10 Million Words


From the time Dani was a baby until she went off to college, I read to her every night. As the years passed, our reading material became a lot more sophisticated, but we never tired of the routine. Here are the books (that I can remember) that we enjoyed over the years.

The Shy Little Horse and hundreds of other stories
But Not the Hippopotamus and hundreds of other picture books
Pony Pals (many)
RL Stein books (Many)
The Cat in the Hat
The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins (many times)
To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street
Yertle the Turtle
Horton Hears a Who
Horton Hatches the Egg
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
The Lorax
Madeleine (and its sequels)
Howliday Inn
Alice in Wonderland
Tom Sawyer (twice)
Huckleberry Finn
The Hobbit
The Lord of the Rings
The Silent Storm
Walk Two Moons
The Cave
The Princess Bride
The Dragon In the Cliff
A Bone From a Dry Sea
Letters From Felix
The Princess and the Goblin
Where the Wild Things Are
The Wind In the Willows
The Willows In Winter
Peter Pan
Peter Pan in Scarlet
The Lion’s Paw
The Phantom Toll Booth
SOS Titanic
Night Tree
The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (about ten times)
Wolf Story (many times)
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Prince Caspian
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Silver Chair
The Horse and His Boy
The Magician’s Nephew
The Last Battle
The Indian In the Cupboard
The Return of the Indian
The Secret of the Indian
The Mystery of the Cupboard
The Key to the Indian
The Westing Game
Chasing Redbird
Sarah Plain and Tall
Dealing with Dragons (and its sequels)
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Island of the Blue Dolphins
A Cricket In Times Square (and its sequels)
The Wheel on the School
Mary Poppins (the original novel)
101 Dalmatians (the original novel)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (the original novel)
Misty of Chincoteague (and its sequels)
Hank, The Cowdog (and many sequels)
A Night to Remember
Back to Titanic
Back to Lincoln
Back to Paul Revere
Goodnight Moon
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
The Wizard of Oz
Green Eggs and Ham
The Polar Express
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
If You Give a Moose a Muffin
The Napping House
The Little Engine That Could
Curious George
Arthur series (many books)
Berenstein Bears series (many books)
Clifford series (many books)
Linnea in Monet’s Garden
The Boxcar Children series (many books)
Charlotte’s Web
A Wrinkle In Time
The Secret Garden
Island of the Blue Dolphins
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh (and its sequels)
The Trumpet of the Swan
Mr. Popper’s Penguins
Stuart Little
The Borrowers series (many books)
The Pearl
Walker of Time
Tag Against Time
Walker’s Journey Home
She Flew No Flags
Watership Down
The Call of the Wild
White Fang
The Shipping News
The Crystal Cave
The Hollow Hills
The Old Man and the Sea
To Have and Have Not
Myst: The Book of Atrus
Myst: The Book of Ti’Ana
Myst: The Book of D’ni
On a Pale Horse
Bearing an Hourglass
With a Tangled Skein
Wielding a Red Sword
Being a Green Mother
For Love of Evil
And Eternity
Perry Mason (several)
Shutter Island
Void Moon
Chasing the Dime
Harry Bosch novels (four or so)
The Doomsday Book
To Say Nothing of the Dog
Lincoln’s Dream
Three Men in a Boat
Three Men on the Bummel
A Confederacy of Dunces
The Mirror of her Dreams
A Man Rides Through
The Lincoln Hunters
Harry Potter And the Sorcerer’s Stone
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
The Black Dahlia
The Clan of the Cave Bear
The Valley of Horses
The Mammoth Hunters
The Plains of Passage
The Shelters of Stone
Empire Falls
Straight Man
Nobody’s Fool
Bridge of Sighs
The Seventh Scroll
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
Round Ireland with a Fridge
Ring of Diamonds
A Matter of Justice
Everything In Its Path
Cider House Rules
The World According to Garp
Snow Falling on Cedars
East of the Mountains
The Blind Assassin
Oryx and Crake

And Many, Many More


Another of my writing students has been published! Barbara Binns developed her book, Pull, while in my online class. It’s been published by WestSide Books and is available on amazon. Here’s my review:

Becoming A New Person

The greatest books invite us to become their main characters, experiencing their emotional and physical conflicts, suffering their defeats, and cheering for their triumphs. Pull, the brilliant debut novel by B. A. Binns, is just such a book.

