Friday, August 31, 2007

Book: Bill Bryson's A Walk In The Woods

My latest read was recommended to me by the wife: Bill Bryson’s “A Walk In The Woods”. This is the second book by Bryson that I’ve read (the other being “A Short History About Nearly Everything”). I wasn’t too impressed with that one mainly based on the subject matter (a rehash of stuff I already knew) and not the writing. I like Bryson’s writing style. At times it reads as if you were sitting across a table at a restaurant listening to him tell stories – a friendly, easy style.

“A Walk In The Woods” tells of Bryson’s hike up the Appalachian Trail. In the first third of the book he is hiking with an old acquaintance named Katz. The second third is more of a solo hike on pieces of the Appalachian trail in the northeast. He doesn’t hike the entire trail but hops around skipping some less interesting parts of the trail. In the last third (the last three chapters) Katz rejoins Bryson for the last section of the trail. The first and third parts are much more interesting than the second third. The writing sounds and feels more anecdotal. The interactions between Katz and Bryson are full of humor and really held my interest. The second third just didn't have the witty character interaction the first third had. To compensate, Bryson sprinkles the book with tangential, but related, stories concerning the Appalachian Trail, its’ founders and hikers, and bear attacks. The second third of the book is almost too full of these tangential stories and less about Bryson’s hiking. It’s like his adventures weren’t enough to fill the pages so he threw in these extra stories as filler.

In the end, Bryson hikes less then 40% of the Appalachian Trail. That is still a lot considering the 2,200 mile length of the trail. It sounded, from his narrative, that it was grueling but worth every ounce of sweat.


What keeps the book interesting is Bryson’s humor. The humor in the narrative keeps you hooked and makes the pages whiz by. You can sense his smile as you read the book - especially when he is talking about his adventures with Katz. A recommended read especially for anyone who likes to hike and read (but not necessarily at the same time).

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