Have you ever wanted to go for a long walk in the woods with a guy? I sure as hell haven’t, but if I did, it would be with Bill Bryson. Now Bryson, I’ll call him Bryson because I feel like we are on a last name basis, writes with great wit, self-awareness and aplomb. When he isn’t recounting his idiocy.
Now, being Canadian, I know a little about the US and after reading — well, hearing since it was an audio book — I know even less. I mean, he only walked 2 inches or so of the Appalachian Trail (when measured out on a 4 foot tall map). Frankly, I found out more about the geography of America after a big superstorm hit eastern North America. I looked up a map of America so I could understand all these states that were being slammed. By the way, did you ever realize that if you look at the map west to east, the states start off big and blocky in the west and then get smaller and squishier in the east? It’s true, just take a look.
What I mean is, I have never known America and didn’t “rediscover” it through Bryson’s book… but I will say that I have discovered a part of America that seems bold and beautiful and a place I want to go. Thanks, Bryson, you jerk.
Yeah, I’ve shit in the woods. ~ Bill Bryson
A Walk in the Woods does not start off with a death or divorce as so many other “I’m gonna walk my pain away” books do. And with each step, he refuses to take the inner journey that such a walk is supposed to summon. Unless thinking the moon looks like Oreo Cookie cream is an inner journey. Which of course it is, which is why I like the book.
He mocks the United States Forest Service, or should they be called the United States Forest Road Service? Find a stand of trees anywhere, and they’ll call it a great place for a road. Of course a road is exactly what Bryson and his travelling companion, Stephen Katz, both middle-aged, slightly overweight non-athletic men want when they are waist high in the water of a raging river and two younger men bound pass them and advise them it will be tough going ahead.
It does get a little boring and detailed in the middle – the details about the Forest Service, the trail and the forest can run a little dry – but you can tell Bryson has a passion for nature. As long as you are sitting inside a cozy hotel somewhere looking out which sipping a scotch.
When Bryson and Katz meet up with the insufferable Mary Ellen, it’s divinely gross magic. Instead of complaining about the forest, he complains about this new travelling companion neither of them want. Terribly inept, more inexperienced than they, Bryson and Katz dump her, then worry that she’s been eaten by the bears that never actually materialize. Later, they hear from another hiker who ran into Mary Ellen that she was trash-talking the pair as “a couple of overweight wimps who didn’t know the first thing about hiking.”
Which of course they are, or were at least at the beginning, and that’s part of the charm. If you’re a hiker or trail walker, if you like deep travelogues and spiritual journeys, don’t bother with this book. If you want a laugh thanks to a cupcake of a man, then you have found your book. Enjoy.