Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson returns to the United States after living for England for 20 years.  He decides it would be an excellent idea to hike the entire Appalachian Trail (about 2,181 miles) despite the fact he knows nothing about hiking.  Then he will write a book about it.  So off he goes on his quest.  Of course, things do not go as planned.

I've never read anything by Bill Bryson before.  I'd heard that his books are really funny.  Perhaps others are, but I didn't really find this humorous at all.  In fact, if it wasn't on our student's summer reading list, I probably would have given up.  I listened to this on audio, and the audio was fine.  The reader was clear, and actually the voice worked very well with the holier-than-thou picture I was forming of Bryson.

Right at the very beginning, I was just struck by what an idiot Bryson was. He has no experience with this kind of hiking, and he was planning on hiking the AT, the whole thing, alone.  What?  What kind of fool does that?  Please don't try this at home, kids.  Seriously, he's lucky he didn't die.  Do not screw around with this sort of thing.  You don't just waltz out your door and embark on a hardcore hike when you have no idea what you're doing.  Bryson was able to recruit a friend to go with him, Katz, but amazingly Katz knew even less and was less prepared to do the AT than Bryson was.  So they made quite a pair.

I'm not sure who the audience for this book was.  It certainly wouldn't fall into the category of books on mountain expeditions, or those of serious hikers.  Those people are incredibly knowledgeable.  They can tell a detailed story about their experiences and the conditions.  Bryson wasn't knowledgeable enough to do this, and he ultimately ended up hiking very little of the trail.  The book was mostly tangents about the history of the state or town he was in, or stories about diseases trees on the trail have succumbed to, and then we'd go back for a little more about him on the actual trail and then off we'd go on something else.  I guess this was because he didn't have much to say about the trail itself.

I was annoyed how condescending Bryson was to almost every single person he mentioned.  Despite the fact that many of the people he met knew a lot more than he did, he always managed to make them come off like stupid hicks who he couldn't believe he was associating with.  You're kind of a jerk, Bryson.

So anyway, I am less than impressed with my first try at Bill Bryson.  Now I am questioning why this book is on our summer reading list.

Also, that looks like a grizzly bear on the cover.  There are no grizzly bears in the Appalachian Trail region.  Just sayin'.


  1. WHAT? I totally and completely fell in love with this book, and it was the first Bryson I read too. I think it's the best book I read last year! I'm starting At Home, his newest, soon. I think he's hilarious. Ah well, different strokes and all of that.

  2. I know, I know! Some people loved it so much. I'll give one of his other books a try sometime.

  3. I'm almost through my second Bryson book. Although he is extremely well researched on history and facts and figures, he seems like a hopeless traveller. He never seems to research which hotels are good or bad and never books ahead. And yes, he can be quite a dickhead and a plonker. If the accounts he gives are true, he can be more than condescending to a lot of people. There are definitely some funny bits but I don't know weather to love or hate Bryson.


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