Review: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Title: A Walk in the Woods
Author: Bill Bryson
Publication: Broadway Books (Crown Publishing: Random House); 1999
Rating: 4.5 BOOKMARKS
A hilarious account of one middle-aged man’s attempt to get in shape and commune with nature by walking one of the oldest hiking trails in the United States. Bill Bryson and his childhood friend, Stephen Katz, embark on the 2,100+ mile journey and it’s so beyond their abilities that it’s a wonder they made it out of the woods alive. Part hysterical memoir, part history and nature lesson, Bryson can tell a tale like no one else.
I’ve read A Walk in the Woods a dozen or more times and I laugh myself into asthma attacks each time. My husband hates when I bring a Bill Bryson book to bed because it means I’ll be shaking the bed with paroxysms of laughter and interrupting his reading, regaling him with excerpts from the book. It goes something like this:
(Snort, guffaw, snort, snort) “Honey, listen to this!!!”
(Bryson commenting on a book about avoiding bear attacks:) The typical black bear-inflicted injury…is minor and usually involves only a few scratches or light bites.” Pardon me, but what exactly is a light bite? Are we talking a playful wrestle and gummy nips? I think not.
All the books tell you that if the grizzly (bear) comes for you, on no account should you run. This is the sort of advice you get from someone who is sitting at a keyboard when he gives it. Take it from me, if you are in an open space with no weapons and a grizzly comes for you, run. You may as well. If nothing else, it will give you something to do with the last seven seconds of your life.
A grizzly may chew on a limp form for a minute or two but generally will lose interest and shuffle off. With black bears, however, playing dead is futile, since they will continue chewing on you until you are considerably past caring. It is also foolish to climb a tree because black bears are adroit climbers and…you will simply end up fighting the bear in a tree.
When Bryson meets up with his childhood buddy after not seeing him for decades, he’s shocked by his friend’s appearance:
(Since I’d seen him last) he had devoted himself to rectitude and–I instantly saw now as he stooped out the door of the plane–growing a stomach. Katz was arrestingly larger than when I had last seen him. He had always been kind of fleshy, but now 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 twenty yards…
The book manages to weave an in-depth history of the Appalachian Trail (and the danger that man and pollution pose to it) into the memoir, while keeping the overall tone humorous. The trail is a taxing one, traversing 2,100+ miles of wilderness from Georgia to Maine. The AT travels through my home state–NJ–for 72 miles. I’ve actually walked part of the trail (a very small part–like .5 miles) in Vermont a few years ago. We’re not outdoorsy people here–I prefer the beach to the woods, but I wanted to see the white blazes of the AT for myself.
A Walk in the Woods is an entertaining read for anyone who likes to hike or for anyone who has a sense of humor (or a pulse). Maybe after reading A Walk in the Woods, you’ll be inspired to pack a bag and hit the trail!