Pull is populated with fully-realized inner city characters who are not stereotypes. While acknowledging the milieu of “dead-heads, thugs and wannabe” gangsta clowns, Pull’s characters defy expectation and avoid cliche. These are smart, thinking kids, who are well aware of their limitations as they struggle to make a place for themselves in the high school status quo.

From page one we’re launched into the precarious new life of David Albacore, who is running from a past that haunts him but is inescapable. As David struggles to take care of siblings orphaned by a father he despises, he finds himself unable to overcome the very same passions that drove that man to murder. And Binns perfectly captures the amped-up sexual angst of every teenage boy, as David is smitten by Yolanda, the hottest girl in the “in” crowd — a group he’s sworn to avoid.

When Yolando and David finally come together, sparks fly. But Yolanda means big trouble, because she’s pack leader Malik’s girl, and Malik has it out for David, not only as a romantic rival, but also on the basketball court and — most importantly — as a threat to David’s little sister.

Pull builds to an exciting climax, as David finds all of his problems converging, leaving him wondering what price he is willing to pay, and what it means to let go. Pull is a great read that will appeal to a wide variety of readers, because it’s about real people solving real problems, with love and compassion.

IAAPA 2010

This year’s IAAPA show (and the next ten years!) is back in Orlando. I did a book signing to benefit Give Kids the World. It was nice to see so many old friends who dropped by, but I think I’m going to keep my day job!

I also had a chance to drop by the Alcorn McBride booth, which looks fantastic. Loren really picked out nice furniture, and the show seemed busy.

Today was Ryan’s last day in Orlando, and he made the most of it, working with Adam until it was time to head to the airport. A very productive trip.

Marketing a Book

Theme Park Design is my latest book. It’s based upon the text of my Imagineering class. I published it through createspace.com, which is a division of amazon.com. I decided to publish it because David Green’s and my previous book, Building a Better Mouse, continues to sell well, even after three years.

The margins are excellent on books published through createspace, and it’s great that amazon owns them because they do the fulfillment, and copies are even available through Ingram for distribution to conventional bookstores.

It’s been interesting to do a real book launch; I’ve never tried it before. I began by contacting the various industry blogs and trade magazines, asking if they wanted a copy, and having them drop shipped from createspace. Meanwhile, Loren is doing a press release through PR Newswire on Tuesday, and is contacting newspapers.

I also tried some advertising on google and facebook. Originally the ads linked to the createspace page (because my margin is a bit better), but after a day of poor results I changed it to the amazon page. So far, with only one more day of data, it looks like people are much more willing to buy from amazon. Building a Better Mouse is usually about number 39,000 (out of 6 million) on their site, and yesterday Theme Park Design was number 29,000. Because the ads cost between fifty cents and a dollar per click, I suspect they won’t be cost effective, but I’ll try it for a week and see. The margin on createspace is at least ten times that of conventional publishing, or it would make no sense. Still, it’s amazing how few click there are for hundreds of thousands of impressions. However, I’m limiting my budget to $20 a day, just in case.

I also set up a Theme Perks Press blog through blogspot, because the RSS feed can be connected to my amazon author’s page.

My plan is to time this book release both for IAAPA (where we plan to do a book signing) and also for the holiday shopping season. If some of the blogs release reviews before Thanksgiving that could work out well. I have a suspicion that amazon sales behave as a positive feedback loop, and that if the book could be propelled into the top 1000 it might be self-sustaining for a while.

Anyway, it will be an interesting experiment.

Book Purge

Turn your back for just a minute and the library is overrun with books again. Whilst looking for a couple of misplaced ones I purged a hundred or so from the cupboards (I think they reproduce faster in the dark). Most of these will go to Windermere Prep, I guess.

NU Library

Today was my last day to walk around, so I wandered up through the Northwestern campus and visited the library, which is really, really large. And confusing. The three towers are linked in a very unintuitive way on all but the ground floor. Most of them house stacks that are arranged in a circle, with the shelves of books spreading out radially. So once you find your way to the core it’s a puzzle to figure out what direction you entered from. Fortunately, there are signs. I leafed through a random assortment of the books I stumbled upon, including treatises about California archaeological digs and bound SMPTE proceedings back issues.

