and supports. This is now the pit we use for our festivals. I have a 1932 chopped-top Ford pickup in a crate ready to be turned into our LaVaca BBQ shop truck one day.
- The Complete Kitchen Cabinetmaker by Bob Lang – woodworking has been a hobby for years. Knowing the principles of designing, building, and retrofitting is used daily, it’s not only in cabinet making. I have several books like this that have helped in the interior designs of our restaurants.
- The AR-15 Complete Assembly Guide by Walt Kuleck – Being raised in the country included having a gun. Walking the cow paths in the pasture as a kid with a .22 rifle was the thing. My Christmas list for the family started with bricks of .22 shells. So naturally it was easy to evolve into making guns. Guns require a lot of detail. You must get it right for them to perform correctly. Which pin or gas seal goes where when several look the same? This detail carries over to cooking. At what time do I turn up the smoker to render out fat? When do we wrap to maintain our bark? Even turning and slicing your finished product is the most detailed. BBQ can’t be a hit or miss just like a gun!!
Todd David – Co-owner of Cattleack Barbeque in Dallas, Texas which ranked 6th in the Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ Joints but is easily one of the top three places I need to visit when I get back to Texas. One of my favorite people and it’s a true honor to call him a friend. Here’s his response (all of his own words below):
“I have been out of college for over 40 years. During that time I read a lot and collected a lot of books I enjoyed. This photo is from my office @ home where at one time, I counted over 100 BBQ books alone.
So I shall try to show you a few of my most inspiring books for the BBQ hobby I have pursued.
- The first BBQ recipe book I bought was an original Legends of Texas Barbecue by Robb Walsh. It was from 2002. The recipe I still use for beef rub was formed from here. I cannot count how many times I have recommended this book to people as far back as I can remember. A true Texas book.
- The next is Peace Love and Bar Be Cue by my mentor, Mike Mills (Rest in Peace Mr. Mills). While I learned such a vast of information from Mike & Amy in hours, days, and weeks of education, this book helped me see the light of the gap between family and knowledge. I loved the stories in every recipe.
- Danny Meyer, The author of Setting the Table, and I grew up at the same time down the street from each other in St. Louis. Our mothers knew each other, but I did not have the pleasure to meet him until he happened to be in Dallas 20-plus years ago when BBQ was only truly a hobby to me. The greatest of restaurateurs that I know of, wrote this book on how key the customers are and the employees. It is required reading in many restaurants and I understand why.
- Daniel Vaughn wrote The Prophets of Smoked Meat, somewhere around the time Cattleack opened up to the public. He was and still is the expert of all experts. While one of the hardest books I have ever read, I was determined to not only read every word but make sure I digested each word and what he had to say about every single BBQ joint. His message to me in the book was very simple. There are a lot of bbq joints in Texas. Some are bad, some or just ok, but only a few are really good. If you want to be something, don’t F#*+ it up! This has been my Bible for BBQ Right book.
From a business side, two books I won’t get into but that are influential to me are
Finally, one of my latest books to really helps take charge and focus and all around fun to read is
Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink. It’s about leading and winning from a US Navy Seal.
Sean Desmond – Author of one of my favorite books, Sophomores, and publisher at Twelve. an imprint of Grand Central, and has been in the publishing world for more than twenty-five years. His first novel, Adams Fall, was published in 2000 and was adapted into the film Abandon.
Five books that inspired me:
- No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan by Robert Shelton – Just an amazingly dense, poetic explainer on Bob Dylan by the guy who was there to witness him at his start in the Village folk clubs (imagine that last scene of the movie, Inside Llewyn Davis). Shelton calls Dylan “Orpheus” a lot and decodes all the allusions in the songbook. Print the legend – this is what a moody-brilliant-Woody-Guthrie-wannabe-traveling-bard should be like.
- Man of the House by Tip O’Neill – All politics is local. This book (and The Last Hurrah) really plugged me into what happy warrior politics are all about. Good and bad these were the Irishmen and their methods of rising on the tide in American society. Chicago version: Boss, Mike Royko.
