Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany

You almost don’t need to read the book after getting through the world’s longest title. I learned about Bill Buford after I wrote a post offering a list of summer reading books. Holly, a frequent contributor to comments on the blogsite, suggested both Heat and Dirt, by Bill Buford. I read Dirt first, about experiences in a French restaurant, and had mixed feelings about it. I loved the stories, but I truly hated the life inside of a French restaurant kitchen. It’s brutal. This book, however, focuses on Italian kitchens, and more specifically, an Italian butcher shop.

Vegetarians beware – there is significant talk about cutting and eating animals. Though the pig story in Dirt is worse. It’s respectful, but it is detailed.

But it’s also about far more than a butcher shop.

There are ample ways that the author learns how to be an accomplished Italian cook. He learns from many Italians in a variety of places in Italy throughout the book. He has multiple experiences, some of them insanely crazy, in famous Italian chef Mario Batali’s restaurants. The good news – and this is what I hoped – the book did not ruin Italian kitchens for me. These restaurants can be filled with all of the food romance and passion for food that all of us believe Italian kitchens have. There is still the intensity, but it’s not even close to French intensity. And as I experienced in my first trip to Italy this summer, there is an emphasis and fresh ingredients and simple recipes. It’s great stuff.

The book made me want to cook, to talk with friends about cooking, and to keep learning how I can be better.

I truly enjoyed the book, and recommend it highly.

You can purchase it here.

Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention and How to Think Deeply Again

My friend Jenn loaned me this book. That means I read it as a paperback, instead of Kindle-ing it. I read less than 10% of my books in hard copy. This was a perfect one to choose to be part of that 10%.

This is a book about why we are distracted, and the forces at work doing their best to increase our levels of distraction. It’s not a conspiracy theory book, but it is an “open your eyes and know that there are forces at work trying to keep you from being your best” book.

There is nothing shocking about this book, but the way Johann Hari keeps piling it on makes it clear that we have true problems in our society, and most of us, myself included, have big problems we have to overcome as individuals.

Some of my takeaways:

  • I am sad that we are not a nation of readers. I see it. So many people I talk with don’t have the time to read books. Even a five-minute essay is too much for most. I am surprised that magazines like The Atlantic or The New Yorker, with their long and in-depth articles, continue to survive. Hari emphasizes that the world is not simple, and it cannot be understood in brief scannable messages.
  • The best part of the book focuses on how interrupted our lives have become. Most of us do not have time for thought, silence, day-dreaming, reflection, or problem-solving. And interruptions are more disruptive to our thinking than we think. He pushes the idea of flow – one of my favorite concepts and always a goal in my life – and how flow is the opposite of our normally distracted life. “Slowness nurtures attention. Speed shatters it.” (p. 36) “Fragmentation makes you smaller, shallower, and angrier. Flow makes you bigger, deeper, calmer.” (p. 62) 
  • The forces behind the Internet – the engineers and profiteers – are actively trying to get, then keep our attention. Outrage works. People click on outrage. Infinite scrolls work. Rabbit holes work. Be aware and avoid them. “As we get manipulated by the outrage, we become, as a species, less rational, less intelligent, and less focused.” (P. 141) And . . . it’s threatening our democracy.
  • The big societal idea in this book is to ban surveillance capitalism. Like lead paint and CFCs from aerosol cans, it is hurting or threatening to hurt us. Companies who surveil us know who we are and what makes click (literally), and they work tirelessly to manipulate us for purchasing or voting reasons. It’s too much. I think it’s hard to ban – if it’s not Facebook or X developing profiles on us, it’s going to be a foreign entity. I think it’s worth studying, and I need to learn more.

Overall, a fantastic read. Hari put a lot of different ideas together and made an impact through his synthesis. I recommend it highly. (If you’re into books. 🙂 )

You can purchase this book on Amazon by clicking here.

On the Road

My friend Bill recommended this book – he thought it was a perfect summer reading book. I’ve heard about it hundreds of times, but I’ve never read it. I’m glad I did, and I agree wholeheartedly, Bill – this is a great summer reading book.

Jack and his growing and suspect group of friends travel back and forth across this huge country and into Mexico over the course of several years. There is no desire to settle down, but there is a strong desire to experience the next amazing thing and the next spectacular location. And that location is usually far away from where they are. These beat generation explorers wanted nothing to do with what the rest of America was doing in the 1950s.

The book evoked memories of Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, with the extraordinary, insane, and often humorous experiences brought on by drifting, drugs, and a lack of responsibility. The only time in my life like this was my four months of temporarily dropping out of college to be a street musician in Berlin. And that was a magical time of drifting and suspension of responsibility. Note the lack of drugs – I’ve never been a drug guy.

