15 Books That Will Stick With Me

Over on Facebook, my buddy Ron (and, later, Dave (and later still, Doug)) asked us to list 15 books in 15 minutes — to consist of a list of 15 books I’ve read that will always stick with me. Here’s my list. It’s generously proportioned (way more than 15!) and considerably expanded from my reply to Ron because I wanted to include WHY they’re important to me.

A Prayer for Owen Meany, Irving — Irving introduces us to Owen Meany by telling us that the boy is repugnant and awful, that he dies at the end of the book, and that over the course of the book we will fall in love with him. And he was right on all counts, and it’s all wrapped up in a great story.

A Confederacy of Dunces, Toole –Ignatius Jacques Reilly is a perfectly despicable lead character, but undeniably charming once you accept his reality. Toole’s book, published after his death, perfectly captures the patois of the times, too. I found myself reading this book out loud in an attempt to capture the flavor of the language.

Culinary Artistry, Dorenberg & Page — A truly formative culinary book for me. Their idea of “flavor pals” is the introduction to cooking without recipes. Contains the first “high end” recipe I ever prepared, so it’s nostalgic for me. See also: What to Drink with What You Eat and The Flavor Bible by the same authors.

Jacques Pepin’s Complete Techniques, Pepin — A masterwork by an amazing chef-educator. Thousands of photographs answer questions about how to perform a wide variety of culinary tasks.

Illuminatus! Trilogy, Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson — A complete mind-flipping book. Very convoluted, twisted story. I liked it for the abundent wild sex scenes, but stayed for the paranoia and funny shaggy dog story.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volumes I & II, Child — Julia’s “you can do it” attitude and obsessive focus on culinary matters (see her exhaustive procedure for French Bread!) makes this an amazing couple of books from an amazing woman.

The New Food Lover’s Companion, Herbst — My go-to reference book for all things culinary. Need to look up an unknown term? Reach for this book. I like to “follow my nose” through this book for fun — just pick a topic, read the definition, and follow any links therein to see where you end up. See also The New Wine Lover’s Companion and Cheese Lover’s Companion by the same authors. These books are totally Kindle-worthy!

Life of Pi, Martel — An amazing book from start to finish. A wonderful story that, in the character’s world, may — or may not — be true. I adored 100% of this book. Wendy loved 98.5% of this book.

How to Cook Everything, Bittman — Solid, basic recipes for virtually everything you might want to cook. A collection of standards; a great foundation.

Sauces, Patterson — A great book on modern sauce making. For the classical perspective, I use The Saucier’s Apprentice (Sokolov). Useful to cross-reference these two books.

The Good Cook, Olney — a series of 28 books from the late 70s that focus on specific items — one book for poultry, one for variety meats, one for candy, fish, fruits, lamb, and more. An amazing collection not only for the time-capsule snapshot of the culinary world at the time but for the astounding amount of information and recipes. Olney co-wrote Simple French Food and a few other remarkable culinary books including French Menu Cookbook.

Making of a Chef, Ruhlman –I am so glad I found this book. It came to me at a perfect time — just when I needed it — I was feeling anxious about starting culinary school and this book showed me the roadmap. See also the rest of the books in this series: The Soul of a Chef, The Reach of a Chef, plus others by Ruhlman: Charcuterie (not to mention Grigson’s Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery), Elements of Cooking, and Ratio.

Le Repertoire de La Cuisine, Saulnier — a reference book for those who already know how to cook — it’s got no measurements, no cooking times, and no portions. You must already know how to cook in order to use this book. Hard to believe that there are over 6,000 recipes in this tiny book with the impenetrable organization, but it’s true.

Letters to a Young Chef, Boulud — Oh, if only I was young when I read it! An amazing book about setting & keeping your focus and professional standards. Required reading in my class!

On Food & Cooking, McGee — Truly the scientific bible of the kitchen. An amazing resource and reference. I’ve worn out at least one copy of the first edition and continuously refer to the latest edition! The usefulness of this book combined with it’s back-breaking size would make me consider a Kindle so I could carry the information with me to class.

Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain — If Making of a Chef made me want to go to culinary school, this book made me want to work in restaurants. And, oh, how I wish to have worked in the types of restaurants described in this book!

The Kitchen Book / The Cook Book, Freeling — These books were the inspiration for Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. It’s amazing to read what culinary life was like back in those days.

Ma Gastronomie, Point — A pure, inspirational book by the father of modern French cuisine. It would have been quicker for me to underline the very few pieces of USELESS stuff in the book instead of everything useful!

How To Survive the Loss of a Love, McWilliams, Bloomfield, Colgrove — For anyone that has ever lost a love, be it to divorce, illness & death, or any other way, this small book is a sure comfort. It walks you through the stages of loss and assures you not only that you will get through the situation but that you are not alone in your feelings.

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, Hofstadter — the weirdest, funniest, most entertaining introduction imaginable to higher logic, math, intelligence, and more. It’s been called a philosophy book that reads like music. A little dated now (it was written in 1979), but damn… that’s some good stuff!

House of Leaves, Danielewski — One of the most engaging books I’ve ever fought to finish. Trust me. Pick it up and go for a wild ride. Some (like me) love it — especially after reading it again. Some (like my wife & Tuck) hated it and could barely finish it. How will you react?

I found it very difficult to stop my list… Have you read any of these books? Did I miss the mark on any of them? Sound off in comments.

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