Tag Archives: memoir

“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

“I am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb

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Have you ever read a book that (figuratively) slapped you in the face and made you realize the true scope of your privilege?

“I am Malala” does just that, which is why I think this book should be required reading for high school English classes.

Most people are probably somewhat familiar with Malala Yousafzai, or at least have heard of what happened to her.  At age 15, she was shot point blank by a Talib, survived, and went on to be the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace prize.

Part history of Pakistan and the rise of the Taliban, part family saga, and part memoir, “I am Malala” is an engrossing look into the Muslim world that shatters the stereotypes and prejudices Americans hold against the Middle East.  Malala was raised in a world where women serve their husbands and children, but her father made sure she was educated.  When the Taliban took over Pakistan and started to suppress the rights of all citizens, especially women, Malala stood up for her right to have access to an education.

Ever since 9/11, many Americans have upheld the stereotype that all Muslims are American hating terrorists.  “I am Malala” shows true insight into what it’s like to live in a Muslim country under the control of a small group of violent fundamentalists.  With the frightening increase in attacks against Muslims in recent news, this book shows the humanity and innocence of most of the Middle Easterners, as well as the fact that Islam is a religion that promotes love and peace, just like Christianity.

This book is heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting.  Malala wanted an education, something that most people from western countries can easily obtain and often take for granted.  Because of that, she was shot by a terrorist on her way to school one day.  This happened less than three years ago.  It is chilling that this kind of violence, especially directed towards a young girl, is still going on in the world.  Amazingly, Malala survived and was only fueled by the attack to fight harder for women’s education.  She is only 17, but has already proved to be an incredibly brave and strong woman.  Her persistence in seeking peace and access to education is inspiring.

Why should this book be required for English classes? Because it shatters the prejudices against Muslims, inspires you to stand up for what you believe in, and makes you appreciate that you can go to school without fear of being targeted by terrorists.

I give this book four out of five stars for its engaging writing and inspirational message.

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Filed under Memoir, Non-fiction

A Book Review, Diet Update, and Other Musings

The first five days of my cleanse went very well.  Then, I had the Travis County Youth show on Friday with my goat class.  Overall, the day was chaotic and tiring, but my students had a great time and one of them won a 5th place award for showing her goat.  I was very proud of all of my students.  I had been running around all day however, smelled like all kinds of animal feces, and was covered in sweat.  Also, I was starving.  So I rewarded myself that night with pizza and beer.  I feel kind of like a hypocrite now, but in my defense, I’ve been eating so healthy every day besides that one incident that I don’t think I need to do the cleanse anymore.  Right now, I’m eating mostly vegetables and to treat myself, I have a glass of wine or a couple chocolate covered almonds.  Because of this, I’m satisfied and don’t feel like I’m depriving myself of the pleasure of eating  food.  Also, giving myself a treat now and then is only motivating me to work out more.

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Besides my food roller coaster last week, I read “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed.  In case you haven’t heard, her book is being made into a movie this year.  I’m a firm believer of reading a book before seeing the film adaptation.  When I worked at a book store over the summer, this memoir was flying off the shelves.  Thus, I decided to check the book out myself.  Quick summary: a woman dealing with the death of her mother and recent divorce decides to hike the Pacific Coast trail in California.  Verdict: it was a fast, entertaining read.  I did not enjoy the first chapter at all, but later I found it was necessary to Cheryl’s emotional journey to share so much about her mother.  The book was sad at times, but overall uplifting. The message was that no matter how far you’ve fallen, it’s never too late to pick yourself up and start over.  It will be interesting to see how this book is adapted, since Cheryl’s emotional journey is more important than her actual journey (in my opinion).

Well, that’s been about all that has happened to me the past week.  This week, it’s my goal to start writing more, either on this blog, or start keeping a list of stories/anecdotes that I write.  My other goal is to find some literary publications I can start submitting my writing too.  Even if nothing gets accepted, it will be good experience.  One thing I’m worried about is that I’ve lacked motivation for writing recently.  Sometimes I have a life experience that prompts me to immediately write about it.  However, nothing really exciting has happened lately.  I guess all I can do now is keep reading and living life until that “AHA!” moment occurs.

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Filed under Memoir, Non-fiction