Review: A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson

Review: A Walk in the Woods, Bill BrysonA Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
Narrator: Rob McQuay
Published by Broadway Books ISBN: 0767902521
on May 4, 1999
Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction, Travel
Length: 9 hours 47 minutes
Format: Audio, Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (paid link)
Goodreads
five-stars

Back in America after twenty years in Britain, Bill Bryson decided to reacquaint himself with his native country by walking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine. The AT offers an astonishing landscape of silent forests and sparkling lakes—and to a writer with the comic genius of Bill Bryson, it also provides endless opportunities to witness the majestic silliness of his fellow human beings. For a start, there's the gloriously out-of-shape Stephen Katz, a buddy from Iowa along for the walk. Despite Katz's overwhelming desire to find cozy restaurants, he and Bryson eventually settle into their stride, and while on the trail they meet a bizarre assortment of hilarious characters. But A Walk in the Woods is more than just a laugh-out-loud hike. Bryson's acute eye is a wise witness to this beautiful but fragile trail, and as he tells its fascinating history, he makes a moving plea for the conservation of America's last great wilderness. An adventure, a comedy, and a celebration, A Walk in the Woods has become a modern classic of travel literature.

After finishing and enjoying Bill Bryson’s book about traveling Australia, In a Sunburned Country, I wanted to read A Walk in the Woods. I have taken up walking myself, and while I harbor no desire to walk the Appalachian Trail, I understand the joy a good walk can bring. This book really brings together a few different elements. On one level, it’s the history and ecology of the AT. It’s also a travelogue, which I expected after reading In a Sunburned Country. However, what I didn’t expect (not having read reviews) was that this would be a buddy story. Bryson is accompanied on his journey—his old friend Stephen Katz joins Bryson’s hike and threatens to walk away with the whole narrative. I’d love to know Katz’s reasons for wanting to walk the AT with Bill Bryson, but I’m glad he went.

My largest problem with the book was the narrator wasn’t Bryson. He also mispronounced a few proper nouns, which always bothers me. There are more than a few Deliverance references meant to be jokes, as well. That old stereotype wears very thin after a while, but I felt Bryson was attempting to rationalize some of his anxiety; I’m not sure to what extent he really believes those stereotypes.

This book was particularly fun to listen to as I walked, and I especially enjoyed hearing about some of the places I was more familiar with—the segment on Mount Greylock was interesting to me, as I have visited it and remember seeing everything he described. I imagine it would be fun to read this book while hiking the AT. I learned a great deal about the AT, and I also learned more about ecological concerns facing conservationists today.

five-stars

Sunday Post #27: Summer

Sunday PostAm I weird for not liking summer? I like the time off. I just don’t like the heat, and the types of activities you do in summer are not my favorites. I like the beach okay, but only for about an hour or two. Then I want to go home. I don’t like traveling much, especially not when it’s hot. And I loathe hot weather. I will never forget what a rude awakening humidity can be when I moved to St. Louis the summer before I started high school. I had grown up in Colorado, so I had never felt anything like it. It was terrible. How did people live? Ugh. It was an oppressive, aggressive humidity. I haven’t lived anywhere else that felt quite that awful, but Georgia was pretty darned close. So many days in the 90’s and even over 100 degrees. I couldn’t stand it. Give me a winter with ten feet of snow over a hot summer. We are having a hot day today, and I’m just being whiny. My favorite season is fall, and in my opinion, the temperatures are just about perfect in the fall.

I finally did go ahead and just stop reading I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira. I posted it on PaperBackSwap, and it was claimed right away. It’s in the mail now. So that’s done. I really wanted to like that book. Just couldn’t get into it. I did two reviews this week: March: Book Two and Go Set a Watchman. It would seem I liked that second book a lot more than everyone else, which makes me wonder if there is something wrong with me. Truthfully, though, I rate books highly if I can’t put them down and read them fast. That says something to me about how good I think they are. If I am doing anything I can not to read a book, including setting it aside in favor of other books, then I know I’m not liking it. If I am doing anything I can to read the book and rarely setting it down, then I am loving it. So I guess I’m not very distinguished. I can live with that. I’ve been called worse. One thing I truly loathe is a book snob.

I added a few books to my wishlist/TBR list:

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I found out about The Gates of Evangeline through Shelf Awareness and Henry Hikes to Fitchburg through Brain Pickings, which also convinced me maybe to read Walking. I have to admit, while I had checked in on Brain Pickings occasionally, I have really started reading it the last week or so, and I am in love with that blog. The Haven Kimmel memoirs I added because I read most of the chapter “Brother” from the second book, and I really loved it as a piece of creative nonfiction. I am thinking there might be good writing models for my students in these two books.

Speaking of Fitchburg, I will be heading up there in a few hours. My AP Literature training course takes place up there this coming week. Unlike Thoreau, I will not be walking there. I am not sure what kind of reading I’ll do because I imagine I’ll have homework and that I’ll need to do some reading for the course. I will be glad to get it over with. I do love PD. I really do. But this summer has been a lot for me. I am going to be a lot smarter next summer and do maybe one thing instead. I know once I get started tomorrow, I will enjoy it. I have heard only good things about AP training.

Before I go, is anyone else watching Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell on BBC America? I am so LOVING that show! I listened to the audio book some time back, and I was excited when I heard they were making a miniseries, and I just think the casting is perfect. It’s like what might happen if Jane Austen met Harry Potter. It’s sort of making me want to re-read the book, and read it this time instead of listen. That is a little crazy given the length and the number of footnotes.

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme.