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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » A Walk in the Woods : Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail » User review

Nature writing and travelogue with "oomph"!

  • Jul 25, 2010
Perhaps it was a fit of angst dealing with his own personal version of a mid-life crisis that led Bill Bryson to tackle the challenge of hiking the 2,100 mile Appalachian Trail! It was certainly a solid understanding of his own personality and clear recognition of his own physical and mental limitations that prompted him to invite his friend, Stephen Katz, an overweight and out of shape recovering alcoholic with an inordinate fondness for snack foods and cream soda to accompany him on this daunting challenge. The demands of the AT ultimately proved too much for Bryson and Katz who sensibly (and with an almost relieved sense of philosophical acceptance) decided to abandon the notion of a complete through hike. But the resulting story, drawn from Bryson's daily journal of the summer's efforts, is an overwhelming success and pure joy in the reading.

"A Walk in the Woods" is an extraordinary, entertaining travelogue on both the AT - the Appalachian Trail - and the people and places of small town America that dot the trail's path along the eastern seaboard from Georgia to Maine. At the same time, it is much, much more. Bryson is scathing in his political commentary and almost enraged criticism of the ongoing state of mismanagement and the sadly misguided policies of both the Parks and Forest Services of the US government. "A Walk in the Woods" is also a deeply moving introspective examination on the nature of friendship, family, perseverance, joy and despondency. As he and Katz amble along rock strewn trails dappled with sunlight broken by the leafy forest canopy, Bryson frequently, effortlessly and almost without our even noticing the change, wanders metaphorically off the main trail and onto a side path of lightweight but nonetheless informative and educational sidebars of nature writing on an amazingly wide variety of topics. Glaciation, bears, bugs, ecology, continental drift, hypothermia, hypoxia and weather are only a few examples of the topics which he elucidates for the lay reader with his clear, concise prose.

Then there is the humour! It is perhaps an understatement to say that, in this regard, Bryson has a rare gift. He has treated his readers to laughs originating in every imaginable corner of the vast world of humour - wry sardonic wit; biting satire; slapstick; self effacement; sarcasm and insults; fear; and even extended comedy sketches worthy of stage or television. His description of the astonishingly stupid and entirely self-absorbed fellow hiker Mary Ellen who has the annoying habit of constantly clearing her sinuses with a grating honk is definitely laugh-out-loud material.

Pure entertainment and enjoyment from first page to last. I believe Bill Bryson would consider it a compliment if I suggested that "A Walk in the Woods" is the first book I've ever read with a smile on my face during every single moment of the reading. Highly recommended - even if you've never spent a single night under nylon in the woods.

