Book Review: “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson

I’ve don’t really review non-fiction books on this blog because I prefer reading in the fantasy and science fiction genres. I find it very hard to review books that are fact-based, because you’re not really judging the content but rather the way the author presents the content.

I am happy to say Bryson presents the content very, very well.

The main storyline of A Walk in the Woods is that Bryson, along with his friend Stephen Katz, has decided to walk the Appalachian Trail. For those of you unfamiliar with this trail, it stretches somewhere between 2,100 and 2,300 miles from Maine to Georgia in the United States. This is a massive undertaking by anyone, but particularly by two people who are very out of shape (Katz being more of the basketball shape than anything else).  Along the way, Bryson tells of all the interesting characters he meets – such as Chicken John, notorious for getting lost – and interesting facts about the places he has been.

The most interesting part of reading the book was the facts that Bryson puts in alongside his diary-like experiences. He recounts the history of the Appalachian Trail, the history of the National Park Service, various murders that have taken place along the trail, and so on and so forth. You can tell he has done his research, though whether he did so before undertaking the journey or after while writing the book it remains to be seen. The side trips into history never derailed the book from its original purpose: to tell the tale of two hilariously-inexperienced guys attempting to hike one of the longest trails in the world.

And hilarious it is. There were several times that I cracked up out loud while reading this book, leading my coworkers and customers to look at me like I’d lost my mind. (Joke’s on them: I’ve never really had it!) I kept this book in my lunch box so I could read it while on break at work, which is why I took so long to finish this book. I’m glad I did though, and it gave me a sense of wanderlust and the urge to hike the AT. I’ve thought about it before, but knew that I was grossly inexperienced. After reading this book, I still stand by the thought that I am incredibly inexperienced and would probably end up walking off a cliff were I to go and hike this trail. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to experience a part of it someday. I’ve got the opportunity to go on a trip to the Smoky Mountains next spring, and I think I might just take it. (I went on this field trip in the spring of 2015 as well and absolutely loved it.)

If you are looking for a memoir that’s absolutely hilarious and will teach you something at the same time, I highly recommend Bryson’s book at 4.5/5 stars. There were points that made me scratch my head as to why they were included at that point (sometimes the history part is a little skewed all over the place), but it’s great entertainment from start to finish and I think it’s a must read for anyone with an interest in hiking.

Originally read Sept. 6 – 23, 2017

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Back in America after twenty years in Britain, Bill Bryson decided to reacquaint himself with his native country by walking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine. The AT offers an astonishing landscape of silent forests and sparkling lakes – and to a writer with the comic genius of Bill Bryson, it also provides endless opportunities to witness the majestic silliness of his fellow human beings.

For a start there’s the gloriously out-of-shape Stephen Katz, a buddy from Iowa along for the walk. Despite Katz’s overwhelming desire to find cozy restaurants, he and Bryson eventually settle into their stride, and while on the trail they meet a bizarre assortment of hilarious characters. But A Walk in the Woods is more than just a laugh-out-loud hike. Bryson’s acute eye is a wise witness to this beautiful but fragile trail, and as he tells its fascinating history, he makes a moving plea for the conservation of America’s last great wilderness. An adventure, a comedy, and a celebration, A Walk in the Woods has become a modern classic of travel literature.

Find it on Amazon.

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Apparently, this memoir was made into a movie in 2015, but I have no memory of any sort of previews or anything for it. I might check it out at some point if I can find it at a local library.

Are you a fan of travel memoirs? Do you like to hike? Have you hiked the AT? (Someone from my college did it a few years ago in just under six months.) Do you have plans to hike it, someday? Let me know in the comments!

And as always, keep reading.

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