I walked back through the park that runs along the beach south of campus. I hadn’t been that close to the water before. There were colorful sailboats enjoying the sunny day, a nice concession building, and an oval pond that looks like it makes a good skating rink for part of the year.

I picked up lunch at Thai Sookdee (wow that place is awful except for their weird pad thai) and brought it home to Dani after her last chemistry class.

For dinner it was clean the refrigerator night. I’m pretty proud of how empty the fridge is, and how full the freezer is, stuffed with leftovers divided into protions for two. Tonight’s carrot souffle turned out well:

Carrot Souffle


  • 2 pounds carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons 5 spice


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Boil carrots until very tender (takes about an hour). Drain.
  3. Beat eggs. Combine all ingredients. Beat until smooth.
  4. Bake 1 hour or until top is golden brown.

Al’s Deli

It really is true that you need to live in a place for a while to discover its secrets. I’ve been in Evanston for two months, yet it’s only in the past two days that I’ve happened upon two of my favorite places. Last night it was Bistro Bordeaux, and today it’s Al’s Deli, which is also, oddly enough, French.

Today was perfect weather for a walk: mid-seventies, clear, a light breeze. So I headed back up to the area west of NU to further explore the business district there. Along the way I stopped at Howard’s Books, a used bookstore at Maple and Foster, and of course I had to buy some books.

I continued up Maple to Noyes. The area is full of charming little rental houses, some of them not twenty feet wide.

About a block to the east is Al’s Deli. It was founded in 1949 by Al Pottinger, a francophile, who offered European groceries, baked goods, soups and sandwiches. His sons took the business over in the 1970s, and are still there. They offer traditional french sandwiches such as brie on a baguette, plus homemade soups. The Soup au Pistou I had today was wonderful, a cup full of chunky vegetables with a dollop of garlic aeoli that turned it into something you might find in a bouillabaisse. They also make six types of enormous, tasty cookies themselves. The place is a short walk from NU, in the charming little area around Noyes and Sherman.


Dani spent the day writing new material for The Last Telepath. It’s very vivid.

Tonight we went to Sepia, which was recommended to me by Scott Joseph. What a different experience from last night at Graham Elliot! We could actually communicate, with each other and the waiter! The menu has a varied but limited selection of starters and entrees, Very straightforward. Each dish is completely distinct, offering a lot of choices. Service was friendly and efficient, and they turned every table at least once. It’s in a trendy building in what used to be an industrial area. A very pleasant dining experience.

Graham Elliot

This morning while Dani was taking her midterm I unlocked Jackie’s bike from its parking meter and examined what was keeping the front wheel from turning. Not only was the hand brake pressed against it, but the wheel was bent.

It was almost impossible to push it (although I later learned how to easily disengage the front brake) and it was too heavy to carry with the front tire off the ground, so I rode it down to Turin Bicycle. It was like riding an exercycle all the way, because as soon as I stopped pedaling the bike came to an abrupt halt! Obviously a new wheel was needed, along with other adjustments. The repairs came to $9 less than the original cost of the bike, but what the heck, at least it’s fixed. We picked it up after lunch at Lulu’s.

A couple of nights ago Dani couldn’t get to sleep so she sat up making notes about new ideas for her completed novel The Last Telepath. Now that she has a weekend break, she’s been writing a new first fifty pages like a maniac. Since she was only thirteen when she started the original manuscript, I’m sure this first fifty pages will bring a new level of depth to the story.

Tonight was our next to last fine dining blowout this summer. We went to Graham Elliot, which Ron’s friend Bruce reported as his favorite from a recent trip to Chicago. Mistake! You do NOT want to go here. It is a little slice of hell. The food is okay, but the ambiance is non existent. The place is deafening, with non-stop techno/grunge/rock/rap/pop soundtrack so you can’t even hear the descriptions of what is in each dish. We had 21 courses and 18 matching beverages. 50% of the courses were completely forgettable, the others were good, but not one was as good as a typical course at V&A or Moto. Here’s an example of one course, a deconstructed tomato mozzarella and balsamic foam. If this looks about one inch wide that’s because it is:

Or how about these TWO courses, carpaccio and a “Caesar salad” (I already ate half the salad in my first bite):

The wine list is a bunch of silly young whites. The wine carafes are 2 liter chemistry flasks. The  waiters wear jeans and t-shirts. The tasting courses are microscopic. Most dishes have many, many ingredients (couldn’t hear what) but don’t seem to combine to create a whole greater than the parts. On the plus side, price is reasonable, and it was neat to have a different beverage to match nearly every course, but 80% were mixed drinks, not wine.