Paul Weiss

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October 09, 2010
Always looking for something to put a smile on my face...We all need more humor and laughs. I need to look at this book.
October 09, 2010
Everything I've read by Bill Bryson has ranged from warm and smiley to outright hilarious but this one is definitely the prizewinner of the bunch in the comedy category. You'll enjoy it, I'm sure. Thanks for the comments.
October 09, 2010
Thanks for the emphasis on the comedy. We all need more laughs in this period we are going through where all the news seems to be fear mongering and more about lies, thirst for power and greed.
August 01, 2010
Sounds like a worthwhile read. I have great admiration for those who are up to managing all of the obstacles doing this kind of hiking. It certainly takes grit and determination and of course a great love of the outdoors.
July 26, 2010
Great review and sounds like a wonderful book! We have parts of the Appalachian trail running through Massachusetts and New Hampshire. I have crossed it while hiking other easier trails and I've contemplated hiking part of it, but not the entire trail by any means! I think reading this book would be more fun than hiking the trail ;)
July 26, 2010
If you ever do the real thing, even a small part, I'd love to hear your take on it. My wife and I have done lots of the Bruce Trail in Ontario but I've never had the opportunity to do any of the Appalachian Trail.
July 31, 2010
It will probably be a few years till then, when our kids are old enough to hike without being carried! :)
August 02, 2010
By the way, I think you might also enjoy this new review I just came across by @Fionnabhair on Hiking Through (also about the Appalachian Trail).
More A Walk in the Woods : Rediscov... reviews
review by . February 01, 2011
Bill Bryson has written a hiking narrative, well sorta. In fact, Bryson has written a hiking narrative that focuses less on the trail and more on the overall experience. This includes the history, the people, and the day-to-day struggles of the hiker. The end result is a wonderful story that weaves together Bryson's trademark humor with a perspective on the wilderness of the trail.      A few reviewers have found fault that Bryson doesn't get a step-by-step account of the AT...other …
review by . June 20, 2010
Personally, I could care less about hiking and even less about hiking gear but I adore Bill Bryson's writing so picked this one up and loved it. It is a comedic adventure with two 'very out of shape' men: Bryson and the lovable Katz walking the extent of the Appalachian trail that runs from Georgia to Maine. I laughed out loud numerous times as the 75 lb packs got emptied within the first two miles and the wacky characters they met while walking. Sounds dull while I write it but I swear, …
review by . December 14, 2008
Please don't buy this book if you are an uber-hiker who spends every weekend seeing how far you can get, and you think this book will teach you about the AT. It isn't meant for that. It's for the rest of us--who will talk to friends around a dinner table and remark about how cool it would be to hike sections of the AT someday... but we're probably not ever going to get there. Bryson's book gives us a nice taste of what kind of sacrifice is required for that sort of adventure. Most of us aren't willing …
review by . October 18, 2007
I've been a Bryson fan since a British friend gave me a copy of "The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America" years ago -- what, I wonder, was his point??    "A Walk in the Woods" is more entertaining if you've read "Notes from a Small Island" (1997). In that book, Bryson takes a walking trip around Britain, his home of nearly 20 years, before returning to live in the States. When you walk around Britain, you can take the train on the hard bits and have a pub meal and bed …
review by . July 14, 2007
I am giving this book 4 stars instead of 5 only because I found the beginning part of the book (before they actually start hiking) to be slow and boring. Once they started the Trail, though, it was anything but boring. Not only were there constant laughs to be had and great stories of their adventures on the trail, but I am really thankful to Mr. Bryson for including so much of the environmental information that he did. It was really eye opening and incredibly sad what we are doing to our natural …
review by . November 13, 2005
Bryson is good fun. I had never thought about hiking the trail, but after reading this... I'm happy to appreciate the adventure through Bryson's eyes. While the adventure is daunting, Bysron makes it seem certainly possible for anyone to try.
review by . September 11, 2004
I enjoyed this one. Very humerous at times, and very "real." This is not the sort of book for those who take themselves too serious...he rather pokes fun at the "supper hiker," and the other ego seekers. The books is about a average dude walking a very difficult walk, with the outcome being rather predictable. I enjoyed this one and very much recommend it.
review by . March 22, 2000
This is a well-written, lively and entertaining book. As the solicitor for the little town of Centralia, PA, which the author visited, and as a native son of the nearby town of Mount Carmel, where he had a meal, I felt personally involved in the author's travels on the Trail. The writing is crisp, with a deep sense of humor that made the reading time pass so very quickly.
About the reviewer
Paul Weiss ()
Ranked #16
   A modern day dilettante with widely varied eclectic interests. A dabbler in muchbut grandmaster of none - wilderness camping in all four seasons, hiking, canoeing, world travel,philately, … more
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Your initial reaction to Bill Bryson's reading ofA Walk in the Woodsmay well be "Egads! What a bore!" But by sentence three or four, his clearly articulated, slightly adenoidal, British/American-accented speech pattern begins to grow on you and becomes quite engaging. You immediately get a hint of the humor that lies ahead, such as one of the innumerable reasons he longed to walk as many of the 2,100 miles of the Appalachian Trail as he could. "It would get me fit after years of waddlesome sloth" is delivered with glorious deadpan flair. By the time our storyteller recounts his trip to the Dartmouth Co-op, suffering serious sticker shock over equipment prices, you'll be hooked.

When Bryson speaks for the many Americans he encounters along the way--in various shops, restaurants, airports, and along the trail--he launches into his American accent, which is whiny and full of hard r's. And his southern intonations are a hoot. He's even got a special voice used exclusively when speaking for his somewhat surprising trail partner, Katz. In the 25 years since their school days together, Katz has put on quite a bit of weight. In fact, "he brought to mind Orson Welles after a very bad night. He was limping a little and breathing harder than one ought to after a walk of 20 yards." Katz often speaks in monosyllables, and Bryson brings his limited vocabulary humorously to life. One of Katz's more memorable utterings is "flung," ...

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ISBN-10: 0385658583
ISBN-13: 978-0385658584
Author: Bill Bryson
Publisher: Doubleday Canada, Limited

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