Hello from Disney World!! Yet, AGAIN…

For anyone who reads me regularly (I have no idea if that animal exists) I’m still taking a vacation from my vacation. BUT, as I don’t actually own a home I have to be somewhere, and since it’s winter, I’m once again in Florida doing the snow bird/Disney World thing. I have rented a master suite in an apartment in the amusement park capitol of the world in the home of an Airbnb host I’ve gotten quite friendly with during previous stays (so it’s a bit like being at a friend’s home, but not quite), bought myself the obligatory yearly Disney pass (which makes economic sense after day 10) WITH the photo pass option, and have been going to the parks pretty much nightly. Regarding the pass, got talking with some other folks who I noticed were taking advantage of EVERY photographer in the park, and the father said he did the math and you need to have 8K photos taken before the extra cost of the photo option makes sense… I’m not sure I agree as most of my friends can’t take a decent photo and you don’t get the photoshopped in extras at home without a lot of work.

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I’m liking my new Hawaiian style ears, the flowers look surprisingly realistic up close

Regarding Why go to Disney YET again, particularly since when I left here two years ago it was with a case of extreme boredom. Well… After all my recent falls, I don’t feel safe walking most places anymore. My right foot seems to start dragging whenever I get fatigued, and if the walkways aren’t level, which most city streets are not, I run the risk of tripping. The past 3 months I’ve been staying in places that were pretty suburban and I’ve barely gotten ANY exercise… and put on more than few pounds as a result.

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Disney walking areas are VERY level, as in you could be inside a mall while outdoors, level. And just walking from parking (I tend to arrive in the evenings so I park at the back of the lot) to the park and one rotation around the park itself gets me 1 hour aerobic exercise according to my apple watch, and about 10K steps… takes me about 3 hours to pull that off, but it happens. I haven’t stepped on a scale but my belt has gone from the last hole to the 2nd one… so I think I may be loosing some of what I gained.

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The line, top right, is for Jungle Cruise (a 5 minute wait), but you get the idea, as that queue is normally 45 minutes to an hour long

Got here about Jan 7 and for most of the week the parks were still pretty packed, but just this past weekend there was a visible drop in attendance which should continue till about Spring break (early April) … at which point I’ll head back north. So in otherwords the first few days didn’t get on any rides because I’m no fan of standing in line for more than 10 minutes … but just this weekend I was able to walk right onto (with no standing and waiting at all) It’s a Small world, The Haunted Mansion, and Spaceship Earth over at Epcot (all of this done at or around 7pm +, i.e., after the tourists have gone to dinner or home, or were watching the fireworks show).

That said, my mornings are still spent playing World of Warcraft while listening to books on tape, just like in the last post. The newest books include:

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States
By: Sarah Vowell

Sarah Vowell, whose voice on this audible book you may recognize if you were a fan of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (because Jon was a fan of hers), is a historian/comedian who with her squeaky/nerdy voice imparts a lot of wit, sarcasm and comments that had me full out laughing into her work that you might miss if you read it instead of listened to it. This is the sort of book where I want to now, having heard it, buy a paper copy, and listen again while underlining and highlighting the text — because she says some really insightful things about our history that at 55 and having been a history major I’ve never heard before and went, “DUH! that makes so much sense… why haven’t I heard that before?”

In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire, By: Tom Holland

Was originally assigned this book for a class on Israel and the Arab nations, or some such, which I ended up dropping during the first week (could already tell the professor and I would be at loggerheads and I had over enrolled anyway … but a few years later decided that since the book was on Audible I’d get it and listen… I vaguely remember our professor had only assigned various chapters telling us the book goes WAY off topic, and boy does it. It almost feels like the writer knew a lot about Christian and Jewish civilizations of the period around the time of Muhammad, and wanted to throw all that in since what we actually about about the development of the nations under the umbrella of Islam is kind of sketchy other than there’s actual secondary independent historical evidence that the guy actually existed, which is more than you can say for Jesus or pretty much anyone in the old testament, let alone Moses. So, in short the book is hard to follow, and harder to remember because there’s so many details and no central storyline.

