Books we recommend





William Morrow (1995), $17



The first Bill Bryson book I ever read was A Walk In the Woods – his voice and humor, and ability to put himself in Larry David-esque situations, hooked me right away. I’ve since read several other of his travel memoirs, but in chronological order, so I was unfamiliar with his early work. After a long hiatus from reading any of Bryson’s tomes, I just had the pleasure of reading Notes From a Small Island (No. 89 on our list of greatest travel books) written nearly 30 years ago – and I’m still hooked!


Notes From a Small Island is about Bryson’s seven-week attempt to circumnavigate Great Britain via public transportation, after the Iowa native had already spent more than 20 years living and working there. After this trek, he would move back to America.


As an unofficial Anglophile (my wife says I have an “English sensibility”) I was taken on a very vivid bus and train ride to such quirky-named towns and villages as Chepstow and Studland and Porthmadog. Bryson, who dealt with walking through rainstorms and waiting hours for buses to maybe show up, explored these off-the-beaten-path places that were once thriving but dealt some sought of economic blow and now survive under constant rain clouds and fog. But at least each one has a pub.


Bryson once again made me laugh…a lot. I never realized (or perhaps I didn’t remember) just how sarcastic he is. He really is the Larry David of travel writing. After just a few pages reading about the adventures he goes on. it’s impossible to curb your enthusiasm for him.

Jason Stahl






Random House (2022), $28



What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the name Bob Odenkirk? No, not the guy who writes for The Simpsons. That’s actually his younger brother Bill. Nowadays, it’s probably Saul Goodman, or Hutch Mansell from Nobody. And because you know him from those, you might even say, “Wow, that Bob Odenkirk is one heck of a dramatic actor! He must be the darling of Hollywood.” That might be the case today, but it took a long time for everything to be all good, man.


Everyone has their own journey in life and Odenkirk shares his with modesty, compliments and neuroticism about the sketch comedy world. The Naperville, Illinois, native spent years finding his footing, performing and writing for various troupes. Even though he wrote one of the funniest sketches for Chris Farley on Saturday Night Live, and made the TV sketch comedy rounds from The Ben Stiller Show to The Dana Carvey Show, it wasn’t until he met fellow comedian David Cross and the two created Mr. Show that Odenkirk found his way – and was allowed to openly write in his voice. The HBO show had a devoted, yet cult-like following for four seasons, and despite all the praise, Odenkirk still didn’t find superstardom.


It wasn’t until his transition into drama with the role of slick lawyer Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad and the subsequent prequel Better Call Saul did Odenkirk become a star. Though whether he actually wanted to become one is something he never really strived for. He was just trying not to wind up living in a van down by the river.

– Jason Stahl





SATISFACTION GUARANTEED: How Zingerman’s Built a Corner Deli into a Global Food Community By Micheline Maynard


Scribner (2022) $28


To build an empire, one needs to learn from one. Sure, there are the Romans and Greeks and Persians, throw the Hans in there, too, while you’re at it. But if you’re looking to build an empire in the food world — or any industry — there’s only one name: Zingerman’s.


Well, actually, there are two: Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw.


Together, they founded Zingerman’s Delicatessen in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1982. For the next 40 years, their gourmet store became synonymous with the leafy town most folks know as being home to the University of Michigan. But the dynamic duo of Weinzweig and Saginaw scored touchdown after touchdown with the locals — and the world — by focusing on three bottom lines: “great food, great service, and great finances.”


Zingerman’s founders and managing partners have written books before, about great service and making bacon (actual bacon, not just the euphemistic kind) and becoming a great leader that people will want to work for because of a culture you create. But this is the first book about the entire company, or Zingerman’s Community of Businesses (ZCOB), written by business journalist Micheline Maynard. A customer first, she details in great length the lengthy steps Weinzweig and Saginaw have taken to become a $65 million a year company.


If I sat down one afternoon, I could read this book cover to cover, that includes the index — it’s that engrossing and informative. But because it’s that engrossing and informative, I read this book with much patience and intent — and a pen in hand to annotate. I’m currently operating a virtual Jewish delicatessen – Hank Schwartz’s Delicatessen in Jersey City, NJ — with plans to open a brick-and-mortar shop. Maynard’s thorough report about the Zingerman’s business model is a bible for how to operate a business where people will want to come to work every day, inject enthusiasm, and grow as individuals while contributing to the company’s growth. And when you have a happy staff, your customers will be, too. 

Jason Stahl