They had no business surviving with all that they experienced, but they did. I loved the book (Thanks, Bill!), and it certainly evoked feelings of what summer should feel like – at least a little bit.

You can purchase the book here.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

My dad recommended this book to me – he may have even given me a copy of the book to read. It sat on my desk for a few years, but after I posted my summer reading blog post, he recommended it again. So I finally read it. Bill Bryson is author most famous for A Short History of Nearly Everything, one of my all time favorites. If you’ve read that, you know he’s a smart dude. But if you read this book, you wonder how that intelligence ever happened. It certainly wasn’t due to school!

Bryson tells the story of growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, and calls it the greatest time ever to be alive. I feel pretty lucky in my one-decade-later childhood, but he may be right. But what I love about the book is that so many of his experiences of growing up in Des Moines were crazily similar to my childhood in Little Rock.

  • The crazy candies we ate
  • The magic of TV
  • Kids being left to play for hours unsupervised outdoors
  • Summer vacations, some boring, some spectacular
  • Nuclear war drills in held in schools
  • The wonders of electric football (maybe the worst game ever), along with the Slinky, Silly Putty, and other toys that ads convinced us to ask our parents for.
  • And memories you wish you could live through again. One of my favorite lines, after recounting visiting the Des Moines Register, where both of his parents worked, “I’d give anything – really almost anything at all – to pass through that gate and see all the guys in the Sports Department and beyond them my dear old mom at her desk typing away.” Isn’t that the way it is? You look at old photos and can’t believe how young you were, how young your parents were, and how young your kids were. It all goes so fast.

Writing it down in a book certainly makes it memorable, and I loved the journey. It’s very funny, informative, and for those of us raised as baby boomers, a wonderful trip pack in time.

You can purchase the book here.

Breakfast with Buddha

OK. I love this book. It’s one of the few books I’ve read where, after I finished it, I immediately began reading it a second time. I’ve written about it in two separate blog posts, and I have many friends who have read it and loved it after I suggested it to them. It’s a tale of a traditional white male on a long car trip with a stranger who at first comes off as a little off and maybe a bit crazy, then, starts to seems wiser by the minute. It’s wonderful. If you read my blog posts, you know that as I have aged, I find more and more peace and wisdom from Buddhist teachings. I also find that they are in line with Judeo-Christian philosophies as much as you want them to be. Our religions and philosophies do not need to be exclusive. That’s probably too much for a book review, but that’s what I’m saying. This book makes you think. As I’m writing this, I’m starting to think I should read it again.

You can purchase the book here.

Playing for Pizza

I can always read a John Grisham novel. This one is not a legal thriller, though there are lawyers involved. I’m not sure JG is allowed to write a book without mentioning the word lawyer. Part of his contract of something. Anyway, it’s about a down on his luck NFL quarterback who needs a new start. He moves to Italy to play with an Italian football team (yes – American football) in Parma. It’s a pretty male-oriented book, mostly about football and beautiful women. It was a quick read, but I almost think he wrote it so he can get tax deductions for all future trips to Italy. Fun read, but I’m not sure I recommend it.

You can purchase it here.

Demon Copperhead

I was reading my news feed, and I saw an article about Barbara Kingsolver winning this year’s Pulitzer Prize for literature with her newest book, Demon Copperhead. I don’t need much of an excuse to read a Barbara Kingsolver novel. I’ve loved The Lacuna, The Poisonwood Bible, and many more. This one does not disappoint.

She has a way of writing that perfectly combines storytelling with breathtaking writing. I love the experience of being immersed in her books.

She lives in Applalachia, and this book focuses on the opioid crisis that affects so many where she lives and in all of rural America. It is devastating. She makes it personal. It is sad, tragic, funny, hopeful, and informative.

Some of her great lines.

In my home state of Arkansas, over half the counties are “dry.” No alcohol can be sold there. But . . . that doesn’t mean there’s no alcohol. She writes, “Maybe you also think a dry county is a place where there’s no liquor to be found.” It’s the country equivalent of ‘I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.”

After learning more about harvesting tobacco than I ever knew – which makes slavery and sharecropping even worse than I had previously thought, she writes, “They said the most of our tobacco now was getting sold to China. Meaning I guess we were helping to kill the communists, so. God bless America and all that.” You’ve got to convince people to do this work somehow.

She is also quick to criticize all of the comedy that makes fun of country people. As a Southerner whose heard tons of those jokes (and even made a few), I had never even considered it.

Well worth the time. Read it.

Click here to purchase this book.

