Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Two Travel Books With Very Little In Common

The following two books are both about travel destinations somewhat near a place with "Disney" in its name, but that's about all they have in common. But I finished the two of them on subsequent days, and that's as good a reason as any to toss them together and see how they bounce off each other.

Fodor's Los Angeles: 25th Edition, edited by Rachel Klein

This book lists seven writers, an Editorial Contributor, and twelve various art/design/production folks, so pardon me if I don't name them all. I'm assuming Klein wrangled them all to turn their contributions into a book, so she'll get the credit here.

Fodor's Los Angeles appears to be a quite comprehensive guide to all of the things one might want to do while visiting the City of Angels -- quite a lot of those things seem to involve shopping for clothing, watching for moderately famous actors, or clubbing, none of which appeal to me, so I'll take the book's word for it that they are desirable activities. (My own tastes tend towards shopping for books, watching random unknown people, museum-ing, and wandering randomly, and those are totally different.)

I'll be in the LA area for about a week this fall, as part of the Hornswoggler clan's big annual trip. The main draw this time is Disneyland, but that's not enough for a whole week, so I'm doing some due diligence to figure out what else to do while we're there. (I am the official family entertainment planner -- if I don't figure out what to do, it won't be done.) Fodor's Los Angeles has a subtitle that promises coverage of Disneyland and Orange County, but that's quite secondary -- LA itself is the focus on the book, and there's a lot of city there to describe.

Fodor's is a classy, professional, long-lived travel-book series, with all that implies: a knowing tone, excellent design with lots of sidebars and charts, gorgeous color photography throughout, and a good-sized map stuck into the back. You could very easily use this one book to plan a trip and bring it along (to leave in the hotel room or chuck in the backseat of the rental car), and it would be quite valuable. Not quite so much for me, though, since my geographic focus is a bit south and west of LA itself. Still, it gave me a better grounding of the geography -- and, probably most important, emphasized that Anaheim is not LA, and getting from one to the other will take time and effort (particularly on freeways at rush hour).

The Dark Side of Disney by Leonard Kinsey

Switching gears entirely, Kinsey's Dark Side is a personal, apparently self-published guide to Walt Disney World (the one outside Orlando, Florida), with acceptable book design, some not-terribly-useful black and white photos, and more attitude than you could credit. Kinsey is a youngish man who combines in an unlikely way a deep love for all things Disney and the teenage hell-raiser's desire to find trouble and/or fun wherever he can.

Dark Side, in this one way like Caesar's Gaul, is divided into three parts: more-or-less legal and ethical ways to save money on a WDW vacation; ways to achieve sex, drugs, and rock n' roll in the parks; and a grab-bag of "tricks, tips, scams, and bugs." Kinsey's tone -- like that of a slightly less feral Jay from a Kevin Smith movie -- is the same throughout: he's discovered some totally awesome stuff to do, and he really wants to share it with you.

I shouldn't pick on Kinsey: many of his money-saving tips are smart, and a few were even both entirely aboveboard and new to me. And he takes great pains, throughout Dark Side, to keep clear what is and isn't legal, and to repeatedly advise his readers not to do the illegal stuff...or, at least, not to blame him if they get caught doing it. And Dark Side is a hoot to read, even if it's very short (156 pages of text, minus the photos I mentioned) and relies primarily on the author's own experiences, a few vaguely sourced stories, and a lot of hearsay. (David Koenig's Mouse Tales books, though not focused on giving tips to visitors of Disney parks, are much better at telling stories about what mischief people can get up to in those parks.)

If you don't expect a conventional guidebook, and are willing to loan Kinsey your benefit of the doubt, there's a lot to enjoy in Dark Side. But the definitive "dirty tricks" guide to WDW has yet to be written -- though it would likely take a team of writer-researchers at least as sneaky and smart as Kinsey is.

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