What Are The Books That Inspired You the Most? - Part Two

Here is Part Two of an ongoing follow-up project (I will be sharing new groups of 10 people every few weeks) to a book I wrote that came out in 1996 called Books That Shaped Successful People. You can see Part One which came out a few weeks ago HERE.

In this updated 2022 version I have asked prominent people in the barbecue world, the barbecue-adjacent world, and respected professionals in creative and business settings what 5 books (or more) inspired them the most during their life journey, along with providing some explanation as to why they chose each book. Once again the list is a fantastic mix of interesting humans with equally intriguing book choices.

Photo by Kelly Yandell

Please do note that I have added links to Amazon below for each book so that you can see the actual books that they have provided however I do recommend you visit your local bookstore for a purchase if you are able. They truly need your support. You might even stumble upon additional books to add to your bedside.

Thanks again to friend extraordinaire Kelly Yandell for assisting me with photographs of all of the books you'll see below. You can see her photography HERE and a super fun passion project that involves amazing bandanas HERE.

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” - Stephen King

Here are the responses in their own words in the order I received them.

J.C. Reid - Barbecue columnist for the Houston Chronicle, co-founder of the Houston Barbecue Festival, and a dear friend. His insight and advice have been indispensable on my barbecue and life journey.

Bill Dumas - Bill Dumas is hard to sum up in just a few sentences. His interests are so varied, eclectic, and profound that I can simply say that I am a better person for being his friend and feel smarter after our conversations. He IS one of the foremost groundbreaking sausage makers in the country creating sausage at Brotherton's Black Iron Barbecue in Pflugerville along with hosting classes and collaborations. You can see all things in his orbit HERE.

Here are some books that inspired me, and continue to do so: 

  • Indian Depredations In Texas: Reliable Accounts of Battles, Wars, Adventures, Forays, Murders, Massacres, Etc., Together With Biographical Sketches of Many of the Most Noted Indian Fighters and Frontiersmen of Texas - by J.W. Wilbarger. - I have enjoyed reading this book because I am a lover of Texas History. I often like to connect the places described to places I have been, personally, here in Central Texas. Not quite “19th Century Pulp Fiction”, but close to it. Nonetheless, many historical accounts are accurate and this book, when viewed through the prism of settlers, displays the tension of a growing country vs the indigenous people who were fighting for their way of life and freedoms; these struggles exist today in many facets of our society. 
  • The Works of Edgar Allan Poe in Five Volumes: “The Raven Edition”. Copyright 1909 - Poe’s writings are simply incredible; the way he describes each story in ambiguous detail, and then extracts perfect tension, leading to dark and terrifying relief & conclusions, are beyond reproach. Poe’s writings are too numerous to discuss, in full, here. My favorite story is The Tell-Tale Heart.  The motivation for murder (aside from the narrator's hatred of the old man's “vulture eye”), the relationship between the narrator and the old man, and other details are left unclear. The narrator denies having any feelings of hatred or resentment for the man who had, as stated, "never wronged" the narrator. The narrator also denies having been killed for greed. It has been suggested that the tale is an allegorical representation of Poe's poem "To Science”, which depicts a struggle between imagination and science. In "The Tell-Tale Heart", the old man may thus represent the scientific and rational mind, while the narrator may stand for the imaginative. Simply insanity and darkness sublime. 
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville  - This book captivated me as a child. Was Captain Ahab, consumed by revenge? Was it simply a high-seas adventure? Was the white whale itself a metaphor? It is one of the few books that I have had daydreams and nightmares about. It often seems to exist beyond its own time. Like the central character of this book, Ishmael, we must choose what to pursue, and what we believe. We are all the creators of a world of endless meaning, all to fill up, in vain, an empty soul. 
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown - The book, published in 1970, outlines details of the history of American expansionism from a point of view that is critical of its effects on the Native Americans. Brown describes Native Americans' displacement through forced relocations and years of warfare waged by the US Government. The US Government’s dealings are portrayed as a continuing effort to destroy the culture, religion, and way of life of Native American peoples. Dee Brown does not hold back. This book is heartbreaking. I read it and am saddened. “I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream...” ~Black Elk~

Kimmy Bingham - Co-owner of Sunbird Barbecue with her husband (see below) and Dave Segovia. We've gotten to know each other a little better over the years but didn't realize how kindred we were until I got her list of books. Her creativity is boundless (baking and otherwise) and I know that she is the metaphorical glue that keeps their business and life moving forward. She's really one of the good ones.