Fish!: A Proven Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results

If you have ever been to the Pike Street Fish Market in Seattle, it’s a fun and joyful place. These three authors researched what makes it such a great place to work, and then they started using it as a motivational tool for individuals. This is a super quick read, and here are the four main lessons they learned:

CHOOSE YOUR ATTITUDE – This is a theme in books I’ve been reading in 22 and ’23. It all starts with that.

PLAY – I’ve been criticized for this, but I’m all in. I try to have as much fun as I can in a work day. There’s a time and place of course, but we can laugh and enjoy ourselves. In fact, I think we are far better off when we do just that.

MAKE THEIR DAY – This was a new one for me. Every day, go out of your way to make someone’s day with an unsolicited complement, gesture, or something that will make them stop and marvel. I have this on my goal list as something I can do as a part of my every day routine. I love it.

BE THERE – This is another theme of so many books I’m reading. Be in the present moment. Yoda was trying to hammer that in to Luke’s head a long time ago. (“This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away…to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was.) Be there.

So simple, so positive, so fun, and so life changing. We have the power to do it.

Purchase the book here.

Today Matters: 12 Practices to Guarantee Tomorrow’s Success

My friend Rick Lopez is a devout follower and fan of John Maxwell. Since Rick is probably the most organized and intentional person I’ve ever met in my life, I figured I should familiarize myself with Mr. Maxwell’s thinking.

“Pulitzer prize-winning journalist William Allen White observed, ‘Multitudes of people have failed to live for today. They have spent their lives reaching for the future. What they have had within their grasp today they have missed entirely, because only the future has intrigued them . . . and the first thing they knew the future became the past.’ Hoping for a good future without investing in today is like a farmer waiting for a crop without ever planting any seed.” In other words, today matters. A lot.

Maxwell uses the wisdom of John Wooden and Steven Covey in his emphasis on making today a masterpiece.

Some highlights:

  • Express gratitude to others daily.
  • Focus on your top priority – make sure you get that done. If you have six things on your list, and you just get #1 done, that’s a good day.
  • Take care of yourself  and your body so that you are ready to make the most of the day. “My friend Zig Ziglar asks the question, ‘If you had a million-dollar racehorse, would you allow it to smoke cigarettes, drink whiskey, and stay out all night? How about a thousand-dollar dog?’ Of course you wouldn’t.

So much of what I read encourages us to not dwell on the past, to stop wondering about the future, and to focus on the present moment. That’s the Power of Now. Maxwell does a great job of not just finding peace by focusing on the present moment, but by maximizing our potential by making the most of each day.

One of my new goals is to imitate my friend Rick and make the ideas of this book fundamental to my day each and every day.

You can purchase the book here.

Sweet Land of Liberty: A History of American in 11 Pies

In the debate on best desserts. and in the pie vs. cake debate, pie wins for me 100% of the time. Ive had some good carrot cakes, and I’ll eat a sheet cake with a whipped cream frosting, but pie rules. So when I saw that this book was written, I had to read it.  The book begins strongly, advocating for why pie  is a great way to study America

  1. It’s a truly American dish. Damn right it is.
  2. Like America itself, it’s highly adaptable.
  3. It’s totally unnecessary, and you can tell a lot about a culture by how it chooses to spend its optional time and tastes.

Over and over in the book, Anastopoulo points out that just our current pie recipes have been altered so much as America has grown and changed. Pies were created and altered by European, Native American. African slaves, and other cultures around the world. As much as I like the idea of this book (did I mention I love pie?), it did not hold my interest enough to read every word. I skimmed to the end, but I’m still happy to have read it.



You can purchase the book here.

Miseducated: A Memoir

I heard Brandon Fleming speak at a school board member conference this year. He was dynamic and engaging, and he told a remarkable story. I bought his book so I could know even more about his story. Fleming is an African-American who excelled in basketball in high school. In spite of virtually no support from his parents, he earned a basketball scholarship. Then, early in his college career, he sustained a career-ending injury. Left to succeed on his academic merits, he failed miserably. At first.

Fleming tells a beautiful story of hope, perseverance, and giving back.  He shares how, as a black man, he had never heard that black persons were an important part of American history and intellectual difference-making. It speaks to the critical importance of each child seeing that people who look like them matter. As he states, “My life would have been completely different had I known these truths. But I knew them now. And I was ready to do the work of undoing my own miseducation.”

And not only does curriculum matter . . . people matter even more. Fleming rose from the ashes because certain teachers believed in him. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  It was caring people who helped Fleming to do what he has done.

Brandon Fleming tells an important story that all educators should hear. We need to do all we can to do to make each child feel seen, to let them know their culture mattes, and to make sure they know that they matter and they are cared for. Pretty simple really. Except, it’s not.

You can purchase the book here.