Jane Austen at Home: A Biography
By: Lucy Worsley

Fascinating book. I’m an Austen fan, have read most of the books, seen all the movies (and different versions of… including the modern retellings)… and have even watched any number of documentaries about the lady… and MOST of what was in this book was eye opening for me. For any serious fan of the lady and her work, this is a must read. That said, I listened, not read… and the reader is VERY good…. Worsley does the intro and the little extra bit at the end, and sad to say her writing is easier to take in when not read by her.

That said… am currently working my way through:

This book focuses on the British fascination with murder. Apparently once public hangings and the ability to trounce all over active murder investigation scenes was denied the British public, this morbid need was replaced with murder mysteries. Or at least that’s Worsley’s theory. She then goes through a history of famous murders and talks about how they worked their way into English Literature. Apparently for instance, readers of Dickens’ time would have known Oliver Twist was a crime novel based on the title, as a twist was slang of the time for someone who hung from a noose; and Austen’s Northanger Abbey wasn’t a romance so much as a sendup of the popular horror novels of her age (the heroine is a young girl who’s read too much of them goes to the abbey expecting ghosts and horror — as the world Abbey would be another keyword in a title that would communicate to readers of the time that this would be a horror book, only to discover more realistically disturbing issues, such as how many rich people of Austen’s time owed their wealth to slavery… something the Austen Biography I read just before this had also discussed). …. but like I said I’m not done with this book yet.

Travels of the mind… or what I’ve been doing the last 3 months (30+ book reviews)

So… this has been a very busy year travel wise. I was out of the country for pretty much nine full months: four months in Australia, a few weeks in New Zealand, a few months in Israel, two weeks in the French Alps in a town outside of Geneva (which I think I haven’t posted anything about yet — sorry), over three months in London, and a week in Iceland. Actually according to Google I was in 8 countries (USA, England, Iceland, Israel, France, Switzerland (mostly as a transit point), Australia, New Zealand) and 43+ cities this year…

When I got back I wanted a vacation from my vacation. After 5 years of pretty much non stop traveling all I wanted to do was curl up in bed and not move; I in fact wanted to play World of Warcraft (WOW) while listening to some of my huge backlog of audible books that I’ve purchased over the past 5 years but not listened to — I’ve got over 500 at this point.

(Didn’t even want to even think about the 150 or so blog posts about travel places I went to which I still have to write about — those will come later.)

WOW is a game I used to play obsessively, maybe 10 years ago (?) but stopped because I realized it was eating up my life and actually making me depressed. But, I realized I’ve been missing it and decided to start playing again; blew my mind, but when I contacted the company and when I mentioned that I had USED to play it 10 years ago, they asked me a few questions to confirm my identity, and they STILL had all my avatars on file on their servers and were able to reactivate them!!! And… yes, these are two things I do simultaneously (listen to books while playing video games). Let’s face it World of Warcraft doesn’t really require focused attention most of the time, and I avoid the parts  of the game that do anyway … I just need/wanted something to do while listening to my books other than driving (I fell down and went boom again, this time in London, while trying to walk and listen to books at the same time, so apparently I can no longer do that safely).

So in this blog post I’m going to now list every one of the 30+ books I’ve listened to since early October — in the order that I read/listened to them… and my book reviews of the same:

The first book I “read” was:

Anansi Boys By: Neil Gaiman

I’m a huge Gaiman fan… started this book while in Israel, but then stopped reading it in order to read some stuff about Iceland, and didn’t get around to finishing it till I’d returned to the USA. It’s in the same vein as American gods (possibly my favorite Gaiman book) and some consider these two to go hand in hand … but this time he delves into the world of African gods, with the Anansi (spider) and Tiger stories and the competition between these two archetypal gods… only like in American Gods they’re not dead, and Anansi has two sons (or are they) whose story this is

The Vikings in Iceland: The History of the Norse Expeditions and Settlements across Iceland

