Review Revisited: Bill Bryson – A Walk in the Woods
Re-read. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson (1998)
Read By: William Roberts
Length: 9h 44m (304 pages)
Genre: Non-Fiction; Memoir
Originally Read: 18 June 2007
Re-Read Finished: 30 April 2012
Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? This was the first Bryson book I read, and I thought it was time to revisit it.
Think I’ll go for a
walk outside… just maybe not
for two thousand miles.
Summary: When Bill Bryson and his family moved back to the United States, he found himself living only a few miles away from the Appalachian Trail. Being fond of hiking, he latched onto the idea of attempting to through-hike the AT: starting in Georgia in March and ostensibly arriving in Maine 2000-plus miles, fourteen states, and many months later. His friend Stephen Katz agreed to come with him, and so they set out, despite the fact that they were both in their mid-40s, moderately-to-severely out of shape, and had never hiked anywhere that long, that steep, or that remote before. A Walk in the Woods is about 2/3s travelogue, cataloging their adventures and misadventures on the trail, and about 1/3 history and trivia about the trail and surrounding areas.
Original Review: Really, really enjoyed this one. Non-fiction yet very quick reading, and very, very, laugh-out-loud-into-my-pancakes-at-IHOP funny. My one disappointment was that he skipped the segment of the trail that I’m familiar with – renting a car and driving from Knoxville to Roanoke – so I didn’t get to hear his musings on the trail, towns, overlooks, and mountains that I know. The book also seemed to run out of steam towards the end (much like its author, I imagine). Overall, though, this was an easy and enjoyable read, highly recommended, and has made me seriously consider trying to find the time to try thru-hiking the AT myself.
Thoughts on a ReRead: This is one of those cases where everything I said in my review the first time I read it remains completely true on a re-read. Or almost everything; the idea of through-hiking the AT has lost some of its luster in the intervening five years, and I’m pretty content with remaining a day-hiker. (Although hopefully a better-prepared and less-obnoxious day-hiker than some of the ones that Bryson encounters!) Otherwise, though, A Walk In The Woods was just as good the second time around: Funny throughout, uproariously so in places, filled with fascinating trivia and history, and appealingly familiar to anyone who has spent much time hiking in the Eastern US forests. (I would not, however, recommend listening to the section on the AT murders directly before going hiking in a pretty remote section of wilderness. The closeness and silence of the woods and the possibility of bear attacks might make Bryson paranoid, but that part was what gave me the shivers. Eeek!)
I enjoyed listening to the story this time, rather than reading it. William Roberts does a nice job with the narration, possibly overselling some of the southern & rural accents a bit, although I’m sure Bryson is equally at fault for using a similar bit of artistic license to dramatize the anecdotes in which those characters appear. I did have a slight bit of cognitive dissonance, however, since I tend to identify narrators with the protagonists (or authors, in the case of first-person narrative non-fiction like this). I’d just listened to A Short History of Nearly Everything, in which the narrator (Richard Matthews) has a rather plummy British accent, so for the first bit of A Walk in the Woods, I kept hearing William Roberts’s voice and thinking “That’s not what Bill Bryson sounds like!”… despite the fact that I’ve also listened to a book narrated by Bryson himself, and Roberts’s voice is actually the more similar.
Iiiiin any case, this book is a ton of fun, and I’m definitely glad I decided to pick it up again. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Highly recommended for anyone who likes hiking, or who doesn’t like hiking and would like to read about someone else suffering through it in order to re-affirm that dislike. This would also make a great road-trip audiobook: Funny, quick-moving, broadly enjoyable without having to fight about genre, and non-fiction, so there’s not really a plot to follow in case the passenger falls asleep for a bit, or an ending that you just *have* to hear if the drive is shorter than the book.
First Line: Not long after I moved with my family to a small town in New Hampshire I happened upon a path that vanished into a wood on the edge of town.
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