Monday, October 10, 2011

Jessi Reviews "A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson

Title/Author: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson 
Publisher/Year: Broadway, 1999
How I Got This: I picked up a copy of this from one of my library's used book sales 
Why I Read It: I've always wanted to hike part of the Appalachian Trail and this book came highly recommended to me from one of my college classmates 
Rating: 4 Stars 

Synopsis (from Goodreads): God only knows what possessed Bill Bryson, a reluctant adventurer if ever there was one, to undertake a gruelling hike along the world's longest continuous footpath—The Appalachian Trail.

The 2,000-plus-mile trail winds through 14 states, stretching along the east coast of the United States, from Georgia to Maine. It snakes through some of the wildest and most spectacular landscapes in North America, as well as through some of its most poverty-stricken and primitive backwoods areas.

With his offbeat sensibility, his eye for the absurd, and his laugh-out-loud sense of humour, Bryson recounts his confrontations with nature at its most uncompromising over his five-month journey.

An instant classic, riotously funny, A Walk in the Woods will add a whole new audience to the legions of Bill Bryson fans.

Review: This is a book that has been recommended to me time and again, and I finally got around to reading it.

And I loved it!

I went into this book, having heard it was supposed to be funny, but I still had this preconceived notion that it would be some sort of dry history of the Appalachian Trail and the various locations along the way. I couldn't have been more wrong. Bryson ambles between a bit of history and tales about the people he met and the adventures he got into along the way, without being one bit boring. He grabbed my attention for the duration of the book, and I had a hard time putting this one down. While this is non-fiction, it's more like narrative non-fiction. Bryson writes with an effortless, conversational tone that makes for easy reading. I could have read this book easily in a day or two, had it not been for school and pesky homework getting in my way. Even then, half the time, my mind was with Bryson in the woods.

I was surprised, too, to find that the bits of history that he included were very interesting. For example, at one point, he talks about Pennsylvania's history with coal. As a native of PA, I know all about the impact of coal on the state, but I was still fascinated to read about Centralia, which I had never heard of before. A town sitting on top of a burning coal mine that has the potential to burn for thousands of years? Awesome! I love that kind of trivia--and Bryson included a wonderfully interesting amount of it throughout his tale.

I also particularly loved just reading about the adventures he and Katz, his hiking companion, got into along the way. They were such a good pair, and while reading, I had these visions of how the two of them would make a perfect duo on a tv show, like Tim and Al from "Home Improvement." The two of them certainly met some interesting people along the way, like Chicken Joe and Mary Ellen who just cracked me up.

And that brings me to the humor. Bill Bryson is my hero. He is hi-freaking-larious! When I'm at school, I typically do a lot of my reading at night before I head to bed. There were definitely nights were it took all that I had not to burst out laughing for the sake of my sleeping roommates. Basically, trying to read this book without laughing is a feat in itself. Bryson has this excellent sense of humor--a kind of off-handed wittiness. I love it. If I could take this guy out for a coffee, I would so do it, just to get a chance to see what makes him tick. I love that he tells this tale like an ordinary Joe. He doesn't get on a high horse like an environmental elitist about hiking on the AT. He misses hamburgers and soft beds while he's hiking. He doesn't try to make it out to be a philosophically transcendent experience. That's not to say that he didn't enjoy his hike--you can tell when you're reading this book that while some parts of the trail flat-out suck, it's still something that he is happy to have done.

Overall, this was just an excellent book. It has me itching for summer and a chance to be out in the woods. I recommend this to those who enjoy being outdoors or for those looking for a hilarious read.


  1. I love all of Bill Bryson's books. You should pick up some more of them.

  2. I've never heard of this book before, but I have always wanted to hike that entire trail (it runs through the town I grew up in) so I will definitely be checking it out. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I really enjoyed A Walk in the Woods too. Perhaps the funniest part I remember was when he was reading the advice about what to do if you encounter a bear. as I recall it read somewhat contradictory, advising one to run toward the bear in an aggressive manner, then saying, "of course, this may also antagonize the bear..." or something like that. Very funny.

    I also liked where he talked about the Chestnut trees (I think it was chestnut anyway) and their fate. Very sad.

    Coincidentally, I read a book by Joyce Carol Oates, The Tattooed Girl, this year and - though only a minor aside in the story - the title character comes from a small mining town in PA seemingly clearly based on Centralia. I think the horror film, Silent Hill, is also based on this. (my blog post about The Tattoed Girl:

    Great review!


  4. Enjoyed the review - a lot, but then I am a big Bill Bryson fan! All of his books do make me chuckle, but I find they are full of slightly "useless" bits of information. I know he is very, very popular in the UK.

  5. This is one of my favorite Bill Bryson books. So very funny!

  6. I was really interested in all the history and background too!

  7. Isn't Bryson a gem? I love his writing. He can make the dullest sounding information fascinating.

  8. I have read a ton of Bryson's books and loved them all. I have this one on my shelf and need to get to it!

  9. I love Bill Bryson for both his humor and his ability to find fascinating links between seemingly unrelated things. He also does all of his own audio book reading and he's pretty awesome.

    And not to make you jealous or anything, but I got to meet him about a year ago when he was in New England for his At Home tour. We were in a small office in Arlington, MA, for about 3 hours and I was helping him sign books. Good times!


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