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Review: A walk in the woods by Bill Bryson

30 okt 19
Roos Bergers
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2 comments

This was the first book I read of Bill Bryson! I heard a lot of people talk very positively about his books. Lately, I read a lot of books with heavy topics, so I decided I wanted to read something funny. Was A walk in the woods exactly that? Find out below!

Book cover

In the company of his friend Stephen Katz (last seen in the bestselling Neither Here nor There), Bill Bryson set off to hike the Appalachian Trail, the longest continuous footpath in the world. Ahead lay almost 2,200 miles of remote mountain wilderness filled with bears, moose, bobcats, rattlesnakes, poisonous plants, disease-bearing tics, the occasional chuckling murderer and – perhaps most alarming of all – people whose favourite pastime is discussing the relative merits of the external-frame backpack.
Facing savage weather, merciless insects, unreliable maps and a fickle companion whose profoundest wish was to go to a motel and watch The X-Files, Bryson gamely struggled through the wilderness to achieve a lifetime’s ambition – not to die outdoors.

My first impression

The first pages are funny. Bill Bryson buying gear for his hike made me chuckle. However, I was not as captivated with the book as I thought I would be. There are many details that could be interesting to others, but not so much to me.

The story

Bill Bryson and Stephen Katz decide to hike the Appalachian trail. The story alternates between the hike and information on the trail, trees, towns and so on.

It differentiates from many other books with a travel theme: it does not dwell on the “inner journey”. There is no epiphany about life or a realization of the bigger questions. There is just the trail and the walking. Oh, and a lot of information about other stuff.

To me, the fun parts are when it’s about the people. What Bill and Stephen experience together or when they meet other hikers. I chuckled when they met the annoying girl who knew everything better or when the author and his friend had their little moments in their separate tents.

My opinion

I did not enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. The author is a good writer and he really knows how to formulate experiences in a funny way. However, I did not laugh out loud or think every part was as interesting. The parts about the human experiences were very nice, but not all of the other information was very interesting to me. For example, there were many pages about the change of a certain town that I never heard of before. Perhaps this book is better for an American audience or for Appalachian trail hikers.

Conclusion

The book is well-written, and it is witty. However, it did not really resonate with me. It was just a fine read. I still want to try A brief history of nearly everything of the author, I expect that it will be more like my kind of book!

Verdict

2 Comments

  1. Patrick november 19, 2019 at 12:09 am Reply

    It’s not all yuks—though it is hard not to grin idiotically through all 288 pages—for Bryson is a talented portraitist of place. He did his natural-history homework, which is to say he knows a jack-o-lantern mushroom from a hellbender salamander from a purple wartyback mussel, and can also write seriously about the devastation of chestnut blight. He laces his narrative with gobbets of trail history and local trivia, and he makes real the “strange and palpable menace” of the dark deep woods in which he sojourns, the rough-hewn trailscape “mostly high up on the hills, over lonely ridges and forgotten hollows that no one has ever used or coveted,” celebrating as well the “low-level ecstasy” of finding a book left thoughtfully at a trail shelter, or a broom with which to sweep out the shelter’s dross. Yet humor is where the book finds its cues–from Bryson’s frequent trail companion, the obese and slothful Katz, a spacious target for Bryson’s sly wit, to moments of cruel and infantile laughs, as when he picks mercilessly on the witless woman who, admittedly, ruined a couple of their days. But for the most part the humor is bright sarcasm, flashing with drollery and intelligence, even when it’s a far yodel from political sensitivity. Then Bryson will take your breath away with a trenchant critique of the irredeemably vulgar vernacular strip that characterizes many American downtowns, or of other signs of decay he encounters off the trail (though the trail itself he comes to love).

    • Roos Bergers november 19, 2019 at 7:13 am Reply

      Thank you for your elaborate reply! I am glad you enjoyed the book this much.

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