My choices would, overall, show you that I take issue with the expectations society puts on us as human beings. Books that resonate with me, cover topics that consider the human condition and what causes a person to become who (or what) they are.

Bryan Bingham - Co-owner of Sunbird Barbecue with his wife (see above) and Dave Segovia. I have interviewed Bryan 4 times for the show as he has gone along through his journey. Mostly at peek moments. I value the fact that he jumped at the chance to chat, share, and speak candidly about everything. He's a true friend and his passion and drive are contagious. His musical references and pun use in Twitter and Instagram post is pretty legendary too.

When I took over Bodacious I literally had no idea what I was doing or how to be a boss. I went through some incredibly trying times trying to navigate running a business as someone with zero experience but also going through the pandemic as well. I was desperate to find a shred of hope or encouragement to get through and learn how to be better as a boss but also help my mental health because everything really was weighing on me to the point of giving up. My dad actually told me to check out the Dave Ramsey book and Zig Ziglar. I would have hours alone all day while I worked so I would listen to those books over and over studying them to better myself. After some Google searching, I also discovered the 21 Irrefutable laws of leadership which also gave me more tools to become a better leader. The Mel Robins book helped me tremendously with my mental health and the biggest thing I struggle with is imposter syndrome. These are all things I still strive to work on every day but these four books definitely gave me a solid foundation to build on.

Bradley Robinson - Chuds BBQ - He's a pit builder (you can see his pits HERE), pitmaster (one of THE best there is and just recently stepped away from working at LeRoy and Lewis Barbecue in Austin), and he runs a second to none YouTube Channel called Chuds BBQ (of course) where he can transform your barbecue cooking world. He's also a standup guy who has provided me with countless insights and advice throughout the years.

  • Hey! To be honest, I am not much of a reader, I learned most of what I know from YouTube vids and documentaries haha that being said two books that made a big difference were the Franklin BBQ book and the Charcuterie book by Ruhlman. I'm sure many people have sighted those books already, haha.  As someone who moved to Austin in 2012 and discovered barbecue for the first time reading Aaron's book made a big difference in my life. Seeing a like-minded DIY engineer-type brain take a “why" approach to BBQ as opposed to “how” really spoke to me. And if you couldn't tell reading his story of a guy who figured out how to build his own pits, taught himself how to cook, created a great BBQ YouTube channel, and pursues all his goals really resonated with me. The book Charcuterie was introduced to me by Evan LeRoy, who was introduced to it by John Lewis. It's a great in-depth look at sausage making and many recipes alike, I've referenced it in many of my videos and a lot of my recipes are based on the knowledge I gained from this great cookbook."

Robin Wong - Co-owner of Blood Bros BBQ with locations in Bellaire and Las Vegas. Not only are Robin, his brother Terry, and Quy Hoang putting out exceptional and inventive barbecue that truly blows my mind, but they are super nice guys. Robin especially. He has supported me with all my potentially insane requests and shown true kindness along the way. I'm honored to call him a friend. When you get the time too, check out this amazing tour he gave of their Bellaire location HERE.

These were a few of my favorites as a younger person. They kind of shaped me as a young adult.

Don Nguyen - Khói Barbecue - There are certain people that exude a sense of calm when you speak to them. No matter how chaotic your day or even your thoughts are, that person tamps those feelings down when you engage with them. Don has had growing success in the barbecue world however I know that his connection with people and his sharing his culture and passion are paramount to him. He too is definitely one of the good ones.

