Review: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

walkTitle: A Walk in the Woods

Author: Bill Bryson

Genre/Pages: Nonfiction/274

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.

Or this:

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.

Perhaps this?

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.

at map

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!

23 Comments

  • At 2009.10.21 22:15, Trisha said:

    I have had this book on my shelves for longer than I care to say, but you just bumped it right up to my readathon pile! Excellent review.
    .-= Trisha´s last blog ..13 Days of Halloween: Just Run Away =-.

    • At 2009.10.21 22:38, softdrink said:

      .5 miles? You crack me up!

      I love Bill Bryson, but I have to put a few years in between his books. His snarkiness gets to me after awhile (and I love snark).
      .-= softdrink´s last blog ..Star Gazing =-.

      • At 2009.10.21 23:12, Natalie said:

        oh, fizzy!!! really!?!? i’m so sad that you can only take just so much snark. i just adore it and consider bryson to be a snark-master. i can only aspire to be one-millionth as snarky as bryson and jen lancaster. 🙂

        reading your opinion is just one more reason i love book blogs–it’s so eye-opening to realize that everyone doesn’t love everything i do. reviewing is so subjective and other people can make very valid points and have different responses to the same books.

        (but i still love bill!)

        trisha: be warned…there will be snark. 🙂

        • At 2009.10.21 23:48, Valerie said:

          I’ve read Bryson’s English-based books and really enjoyed them — the excerpts you included here actually made me laugh aloud. It’s been a while since a book has done that for me, so I’ll have to read this one soon!

          Now that we live in Colorado, not near the Appalachian Trail, but we are in bear country. My first instinct would be to run, too!! Not try to make myself look bigger than I am!! After all, how big can I make myself at 5’2 and 107 lbs?!
          .-= Valerie´s last blog ..Ahem…. =-.

          • At 2009.10.22 08:27, diane said:

            This was a very good book; i laughed a lot along the way. My favorite Bryson book was The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kids (the audio versio is terrific).
            .-= diane´s last blog ..160 – A Duty to the Dead; Charles Todd =-.

            • At 2009.10.22 09:40, Kathy said:

              I love Bill Bryson’s work and it has the same affect on me – I laugh out loud and annoy everyone I know with passages from the book.
              .-= Kathy´s last blog ..Review: Willow =-.

              • At 2009.10.22 10:17, Steph said:

                I’ve wanted to read Bryson for a while, but I’ve never done so for some reason (that is inexplicable to me). He seems like exactly the kind of “non-fiction” writer I would enjoy, as nearly every thing he writes about always sounds interesting, though I know in the hands of any other author I would not feel that way at all!
                .-= Steph´s last blog ..New Month, New Books! =-.

                • At 2009.10.22 10:46, Meg said:

                  I’ve looked at Bryson books before, but this is the first time I’ve felt inspired to actually grab one! I’m pretty into humorous memoirs lately (a la Jen Lancaster), a definite change for me. And this sounds awesome! I definitely snickered at the “fighting a bear in a tree” imagery. Oh my!
                  .-= Meg´s last blog ..Book review: ‘The Return’ by Victoria Hislop =-.

                  • At 2009.10.22 10:52, Heather J. said:

                    I LOVED this book – it was such fun to read while also teaching me lots I didn’t know. I’m hoping to get to more of his books in the coming year.
                    .-= Heather J.´s last blog ..War Through The Generations Challenge – Recap =-.

                    • At 2009.10.22 11:06, bybee said:

                      This is my first and favorite of Bryson’s books. I love reading about Katz’s antics and their encounter with that deranged woman.
                      .-= bybee´s last blog ..Dreaming In Literature: Wait, I Know That Rat! =-.

                      • At 2009.10.22 11:23, Ti said:

                        I have handed my one copy over to countless numbers of people and they all love it. I re-read it every year and it actually got me into hiking and I was sooooo not an outdoorsy girl before it.
                        .-= Ti´s last blog ..Review: Of Bees and Mist =-.

                        • At 2009.10.22 16:13, Cathy said:

                          It’s all your fault that a copy of this book is now on its way to me from Paperback Swap. I sat here and laughed and read parts of your review aloud to my husband while he did his best to ignore me. Just for that, I may very well read it in bed! LOL
                          .-= Cathy´s last blog ..Flesh House by Stuart MacBride =-.

                          • At 2009.10.23 16:33, Kerri said:

                            I’ve died laughing when I read In a Sunburned Country so I can imagine that I’d like this one too. Good suggestion.
                            .-= Kerri´s last blog ..Review: the girl who stopped swimming by Joshilyn Jackson =-.

                            • At 2009.10.23 17:38, Susan said:

                              Wonderful review! I love the cover of this book. 8:-)

                              • At 2009.10.24 01:44, Susan @ Reading Upside Down said:

                                I love Bryson’s books – intelligent writing, a keen eye for the ridiculous and very informative as well as incredibly entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny. What’s not to love?

                                This was the first Bryson that I read. Definitely one of my all-time favourite authors.

                                • At 2009.10.26 16:06, Stacy's Books said:

                                  Thank you for cheering me on during the read-a-thon. I appreciated every cheer I got!

                                  This book has been on my wish list for a long time. After reading your review I’m wondering what has taken me so long to get to it!
                                  .-= Stacy’s Books´s last blog ..Common Thread Quiz =-.

                                  • At 2009.10.27 22:22, Jenners said:

                                    I adore Bill Bryson … and this was a great one! I even got my non-reader husband to read all of his travel books — you know they are good when a non-reader will read them! Great review … thanks for reminding me how great Mr. Bryson can be!
                                    .-= Jenners´s last blog ..Review: Creating A Charmed Life by Victoria Moran =-.

                                    • At 2009.10.28 18:46, Sammy said:

                                      I am totally going to read this book since you’ve suggested it. But I would also suggest for you to read is the book called “Halfway to Heaven” I read the first chapter in an airport I was stuck in and I just purchased the book. I think it will be up your alley!!!!!
                                      .-= Sammy´s last blog ..Scream =-.

                                      • At 2009.10.28 21:41, Beth F said:

                                        OMG!!! Thanks so much for the quotations. I think I’m going to have to reread this one. I remember loving it! I bet the audio would make my treadmill time go by very quickly.
                                        .-= Beth F´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday (October 27) =-.

                                        • At 2009.10.29 08:24, Gnoe said:

                                          LOL You’re a *bad* blogger: you actually made me add it to my wishlist! Like I need any more books… Only last week I watched the movie Grizzly Man; did you see it?
                                          .-= Gnoe´s last blog ..Spooky veggie! (week 43) =-.

                                          • At 2009.10.29 09:14, Care said:

                                            I keep forgetting about this author! He’s on my must-read-someday list.
                                            (PS – do me a favor? update your wp profile to direct to this new blog and then when you leave me a comment, I’ll bop directly here?! THanks sweetie. and I hope we both get to BEA…)

                                            • At 2009.10.29 12:42, Kari said:

                                              This was the first Bryson book I read, and I loved it! It did make me want to go for a hike.

                                              Have you read anything else by Bryson? I’ve read a few and I’ve found that some of them are hilarious like this, and some are a bit more…I don’t want to say boring, so I’ll just say lacking this kind of charm.
                                              .-= Kari´s last blog ..Awards Time =-.

                                              • At 2009.11.02 01:11, Esme said:

                                                This was a great book-it had me laughing the entire time.

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