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December 2018
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The Reader

I was thrown out of a tavern today.

It was early afternoon and I was seated at the otherwise empty bar, reading a book. The bartender was filling my second draft and said to me “You can’t read at the bar.” “Pardon me?” I replied, even though I had heard him perfectly well. I expected a joking comment about the poor lighting. (Which it was.) Instead he simply repeated himself, then turned and walked away.

I put down my book, took a sip of beer, and made a quizzical sound of acknowledgement. The type of sound you make when the grocery store cashier tells you that it was much busier at the store yesterday.

After a few more sips, and having thoroughly examined the bar top, each of my fingernails, and everything else within my limited visual range, I returned to my book.

As my glass reached empty, the bartender returned. I expected him to ask if I wanted a third drink. (Which I did.) Instead he said “Get out.” This time I wasn’t sure I heard him, but he was in no mood to repeat himself. “Leave now and don’t come back. I told you, no reading.”

I blinked in the bright light of day, and a block later realized I left my book behind. Perhaps it will serve as a warning to others.

Book Review: A People's Guide to Publishing

A People's Guide to Publishing: Build a Successful, Sustainable, Meaningful, Book Business the Ground Up
Author: Joe Biel

This is a relatively short review because I didn't give this book the in-depth reading it deserves. As an author, I was interested in learning marketing and other strategies that could be useful to me. While I learned a few, this book surprised me by opening my eyes to a whole part of the book business that I really didn't know very much about.

Biel has a lot cred in this world and the book is straightforward, easy to read, and detailed. There is plenty of advice, anecdotes about hard-earned lessons, and practical matters of day-to-day business. In addition to his own experience, Biel brings in examples from other independent presses, such as Chicago's beloved Haymarket Books.

As an author, there were many things I learned that I wish I had understood earlier in my career. Biel explains very clearly where the money is in publishing (and where it is not, hello CreateSpace) and exactly what publishers have to contend with across the entire chain -- from printing to distribution to retail. (I now have even a deeper appreciation for my publisher, O'Reilly.)

I can't imagine that if you're interested in running an actual, profitable book publishing business that this book won't become your dog-eared bible. While you can buy a copy at Amazon, you'll probably regret it after you read the book. Go get it direct from Biel, or your local bookseller instead.

Book Review: Cemetery Maps

Cemetery Maps
Author: Amy Martin

How can a book about cemeteries be so completely charming? I don't know, but it certainly is delightful and fun to read. The book features 32 hand drawn maps from all over the world. There are many different authors (including Chicago's own Joe Mason) and this results in a quirky collection of different styles and approaches. It's fascinating to see what each cartographer included, and read their tips about visiting and utilizing the maps. (Some even call out nearby places to grab a post-mortem snack.)

The care and creativity that went into these maps is inspirational throughout, but I have to admit the little touch that first brought a smile to my lips was Amy's own headstone on the cover.


Cemetery Maps, published by Amy Martin Comics, is available at Quimby's for a measly $12.

Book Review: Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out

Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out: Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch, and How Craft Beer Became Big Business. Author: Josh Noel

Whew, I'm parched after typing out that title. Talk about a mouthful. I have to wonder if it's not a nod to short attention spans or indecisiveness on the part of the publisher.

Anyway, I have a friend who likes beer, so I decided to get him a copy. (Note, my friend likes beer, but not like Judge Brent Kavanaugh likes beer. Nor is my friend a rape-y privileged asshole.) I ended up reading the book before sending it my friend -- becasue it's so compelling that I found myself drawn in just flipping through the pages.

Although the local Goose Island Brew Pub used to be one of my absolute favorite places in Chicago, but after a long remodeling process in which they completely ruined the place, Goose Island isn't of much interest to me. (The details of how that happened are described in the book, and I found myself cheering for the regular customer who punched the person responsible for it happening. Oh, btw, spoiler alert!)

I am a big fan of Chicago history, and local stories. This definitely falls under "recent history" at best, but Noel has pulled out so many fun tidbits that it's hard to put the book down. Even if you're not a craft beer aficionado, you can skim over the details of that obsession and still enjoy the overall intrigue and stories.

Monsieur Paul = a gem at DisneyWorld

Living in Chicago I have an embarrassing richness of world-class restaurants at which to dine. And anyone who has seen me in person can attest that I apparently take frequent advantage of this easy access!

On a recent trip to Disney World I was surprised to discover a restaurant that is easily among the best of those I have been to in my entire life. It’s Monsieur Paul, located in “France” at Epcot. It’s regarded as one of the park’s fine dining options, but I was skeptical after our experience at the California Grill in the Contemporary Hotel. But this time, I was not at all disappointed.

Everything — from the food it to the service — was great. However, I should add that the price was also as high as some of the finest restaurants I’ve been to. It would be easy to drop $200 a person. But I think you can get out of there for closer to $125 if you are judicious about your cocktails and wine.

I had one if the best pork chops of my life, a very nice French martini, and part of a scrumptious dessert. All of it was delicious, and this coming from someone who doesn't normally like French cuisine.

The service was also very good. (Thank you, J.P.)

The atmosphere is a little frantic compared to other fine restaurants, but compared to other Epcot venues it’s downright peaceful.

Of all the places I’ve dined at Disney, Monsieur Paul is the only one I’m eager to visit again.

The sad decline of Amazon Prime

I was a very early subscriber to Amazon Prime because it offered a great deal on fast shipping. I easily earned back the cost of the program over the course of a year, and I loved receiving my orders quickly. Unfortunately, as Amazon has piled on the extra services (video, books, etc.) the Two Day shipping promise of Prime eroded. Currently, I'm waiting for an order that was placed with Prime Shipping over 5 days ago, and it's not scheduled for delivery for three more days. This is not the first time this has occurred. Amazon, stop adding to Prime benefits -- fix the core feature of the service, please.

California Grill - meh at DisneyWorld

Located in the stunning Contemporary Hotel at DisneyWorld, the California Grill has an excellent location and view. You arrive by a private elevator (with an operator, no less) and the first thing you see after getting off the lift is an amazingly large wine refrigerator. Then, as you're seated, the view of the Magic Kingdom is breathtaking. When the sun sets, the view only gets better.

Unfortunately, the food and ambiance don't live up to the view. Although they declare themselves to be a "fine dining" experiences, I thought the meal to be only slightly above average. They also emphasize their dress code, which they either don't enforce or define very loosely, so overall it just sort of seems like a very good Outback Steakhouse in a beautiful location. By the by, as former decade-long California resident, other than the wine selection I didn't find anything "California" about the place.

We had a fairly early reservation and our server said that, by showing our receipt, we could come back to view the nightly fireworks exhibition. We did not return, and I'm not sure how that would work, really, as there isn't much room for standing viewing. But by not going, perhaps we missed out on the best thing the restaurant offers.

Here's the best tip I can offer: The bar is a pretty good size and offers the same view. Go for a drink and eat somewhere else.