  • A Wild Sheep Chase - Haruki Murakami - I traveled to Japan as a kid, starting with long layovers from Houston on my way to visit family in Vietnam. Reading A Wild Sheep Chase for the first time solidified my fascination with the country and culture which has permeated everything from the food I like to eat, cook, travels to Sapporo with my dad, interests in motorcycle culture (Akira), design philosophy, to gardening style. 
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi - A memoir from a neurosurgeon that dies of lung cancer in his mid-thirties. Left an impression on me because I read it shortly after my grandfather's passing and it helped me realize that a rich life isn't just about material success, intelligence, and working, but about helping others, having empathy/morality, and spending time with loved ones. 
  • 1984 by George Orwell - Should be required reading so we, as members of a constitutional republic and liberal democracy, can understand the tendencies of fascism. It's a cautionary tale, but so many elements in the novel - mass surveillance, totalitarianism, erosion of democratic norms - can be seen in the current state of political affairs as the world, including the U.S., finds itself trending towards authoritarian governments with fascist characteristics. 

Wyatt McSpadden - There are certain people that have shaped the barbecue world as we know it today and I can say, without any doubt, that Wyatt's photography has been an integral part of that evolution. I have dog-eared my copies of his two books Texas BBQ, Small Town to Downtown, and Texas BBQ, and given them as presents more times than I can count. His photographs are soulful, haunting, gritty, beautiful, and real. I appreciate his friendship as well as the stories he's gifted me over the years.

  • I’ve attached 2 pictures made of a group of books I found in the empty home of a photographer who died in a plane crash in the Summer of 1973. My new wife & I were moving into this small farmhouse on a section of land just west of Amarillo, TX. I was becoming more interested in photography, and living in a small city in the Texas Panhandle my “exposure” to the possibilities of a career making a living as a photographer was limited. Richard Curtin, the fellow who died along with the pilot & artist Robert Smithson owned the books, his widow had thoroughly cleaned out the house except for this series of Time Life books on all aspects of photography. She did me a great favor leaving these behind. I was completely absorbed by the entire series & inspired to pursue what has turned into a lifelong passion for picture-making.
  • Bonus info…These aren’t the very books I had 50+ years ago, they were sacrificed in one of many moves. Aaron Franklin bought these on eBay & gave them to me as a birthday present a couple of years ago. I told him the whole story one day & he very thoughtfully found these as a surprise.

Daniel J. Hale Author / Photographer / Repurposed attorney - Daniel is an Agatha Award-winning author and two-time former Executive Vice President of Mystery Writers of America. A professional photographer and FAA-certified drone pilot, he speaks fluent French. Hale holds degrees from Cornell University, the Bowen School of Law and Southern Methodist University.  Dallas is home, but he spends long stretches of time in the Chihuahuan Desert. Hale is currently at work on a mystery novel set in the Texas Trans-Pecos. See his photography HERE. I don't know Daniel that well personally but feel like we are misplaced cousins with his responses below.

These five books transported me to other places, other times, other dimensions … and even other mindsets

