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 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 Appalachian Trail with an old friend Stephen Katz. He divulges his fears of bear attacks and Katz’s chances of survival. (Bryson was assured that Katz was fit for hiking to be met with a severely overweight recovering alcoholic swearing he needs to eat Dunkin’ Donuts every half hour or so). 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:
I don’t recall ever actually laughing out loud in public because of a book. How can you not laugh when phrases such as: “Up to that moment it had not occurred to me that bears might prowl in parties. What on earth would I do if four bears came into my camp? Why, I would die, of course. Literally shit myself lifeless.” appear? He’s not just a good travel writer, but I think someone needs to applaud that man’s ability to swear.
Even if you have zero interest in the American wilderness or travel, I would still 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!