Sunday, April 15, 2012

Book Review: "A Walk in the Woods"

"A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson
First published in 1998
My rating: 4 out of 5

I thoroughly enjoyed Bill Bryson's account of his attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail with a (rather overweight and inept) friend back in the mid-90s. Bryson is one of the only writers I've ever encountered who can impart a plethora of knowledge and make a reader laugh out loud in the same paragraph.

I learned so much, not only about hiking the AT but about the entire eastern seaboard. For instance, did you know there's a place called Centralia, Pennsylvania, now a ghost town, where an underground mine fire has been burning since the 1960s? Bryson's books tend to be lessons in science, history and personal experience, all given levity with guffaw-inducing humor.

I don't want to spoil things for you so I won't share all the interesting facts I learned and funny passages I read. But I can't resist transcribing my favorite, though I'll only share part of it. Some context: this is toward the beginning of the book, before Bryson and his friend have started their trek, and he's been reading up on bear activity along the AT.

Up until that moment it had not occurred to me that bears might prowl in parties. What on earth would I do if four bears 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.

Well, I'd say that's just about right! And don't worry -- not all of the laughs in the book come from potty humor like this. Bryson has a distinct writing style -- conversational and almost conspiratorial, but with a constant sardonic edge.

With all that said, there is one aspect of Bryson's writing that irks me slightly -- and this is a carryover from the other book of his I read, "I'm a Stranger Here Myself." It's probably a part of the sarcastic humor I was just praising, but he seems to be overly critical of and a bit too full of insults toward some facets of America. In "A Walk in the Woods," he seems to think particularly low of Southerners. And even if it's funny (and possibly even true) it sometimes goes a bit too far.

But I do admit that Bryson -- who spent two decades living abroad before returning to America -- includes humorous passages in this book in which his decidedly American hiking companion mocks his British accent and turns of phrase. So at least he somewhat evenly distributes his regional jokes! And you've got to appreciate someone who can so masterfully use self-depracating humor.

Happy reading!

(Image Source)


  1. Interesting book, thanks for sharing.

  2. I love Bill Bryson! I remember reading this book while doing some traveling and had myself laughing so much on an airplane ride that I'm certain the person next to me thought I was having seizures!

    I also loved In a Sunburned Country by Bryson. Good stuff, and I felt like an Australian expert when I was done. :)

  3. I think I am going to share this book (and entry) with my husband! sounds like something he would enjoy!


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