  • The 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith was the book that started it all for me. I’d seen the Disney animated film at my hometown theater, and I couldn’t stop talking about it when I got home. One of my older brothers mentioned that the film was based on a book. I asked my mom to take me to the library so I could check it out. I wanted so badly to read the tales of Pongo, Perdida, and the puppies that I even worked up the courage to face the Very Scary Librarian (who in actuality was an incredibly nice lady) to ask for a library card. When I got the book home, I found it hard to read in our very noisy house (there were six kids in my family), so I climbed into the back seat of my mom’s car and devoured the book in one sitting. That was it for me – the reading and writing fire had been lit. 
  • Due in no small part to the influence of John Steinbeck's Travels with Charlie, I adopted an Australian shepherd in 2001 and set out on my own version of Steinbeck’s epic trip, albeit a scaled-down version limited to the Great American Southwest. My two months on the road ended shortly before the world was forever changed on 9/11. While traveling, I encountered several Airstreams and decided that one day I would travel with one. I finally bought one in the summer of 2019, and with it, I was able to travel (safely) throughout yet another global change event – the COVID-19 pandemic – with my long lens and drone on my back. This is in no way meant to minimize the suffering and death of so many, but most of my favorite photographs were taken during this period. Without having read Travels with Charlie, I'm not sure if I would have had the vision to travel the United States. 
  • As far as I know, Bernard Lenteric's La Nuit des enfants rois has never been translated into English from French. It should have been. I mean, give me a New York City school filled with young genius scholarship students bent on revenge any day. I toyed with the idea of translating the book myself, but that takes a special skillset, and I decided that perhaps I should just write my own novel with a similar theme. There was an animated film adaptation of La Nuit des enfants rois that came out in 2011, but I understand it was very, very bad. 
  • Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash gave us the term “metaverse.” Opinions will vary on whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, but I can state with certainty that this superb work of science fiction is imaginative, highly visual, and action-packed. I can also tell you that it's a long book … one that's 100% worthwhile. Snow Crash is probably the work of fiction that taught me that it's not only okay to think outside the box, it's necessary for anyone in creative endeavors. 
  • Watchers is Dean Koontz's gift to the world. Take a genius golden retriever, a horrible-yet-pathetic monster, and add two lost human souls seeking to find redemption in each other (and the dog), and you've got one un-put-down-able work of horror. Reading this book was the first time I felt sorry for a horribly murderous monster (Beowulf never affected me like that) – it's the epitome of how to make villains and antagonists three-dimensional. In fact, I used Watchers as an example of structure and characterization in one of the advanced novel-writing courses I taught at Southern Methodist University.

Jordan MacKay - I have been a fan of Jordan from afar for a little while now. I was introduced to him through his work with Aaron Franklin on Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto and Franklin Steak: Dry-aged. Live-Fired. Pure Beef and subsequently blown away when Erin Feges recommended The Sommelier's Atlas of Taste which he co-wrote with Rajat Parr. His vast knowledge of these subjects coupled with his great respect for conveying information made me uniquely humbled when he agreed to be a guest on Wine & BBQ - Episode 4 (that I co-host with Erin). He's a great guy, immensely kind, and about as busy as anyone I know. He also loves Hokkaido so there's that too.

  • Moonraker by Ian Fleming - I read all the James Bond novels between ages 10-12, and they had a big impact on me, as they inspired me to find more rarefied plains of food and wine. This one, in particular, isn’t a special book, but it features a great dining scene with bone marrow and Champagne, which excited me, even at a young age. 
  • Making Sense of Wine by Matt Kramer - One of the greatest wine writers, Kramer here does the hardest thing — explains the dynamics of commerce, production, marketing, etc, as well as wine in general, so readers can actually learn how to think for themselves about wine, which often takes years of immersion before we start having reasonably analytical thoughts. By extension, his other books: Making Sense of Burgundy and Making Sense of California Wine. (Also sneaking in, Kermit Lynch’s Adventures on the Wine Route.)
  • Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami - Not his greatest book, but lots of fun. Murakami always pays attention to food and drink, which I appreciate. But half this book is set in snowbound, wild Hokkaido, and, for some reason, I always dig forlorn, icy landscapes, perhaps because they tend to brook introspection and alienation, but also warmth, coziness, and cooking and drinking. (From my childhood, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe always hooked me for the same reasons—it hits winter pretty hard, plus cozy cottages, Turkish delight, etc.). Mood is so important in writing, and this book is a masterclass in that. 
  • Wearing Dad’s Head by Barry Yourgrau - Wonderful, literary flash fiction in which each bite-sized story is a surreal, hilarious, sometimes maudlin reflection of life. Often very funny, I think this book simply inspired me about the pleasures of writing and reading. 
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy - Opens with an epic lunch scene, and I love food and drink in my fiction. But, more than that, draws incredibly believable, sympathetic characters who feel deeply, debate philosophy and politics, and are just completely, wonderfully Russian. Also, plenty of winter, including the world’s best courtship scene, which happens to start on ice. More than any other book, this one showed me the depth and power novels and storytelling, in general, are capable of displaying, and that sense continues to inform my approach to writing.