- Fight Club and Trainspotting – My first job in book publishing got me reading these two books (and they are a pair to me) early. Dark and brilliant about what’s lurking below society’s surface. You look back on that time in the 90s and try to characterize it: Gen X disaffection, revolt against consumerism and commodification, outcast male incel energy, heroin chic, inspiration for a lot of lads lit…lots of other bad labels…but these two books, they hit it.
- The Solitary Singer by Gay Wilson Allen – Same reasons as Shelton on Dylan, this book unlocked Whitman for me. I love the fact that I can scoot around Brooklyn and retrace Whitman’s lines. By the way, Leaves of Grass is the greatest book of American poetry and it’s not even close, right? Throwing that out there for literary feuding purposes…come at me poets! NB: This biography, if memory serves, is a little closeted on Whitman being gay (it’s there, but it’s quiet) – I’m sure there are plenty of other Whitman books (including his own verses, camerado) that can round that out.
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – Just wanted to annoy folks with the douche-y flex/brag on this one (I read along with Moby Dick, Infinite Jest, and The Power Broker). But seriously, there’s a family in War and Peace – the Rostovs – and while the world is falling down and Napoleon and Prince Andrei are off doing this and that, here is this well-intentioned family that spends too much money and are kind of silly and foolish, but they love each other, and get by on that, despite scammers and debt and everything life throws at them, and I would argue they are the only folks Tolstoy thought had a shot at being moderately happy. So alright, I’ll take it.
I was born in a country with no tradition of smoking meat. The books that explain the history of American barbecue and the different processes of how to smoke certain cuts have been my guide since I dedicated myself completely to the world of barbecue. Today there are great BBQ videos and content creators that are updated almost every week with an incredible level of detail. But there is a level of intimacy that only books can achieve. This happened to me when I read the book by Sam Jones & Daniel Vaugh: “Whole Hog BBQ. The Gospel of Carolina Barbecue“.
Our Texas-style smokehouse operates in the State of Maryland, and, with a food stall inside Union Market in Washington, D.C., we serve barbecue for the DMV area, which stands for the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. However, a recurring request from our customers, many of them having relocated from the Carolinas, was to serve whole hog. I began to respectfully explore this dish and immediately found the task of cooking a complete animal, with all its different textures, cooking times, and ways of serving, all on top of our already complex operation, was intimidating.
However, when Sam Jones’s book came into my hands, I felt like I was talking to the right person to guide me through the process. The fascinating history of the Skylight Inn and Sam’s own evolution as a pitmaster provide in this book the appropriate backdrop for a bulletproof guide with photographs by Denny Culbert and illustrations by Jeb Matulich. The recipes, the temperatures, the ingredients, but above all the words… everything is honest in this book. It took me a few suckling pigs, tweaking out a chicken flipper, and a few more welding jobs but these days, if you visit our smokehouse, you’ll find us cooking up our once-a-month special: whole hog. It makes me happy to think that we can bring back many childhood memories to our customers who were missing this delicious and particular dish.
Ryan Cooper (aka BBQ Tourist) and co-founder of The Smoke Sheet (an immensely popular barbecue newsletter) is a dear friend and I would easily guess that most of the folks in the barbecue world would say the same if they know him at all. He’s just that good of a guy who has forged through tremendous obstacles to get to where he is today. With a huge smile on his face. If you don’t know him I recommend following him for sure.
The books that shaped me:
- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – Somehow, in spite of the fact that Mark Twain is arguably the most famous author from my home state of Missouri, I didn’t discover the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn until adulthood. It’s one of those books that I re-read every few years and I always discover something new. There’s a reason why this is an American classic.
- Blue Highways: A Journey Into America by William Least Heat-Moon – This is a fantastic book from another great Missouri author. After losing his job and separating from his wife, William Least Heat-Moon takes off in his van on a cross-country road trip along the backcountry roads of America. I was fortunate enough to hang out with the author a few years ago and he was even cooler in person than I imagined he would be.
- Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose – This is the story of Lewis and Clark’s epic journey across the North American continent. While they didn’t find the Northwest Passage they were searching for (because it doesn’t exist) they helped shape the history of the United States.
- High Fidelity by Nick Hornby – I love this novel about a guy who is obsessed with collecting music, making ‘Top 5’ lists, and re-examining the failed relationships of his past. This is also one of the rare instances where the movie is just as good as the book.
- On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King – This book was given to me by my advisor in Grad School while I was writing my thesis for my Master’s Degree. It contains a lot of great advice for anyone who is interested in writing in any capacity.
Tyler Frazier – co-owner of Tyler’s Barbeque in Amarillo, Texas, a Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ spot and one that is deep on my bucket list of must-visit locations. He’s always been extremely kind to me and from the get-go, it felt like we’d been friends for decades.
One important thing people don’t realize about me is that I’m dyslexic, and I really struggle with the written word. After overcoming learning to read first and second-grade books in the 6th grade, I did learn to read on an average level. I did very well at math or anything I could take apart and put back together. I do not read a lot for pleasure because it is not relaxing for me. But, I like Ernest Hemingway and coffee table books with great pictures. I would have to say that Grady Spears’ and June Naylor’s The Texas Cowboy Kitchen and Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea are my favorite books.
As for inspiration, in The Old Man and the Sea, I got inspiration from the man’s determination not to quit even through hunger, pain, sleeplessness, and the elements.
When I talk about inspiration, I always have to mention my mom, Sylvia Frazer, who is an absolutely inspirational mom and cook. She gave me my grandmother’s cookbook a long time ago. We like to call it Ruby’s Cookbook, but it is actually titled The American Woman’s Cookbook.
This cookbook is a treasure full of handwritten notes which make it invaluable. There’s also one book that influenced my BBQ aesthetic titled America’s Best BBQ by Ardie Davis and Paul Kirk. It gave me great insight into what people like and don’t like about BBQ places. It also helped me understand how people perceive BBQ and the styles of BBQ.
I did start a new book this summer I’ve Never Met an Idiot on the River by Henry Winkler one of my customers sent it to me.
Conor Moran – on3media – Conor is a chef, media producer, content creator, and entrepreneur who has worked in the restaurant industry since he was 15 years old, and eventually opened his own food truck and catering business. He has now created his own media-turned-production company. Such a cool, easy-going, hard-working guy who has bent over backward to work on some fun projects with me. Check out his Instagram HERE.
Finally had a minute to write this out.
- Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain – I think my father’s friend lent me this book and I never let it go after reading it (see attached photo) Sorry Sorry Sasha and Joshua! This book brought me into the world of Anthony Bourdain; his style, storytelling, and rawness. I think I’ve read almost everything else he’s written. I try to take inspiration from his work and put it into everything I create.
- EntreLeadership – A Dave Ramsey book, so I know some people will instantly hate it, lol. I got this book when I opened my food truck and catering business. I found a lot of good advice on how to run your business and how to be a leader… things that aren’t necessarily taught behind the cooking line.
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig – Though I will probably never ride a bike in my life, this book helped shape how I look at things. Trying to be more present in the moment and take life a little slower… things I try and fail to do often.
- Psycho-Cybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Maltz (original print) – This book might seem strange, but visualizing success (especially on the basketball court) helped me tremendously throughout my life. I think I shot about 85% from the free throw line in college by visualizing a made shot before going into my shooting motion. It’s an interesting read and a bit of a mind trip when you start to apply it.
Thanks for having me be part of this! Always happy to collaborate on cool projects like this!
Jordan Jackson – Franklin Barbecue – I’ve known him since the Bodacious days and although we don’t speak as often as we both would like, he’s one of my dear, dear friends inside and outside of the barbecue world. A good guy who’s hit some rough patches but doesn’t quit and if it wasn’t clear, he is oozing with talent. I’m honored that he wanted to be part of this.
Sorry for the delay, I’ve been super busy but I think I have figured out my books.
- The Nam Within by Leonard Reese (a personal friend)
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
- Inside Out – by Nick Mason (drummer of Pink Floyd)