At the end of the evening, too late to do us any good, we received a printed menu of everything we had. Across the top it read “the alcorn party is awesome.”

graham elliot is not awesome.

The Secret of Smoke House Garlic Bread

I’ve been converting Bill Bryson’s new book, At Home, from CD to m4b so I can listen to it as an audiobook on our trip to England next month. I use a program called audiobookbuilder which works quite nicely. I could have purchased it as an audiobook, I suppose, but I wanted the original BBC version, which was only available as a 14 CD set.

Bryson is an interesting guy. He grew up in Iowa, lived in England for twenty years, and then returned to the US and lived in New Hampshire for almost a decade.

I bet this frat house fire escape gets a workout during parties.

He became famous writing about his travels, and I think he’s actually bigger in England than here. Since 2003 he’s been back in England, and is now the Chancellor of Durham University.

Bryson always reads his own audiobooks. He’s actually not a great reader, but because they’re his, there’s something endearing about his delivery; you can pretty much hear the twinkle in his eye. For anyone visiting Australia, his In a Sunburned Country is essential reading.

I spent the afternoon walking around Evanston, visiting the US Bank up on the Northwestern campus, and then continuing my survey of coffee (and tea shops).

Dream About Tea is a strange cross between a cafe and a shop. The Chinese owner sells a hundred or so herbal teas, brewed or dry,  plus accessories. The Morrocan mint I had was pleasant and inexpensive, but unremarkable.

Across the street at Bennison’s Bakery I had a pretty good large espresso and a pain au chocolat. The espresso was one of the better ones I’ve had in town, but La Duree in Paris needn’t worry about the pastry competition.

For dinner I tried a recipe from Simply Recipes. It was definitely a hit. Very lemony. I found the pine nuts at Whole Foods ($30 a pound! Fortunately they’re very light.) In retrospect I don’t think they’re very important, but using the juice and zest of a whole fresh lemon is. I think it should be called Lemony Smoked Salmon Pasta.


  • 8 ounces pasta
  • Salt
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/3 cup chopped onions
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 1/2 cup diced frozen carrots and peas
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp lemon zest (divided into 1 Tbsp and 1 Tbsp)
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
  • 4 ounces smoked salmon, cut into bite sized pieces
  • Fresh ground black pepper


  • Brown the pine nuts.
  • Saute onion and garlic.
  • Cook pasta.
  • Add white wine, lemon juice, and 1 Tbsp of lemon zest. Increase the heat and let boil down by half.
  • If you want a slightly creamy sauce, add the cream and let boil a minute more.
  • The sauce should be done about the same time the pasta is done. If you get done earlier with it than the pasta, take it off the heat.
  • Combine pasta and sauce. Add the smoked salmon, toasted pine nuts, dill, and the remaining lemon zest. Season with freshly ground black pepper.

Serves 2 to 3.



  • Sour Dough Bread
  • Butter
  • Minced Garlic
  • Grated Parmesan Cheese

and the secret ingredient:

The cheddar cheese powder is definitely what they use. In the past I’ve tried it with Kraft Macaroni and Cheese mix, but that has other stuff in it, too. It’s just straight, sharp cheddar cheese powder that duplicates not only the flavor, but also the crumbly texture. Win!

Books by the Pound

The place that sells used books by the pound, Market Fresh Books, has opened a second location only two blocks from their original spot. The rents must be cheap on theses abandoned storefronts. I bought 12 ounces of book this afternoon.

I fixed a couple of quiches for dinner and to freeze the leftovers. They turned out really good. The ingredients were ham, bacon, brocollini, green onions and the secret ingredient: Chinese five spice.