Finished reading this one on October 13th… and while it’s probably a book I should have read BEFORE going to Iceland, well … better late than never. It was pretty good and explained some of what I had seen that the tour guides hadn’t explained all that well. There’s really not that many books in Audible that you can listen to about Iceland, but this was pretty good and worth the time. So, interesting book, short and informative for those of us wanting some background on icelandic culture before traveling there, shame about the narrator, who could probably put you to sleep no matter what he was reading

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English  by John McWhorter

Did the audible version, read by the author who’s a pretty well known linguistics professor. This guy reads his own work as well as Neil Gaiman does — which is gloriously well. The story is both utterly fascinating and impressively boring, as he goes over points of grammar and word usage in order to argue that the generally accepted ideas about how English evolved just don’t hold water in the light of new evidence (some of it genetic) which forces us to look again and consider other options… such as welsh and celtic which tend to be neglected because none of the academics studying the topic ever bothered to learn those two …. and other facts..

Crystal Singer By: Anne McCaffrey

This series is one of my favorite books. I’ve been reading it over and over again for over 20 years… so was thrilled to see it on audible, and then very sad to discover it’s abridged. All the major story points are there, but all the lovely details have been removed. The narrator talks FASTER than pretty much every other narrator on audible, but once I got used to it I realized it was at the same speed I read, and as a result I found it easier to drop into that film in your head sensation I get from reading that is usually missing on audible.

Killashandra: book 2 of the Crystal singer trilogy, again by: Anne McCaffrey

So like I said, this series is one of my favorite ones … so was thrilled to see it on audible, and then very sad to discover it’s abridged. Same issues as last time. That said, the SOUND quality on this recording borders on unbearable… there’s like a scratchiness to it, it’s embarrassing

Crystal Line (book 3 of the trilogy)

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE someone get the right from McCaffrey to re-record these things unabridged this time… and with better sound quality

Norse Mythology  by Neil Gaiman

Granted, I’d heard of the norse gods via comic books, vague remembrances of things I learned in grade school and from friends of mine who actually still practice that religion (or think they do), but my personal knowledge of the myths was limited, and having JUST returned from Iceland where there’s a lot of mention of these myths, I kind of felt it was time to brush up on it… and Gaiman, who I LOVE just released this book, so… that said: Loki totally isn’t who I thought he was, and Oden can be a bit silly, and Thor well… again not what I assumed based on Marvel comics … so it was good to learn more about them and of course no one reads Gaiman like Gaiman, so in general try to get audibles of his books that are read by him.

Peter Pan By: J. M. Barrie

Read this as a kid, decided to re-read it based on all the pop culture references (other than Disney) that comment on how Peter is NOT QUITE how Disney interpreted the story but having no memory of that from when I read it as a kid … That said,  it’s pretty much the same as the Disney cartoon in the broad brush strokes, but it’s the small details that are oh so different… Barrie makes comments about what’s going on … he doesn’t dwell on it and doesn’t emphasis it, but as an adult you’ll find your “well THAT’s NOT RIGHT!” antenna getting tweaked. Peter’s character really is pretty dysfunctional, and even for a little boy, he’s a fairly nasty piece of work…

Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook by: Christina Henry

I followed up listening to Peter Pan with a listen to this modern (totally different author) prequel of the history between Peter and Hook… a telling which is NOT appropriate for children by the way, this book was intense. Won’t spoil it for you but wow…. You’ll never look at either character the same way again… Henry takes all the subtle inferences from the Barrie classic and runes with them

Animal Farm By: George Orwell

Sure I read this back in high school … but that was 30 years ago. Time for a re-read so… Aimed squarely at Communist Russia, and other totalitarian governments etc, Animal Farm UNFORTUNATELY never ceases to be a disturbingly relevant book. Well performed, good sound quality

