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 prefferred genre of book, but it’s the exact reason why you should read new things every 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 the concern of his wife, as Byrson was in his 40s at the time. If you 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 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, Katz’s chances of survival. (Bryson was assured that Katz was indeed fit to hike, 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 the simple pleasures such as hot showers and good food. It’s not all dense strands of trees, hitchhiking, and waiting for Katz to catch 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 really.
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 all of Bill Bryson’s work in general, to anyone in need of a good laugh.
As a travel writer, one of the wondeful things about his work is his ablity to find something in places people take for granted. He doens’t go to the big tourist attractions or exoctic places, he even finds things at home!
There’s also a film adaption of A Walk in the Woods, but personally I don’t think it captured the magic.