My uncle let me borrow a few Bill Bryson books because I’m interested in travel, so I started with A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.
Of course, the title doesn’t sound all that interesting. Nor does an entire novel about two middle-aged men hiking sound exciting, but that’s where you’re wrong.
This isn’t even my preferred book genre, but it’s the exact reason you should read new things now and then.
What A Walk In The Woods Is About
This is the true story of travel writer Bill Bryson’s mid-life crisis.
With the Appalachian Trail right outside his house, Bryson figures that he has to do it, much to his wife’s concern, as Bryson was in his 40s at the time. If you have never heard of the trail, it’s 2,200 miles (3,500 km) long, making it the longest hiking trail in the world.
Most people who attempt it don’t finish it.
Bryson details his hike through the trail with an old friend, Stephen Katz. He divulges his fears of bear attacks and Katz’s chances of survival.
Bryson’s language may not be eloquent, but it’s rash and hilarious. The sometimes overwhelming stupidity of the human race is captured in the likes of fellow hiker Mary Ellen. He makes us come to learn to truly appreciate simple pleasures such as hot showers and good food. It’s not all dense strands of trees, hitchhiking, and waiting for Katz to catch up. Brief respites from the adventures of the trail are taken with the provision of background information and stories of other hikers.
The hike was long and miserable, yet both men came to love it and found that no other trail or hiking companion could ever replace the AT. It’s rather endearing.
What I Thought
Before reading this, I’d never actually laughed out loud at a book in public. It’s funny, and you learn something.
Even if you have zero interest in the American wilderness or travel, I would still recommend A Walk in the Woods and Bill Bryson’s work in general to anyone in need of a good laugh.
One of the wonderful things about his work is his ability to find something in places people take for granted. He doesn’t go to the big tourist attractions or exotic places; he even finds things at home!
There’s also a film adaptation of A Walk in the Woods, but I don’t think it captured the magic.