Category Archives: travel writing

“A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson

walk in the woods

Besides commencement on Saturday, I am officially done with my Master’s Degree Program!  It is a very exciting time in my life as I transition from being a student to settling into my new job as a grant writer.  This new chapter in my life also means that I have more time to dedicate to things that bring me joy; the number one being reading, and number two writing about what I’ve read.

I’ve managed to read a book every now and then in grad school, but my priorities were on classes and teaching.  As soon as my last class got out however, I perused my bookshelves and pulled out all the books I’ve been meaning to read forever but haven’t gotten around to.  The first one was A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.

Bryson is a well-known and prolific writer.  I remember when I worked at bookstores, he was an author that could be found in many sections: travel writing, history, science, and outdoors.  In college I read his travel memoir The Lost Continent.  While I found some of his snide remarks about people in small towns borderline stereotypical and insulting, I nevertheless appreciated his humor and writing style.  Then a few years later, A Walk in the Woods became a movie and I thought “Oh yeah, I should read that book by him next.”  My dad had a copy of this book in his nightstand, which stuck in my mind because I can count on my right hand how many books I’ve seen my dad read since I could count.  I bought a copy at the Half Price Books I was working at two years ago, and then the book sat in my shelf until this year.

That’s the long story of how I finally came to read this book.  Now onto the book itself.

Anyone who has read a Bryson book before this one will recognize his unique sense of humor.  Bryson does like to make fun of people a lot, but he makes up for his snarky comments by adding in plenty of self-deprecation.  He begins by deciding (seemingly out off the blue) to walk the Appalachian Trail.  Once he is set upon this adventure, he chronicles finding a partner to join him; an old friend and recovering alcoholic named Katz.

This memoir follows the “broken line narrative” structure.  Interspersed with Bryson’s anecdotes of preparing for the trail, interactions with Katz and other hikers, and his experiences, he gives background on the history of the Appalachian Trail and side notes about bear attacks and ecology.  As someone who had a very basic background on the Appalachian Trail, I appreciated his mix  of facts with personal experience, and a large dollop of humor for entertainment purposes.  Here is one example that had me spit out my coffee in laughter:

“Up to that moment it had not occurred to me that bears might prowl in parties. What on earth would I do if fourbears came into my camp? Why, I would die, of course. Literally shit myself lifeless. I would blow my sphincter out my backside like one of those unrolling paper streamers you get at children’s parties–I daresay it would even give a merry toot–and bleed to a messy death in my sleeping bag.”

The best part of this memoir was the interaction between Bryson and Katz.  They were old friends, but hadn’t spoken in years.  Throughout the book, I had so many questions about Katz: why he had decided to join Bryson, why they had lost touch, and what was his background.  Bryson manages to keep the suspense and doesn’t fully reveal all of Katz’s nature until the end.  My one critique of this book is that in the middle section, Katz is absent.  To me, he was my favorite character and his interactions with Bryson and the other hikers they encountered were the strongest parts.

It’s a great time of year to read a book about nature.  If you’re looking for something funny or informative to read, A Walk in the Woods is a great choice.  Just don’t expect it to inspire you to trek the Appalachian Trail yourself.  Instead, live vicariously through Bryson’s adventure and be thankful you don’t have to eat dried noodles every day for weeks on end.

What’s on your summer reading bucket list?  Tell me in the comments!

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Filed under Humor, Memoir, travel writing