I’m someone who only ever gets the unabridged versions of things… but after slogging my way through this… well, of the 25 hours and 30 minutes of listening time, there’s maybe 8 hours that could have been edited out. In the first 5 hours you learn ALL about her family’s history and the founding of Pasadena. If the young Julia fell down while riding her bicycle it’s probably in there… I now know about every failed romance and part time job she ever had… and then … as you start to get to the end of the book … well you know that scene in in the movie “Julie & Julia” where the young cook whose been blogging about working her way through every recipe in Julia’s seminal work, The Art of French Cooking finds out that Julia knew about her blog didn’t like what she’d been doing it and the poor girl breaks down into tears… well lets just say the book makes it pretty clear that Julia in her 80’s could be quite the B*&ch and her response to Julie’s blog was consistent with that… and to be honest as someone who grew up watching Julia Child on PBS with my mother, I’m not sure I wanted to know that…

As to the performance, by the END of the book the reader had figured out how to bring some of Julia’s distinctive voice into the reading of her words, but it was only by about hour 18 that she started to do it… in the early chapters it was totally not there, distractingly not there… in fact this reader lacked ANY ability to bring distinctive voices to the characters whose ‘quotes’ she was reading… so there’s that

The Atrocity Archives: A Laundry Files Novel By: Charles Stross

Friend of mine started up a monthly Sci Fi book club, and since I was going to be in town for a few months I decided to attend, this was the book for October. Quite funny story… it’s a toss up of what’s more terrifying, lovecraft influenced monsters from parallel universes that want to invade our reality and kill us, or the mundane bureaucracy of office life. Reader did a real good job creating distinct voices, accents and personalities for all the different characters.

Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid’s Memoir That Inspired ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ and ‘Downton Abbey’ By: Margaret Powell

Delightful listen, I listened to the audible version and it was JUST so well read and fun. If you love those shows, you’ll want to read this book

A Game of Thrones  (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1) By: George R. R. Martin

Having LOVED the TV show I figured it was time to tuck into the original books as most of my friends had read them BEFORE the series came out on HBO. With regards to the audiobook… Honestly I don’t know what the reader was thinking!!! And it was borderline offensive… Tyrion has an irish accent, like a leprechaun!! NONE Of the other Lannisters have an Irish accent. One gets the feeling the guy didn’t actually read the book before narrating it… because as the book progresses he drops the sing song of it, maybe as he realized how smart the character was… not sure. But early on some of his best lines, some of which have gone on to be on Tshirts and the like, such as “all dwarves are bastards in their father’s eyes” get muddled and lost. That and it makes you appreciate how much Dinklage did with that character… Other than that the book’s great

A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 2) By: George R. R. Martin

Happy to announce that Tyrion lannister’s character no longer sounds like a leprechaun, as he did in the first novel… which improves the reading immensely. I am convinced the reader didn’t bother to actually READ the book before recording it… and then realized just how stupid he’d been at the outset. Also there’s all sort of stuff in this book that wasn’t in the TV show

A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3) By: George R. R. Martin

so book 3… and while Tyrion no longer sounds like a leprechaun, like in book 1, the reader seems to keep losing track of what voices he’s assigned to what characters (which makes it very confusing) … and the lannister father sounds like churchill… and let’s keep in mind each of these books has been about 30+ hours of listening EACH…

A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4) By: George R. R. Martin

Still a lot of overlap with the TV show, but this is where it diverges and things happen to some of our favorite characters that you won’t be prepared for and made me very sad. That said, I’m still NOT a fan of the reader, as I’ve made plain in my other reviews of the previous books. He doesn’t have a broad range of voices, nor can he keep straight which voice he used for whom. Considering what a massive hit the show was I wish they’d hire a full cast to re-do the recording… or at least a few people with more versatility

Hyperion By: Dan Simmons

Remember the book club? Well this was their November selection. Happily it was a book that was already on my to read list (I discovered it on some reading list somewhere of SciFi books you should read). It’s essentially Canterbury tales meets Alien (the movie) I suppose… well performed with a different performer doing each tale, with a woman playing the woman — like Game of Thrones SHOULD have been, very interesting, well written… what more can a girl ask for… but be prepared for an ending that leaves you hanging… guess I have to read book 2

Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders (a collection of short stories and poems) by Neil Gaiman

I love Gaiman’s work, and some of the stories and poems in this themeless collection are great, some no so much. It’s kind of like he had all of these short stories and an obligation to his publisher and just kind of threw them together. There’s really no central core to thing… but that said, there’s some really good stuff in there. I listened to audible version, read by him… and…. there’s no pause between stories. One ends the next begins and there’s no clear end (like an audible que… I listened to one audiobook that putt a sheep bahhhh sound at the end of every chapter) or pause so that if your not paying attention, well it can get very confusing.

A Moveable Feast By: Ernest Hemingway

I KNOW this is supposed to be one of the best books by one of the best authors EVER… but sorry, I don’t get it. Its one of those ones I had never gotten around to and figured I should…  Is it a book about fitzgerald or paris? So confused.

A Dance with Dragons (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 5) By: George R. R. Martin

So I took a break from the series because I had to read that book for the book club, and then read a few other things before I could lug myself back to the last (so far published) book in the Game of Thrones series. Again, the previous ones were over 90 hours of listening… I needed a break! There’s some crucial differences between the books and the show… just saying. My complaints about this production is what I’ve been saying all along, the reader kind of sucks rocks. He seems to love doing Winston Churchill impersonations, and the voices for characters are inconsistent and his female voice are like fingers on a chalkboard… Am hoping that once the last book gets written, IF it gets written … they’ll redo the series with maybe a few different readers… or someone with more aptitude for voices

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

The actress Annette Bening give a well done performance of this classic novel. Mrs Dalloway was part of the modern movement in literature. It is one day in the life of the title character, a sort of shallow upper class london housewife, and a second wife, a woman who’s husband has come back from WWI a hero, with a severe case of PTSD. There’s no “story” as such, nothing really happens, but rather it’s stream of consciousness as the individuals go through their day — which for the most part is how Woolf liked to write

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

This is Prize winning book of those literary exercises writers like to do. Before you read this book I STRONGLY suggest you read — or as I did, re-read Virginia Woolf’s classic, Mrs. Dalloway FIRST. This modern book is based entirely on that classic one and you won’t really get what’s going on if you don’t know that book fairly well. There are 3 characters in this book, Virginia Woolf — it starts off talking about her suicide when she finally gave up on her life long struggle (her first breakdown was at age 13) with what is generally recognized today as having been bipolar disease. The other two characters are spread out over time, one in the 1950’s the third around 2000, during the height of the AIDS epidemic. All the stories are either about Woolf writing Mrs Dalloway and what she was trying to do in the book, or are lives that echo the book. This audiobook was read by the author (Cunningham) who does a fairly decent job of it — not all authors do.

Orlando By: Virginia Woolf

And finishing off my Virginia Woolf week, Orlando is one of my very favorite books. I was first assigned it in a freshman year in college literature class. I’ve since re-read it a couple of times and took the opportunity while in the UK (back in my 20’s) to go to the house that it’s about (it’s a day trip from London). That said, I recently decided to listen to it (don’t think I’ve read it in 15 years, and wanted a refresher). It’s very confusing and might be considered a fantasy until you realize that Woolf was talking in the abstract about the legal laws of inheritance in the UK; Orlando isn’t a person that never dies, but rather represents the title as granted by queen Elizabeth and passed down through the generations. In this case it’s Woolf’s girlfriend … which is why rather than doing her normal stream of consciousness the book’s got an actual story. The book is essentially a protest against the unfair laws of inheritance which bias towards the first born male and essentially disinherit women of their birthrights. . A fairly radical piece of feminist literature for it’s time. That said, the performance is good

Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam Trilogy, #1)  by  Margaret Atwood

Atwood sure does have a bleak view of our futures doesn’t she? From the author of A Handmaid’s tale, this dystopia is one where we’ve essentially bioengineered ourselves into extinction… really well written and fascinating, but oh so bleak. I listened to the Audible version, well performed. There’s a debate as to which of the books in this series to read first as Atwood jumped around in her timeline… but this is the book she published first, and it’s the one she wants you to read first. In fact other readers have commented that if you don’t, her next book doesn’t explain stuff you need to know because she assumes THIS was the first book you read — and here it is explained.

The Courtiers: Splendor and Intrigue in the Georgian Court at Kensington Palace
by Lucy Worsley

10 hours of nothing but court gossip, who slept with whom, nasty divorces (before people could get divorced), and people using sex and intrigue to get access to the king. That said, I prefer this sort of history to the boring old fashioned battles and politics focus. The Reader is very good and is skillful at different accents.

If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley

A history of the British home, how it changed over time (the idea of dedicated rooms for instance) and varied by place in society. She talks about how social norms regarding the little things, bathing, eating, cost of manual labor, etc., impacted if and when technologies were accepted into the home (like is bathing a good thing? And should it be done with cold water or hot?) so that things we assume a house should have may or may not have shown up irrelevant of had someone invented the tech to allow it. Breakfast for instance was NOT a normal meal the 20th century apparently… brunch was. It makes sense if you think about the time and effort required to get a fire going and food prepared from scratch… and demanding food before then was considered immature… people stopped eating before the sun went down until electric lighting was developed., etc. I “listened” the audiobook version of this. At first I had a hard time with the reader’s accent (sounds a bit like Barbara Walters on a bad day) and she tends to drown on so that it’s easy for your mind to wander.

The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer

The sequel to Mortimer’s equally good guide to Medieval England, this history book is written as though Time Machines are a real thing, and you need, while getting ready to travel in one, a guide book to prepare you for your visit. It goes into all the little survival things you’ll need to know that were different back then, down to how to wipe your backside and what kind of things can get you in trouble with the authorities… as well as what years you might want to show up if you want to see this amazing play performed by the actors it was written for, or see that architectural wonder before it’s pulled down, not to mention avoid that plague, or horrible harvest. It’s a fascinating way to look at history, that includes not just the famous, but the everyday. I ‘listened’ rather than read it, and the performance is VERY good.

Evelina: Or, the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance Into the World by Frances Burney

If you’re a Jane Austen fan than you MUST read Evalina by Frances Burney (1778), which Jane declared to be her favorite book. In fact Burney is the creator of the sort of social commentary genre, that focuses particularly of women teetering on the edge of the British upper classes for whom a good marriage or a source of their own money was imperative. As a result these stories all include romance, but aren’t actually about them. Just like Austen, this book is VERY funny (in fact funnier and good bit sillier… but, I STRONGLY recommend it, and the book totally holds value 200+ years later (in fact it feels more modern than Austen in spite of being older), so I seriously wonder why it was never assigned to me in a literature class — especially considering the author was a woman! (One of my best friends who I’ve been telling about the book was a literature major and she’s scratching her head about that too, as she’d never heard of it.) That said, while it’s pretty clear that Austen’s Pride and prejudice (1813) was influenced by this book — you hear echos of it throughout, although this story crosses the line into soap opera and has some of the laugh out loud silliness later seen in Oscar Wilde’s “The importance of being Earnest” (1895). The titular character is beyond bland and its doubtful her story would be interesting except for she’s suppose to be quite the stunner and men fall over themselves as a result (I think that’s part of the author’s point in terms of how society values women) but is surrounded by some amazing characters. I “listened” to the audiobook version of this, the performances were wonderful.

The Astronaut Wives Club by  Lily Koppel

Kind of an interesting perspective on the space race from the point of view of of the wives of the astronauts. These women became very tight knit as they supported themselves not only through the obvious stress and strains of husbands who have dangerous jobs, but also the press obsession with them and how they had to present themselves as the perfect 1950’s housewives or their husbands wouldn’t be allowed to go. It’s a quick read, and I think worth it. I listened to the audible version and it was a good performance.