Saturday, May 18, 2013

Review: A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson is probably the most well-known Appalachian Trail memoir that is published. In fact, as I rated it on GoodReads the majority of my friends had already placed it on their “read” shelves. I enjoy reading trail memoirs, probably because I love to hike and camp and have actually done about 5 miles on the AT (in Virginia). This particular trail memoir is about Bryson and his friend Stephen Katz who, in middle age, decide to hike the trail together. The two set out ill-prepared and soon find that it is not the easiest thing in the world to do, in fact, it's pretty damn difficult. The two have some hilarious experiences and I found myself wondering the entire book if they were going to actually make it the full 2,000+ miles to Mount Katahdin.

Title: A Walk in the Woods
Author: Bill Bryson
Publication Date: 1998
Publisher: Anchor Books
Pages: 394
Where I Got It: The Last Word (Charlotte, NC)
Dates I Read It: May 12 - May 16, 2013
Read It For: March 2013 TBR Challenge Selection
Number of Stars: 3.5

I started out LOVING this book and laughing hysterically. I made it to page 26 and had to put the book down because of one paragraph in particular had me laughing too hard: 

"what 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."

 However, the story sort of lost its momentum for me about halfway through. [Spoiler Alert] At this time Bryson and his partner part ways and the book didn't have as much heart or humor to it anymore. It actually became somewhat depressing. Part of what added to this depression was the sections that Bryson added about the history of the trail. I actually loved the fact that he did this, and I will touch on this more later, but there were some parts where Bryson told us about the damage that pollution and logging are doing to the trail. While this is reality and an important topic to be aware of, it definitely took away from his humor.

Like I said, Bryson blends his experience of hiking the trail with long sections on different trail topics such as pollution, the history of the trail and it’s beginnings, and trail murders. I especially liked the fact that he talked so openly and freely about the fact that there have been 9 murders on the Appalachian Trail. This is something that I think that other trail memoirs, at least the ones that I have read, either gloss over or leave out entirely. Most of the trail memoirs that I had previously read seemed to be trying to convince me to walk to AT, this is especially true of Jennifer Pharr Davis’ Becoming Odyssa which I have mentioned several times on my blogs. However, I did not get that feeling with Bryson’s book. Rather, by the end of the book, I realized that this was the only trail memoir that I have read in which [Spoiler Alert] the author did not in fact finish the trail. This is more a tale of Bryson’s personal experiences with the AT and a brief history of the trail. I appreciated it more after I realized this and bumped it up from 3 stars to 3 and a half stars. This book is definitely worth a read, especially if you are in the mood for a trail memoir or a fan of the outdoors in general. 
One of the infamous "white blazes" that mark all 2,000+ miles

Partnership Shelter

The Appalachian Trail in Virginia

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