Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Review: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

A view from the AT (Engine Gap, NC).  Photo by George Humphries
Reviewed by Christina

Published: 1998

It's about:  Upon returning to America after living in England for twenty years, humor and travel writer Bill Bryson decides to reacquaint himself with his native land by hiking one of its most established and daunting routes: The Appalachian Trail.  Along for most of the adventure is a woefully out-of-shape old college buddy, Stephen Katz.
Bryson and Katz soldier through hill and dale, all the while learning new survivaly things.  Bryson takes periodic breaks from the travelogue to provide the reader with The Trail's history and folklore.  He also argues for better conservation of U.S. national parks and forests.

I thought:  Well!  I just like Bill Bryson.  This is the third of his books I've read, and I find I can count on him to entertain and educate as well as any other nonfiction writer out there.  A Walk in the Woods especially won me over by being closer to home than any other travel writing I've picked up; it was cool to read someone else's thoughts about places I know and love.  And what's really impressive about this particular book is that Bill Bryson takes a fairly dull, repetitive activity (walking through the woods for hours upon hours, day after day after day) and weaves in enough information and humor to make an entertaining story.  Another aspect of this book that differs from Bryson's others: the presence of chubby, unambitious, good-natured Katz.  He nicely balances out Bryson personality-wise, and he adds an element of variety to the narrative that could have become stale pretty quickly.

I read this one aloud to Brooke, and he felt it was uneven, losing momentum midway through when Katz and Bryson part ways.  Without spoiling too much, Brooke was also pretty disappointed with the trajectory of their hike.  I can see what he means with both criticisms- I too liked the first half of the book better than the second half.  But overall I still look back on A Walk in the Woods with fond memories, and I'd still recommend it to hiking/camping people (of which I am not one at all), Bryson fans, and travelogue-lovers.   

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf!

Reading Recommendations:  I've said it before: Bill Bryson is perfect for reading aloud in the car.

Warnings:  A few swears, a little potty humor, and one or two mildly off-color jokes

What I'm reading aloud in the car next:  Moranthology by Caitlin Moran