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A Walk in the Woods
Release Date: May, 1999
Publisher: Broadway Books
Your initial reaction to Bill Bryson's reading of A Walk in the Woods may well be "Egads! What a bore!" But by sentence three or four, his clearly articulated, slightly adenoidal, British/American-accented speech pattern begins to grow on you and becomes quite engaging. You immediately get a hint of the humor that lies ahead, such as one of the innumerable reasons he longed to walk as many of the 2,100 miles of the Appalachian Trail as he could. "It would get me fit after years of waddlesome sloth" is delivered with glorious deadpan flair. By the time our storyteller recounts his trip to the Dartmouth Co-op, suffering serious sticker shock over equipment prices, you'll be hooked. When Bryson speaks for the many Americans he encounters along the way--in various shops, restaurants, airports, and along the trail--he launches into his American accent, which is whiny and full of hard r's. And his southern intonations are a hoot. He's even got a special voice used exclusively when speaking for his somewhat surprising trail partner, Katz. In the 25 years since their school days together, Katz has put on quite a bit of weight. In fact, "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 20 yards." Katz often speaks in monosyllables, and Bryson brings his limited vocabulary humorously to life. One of Katz's more memorable utterings is "flung," as in flung most of his provisions over the cliff because they were too heavy to carry any farther. The author has thoroughly researched the history and the making of the Appalachian Trail. Bryson describes the destruction of many parts of the forest and warns of the continuing perils (both natural and man-made) the Trail faces. He speaks of the natural beauty and splendor as he and Katz pass through, and he recalls clearly the serious dangers the two face during their time together on the trail. So, A Walk in the Woods is not simply an out-of-shape, middle-aged man's desire to prove that he can still accomplish a major physical task; it's also a plea for the conservation of America's last wilderness. Bryson's telling is a knee-slapping, laugh-out-loud funny trek through the woods, with a touch of science and history thrown in for good measure. (Running time: 360 minutes, four cassettes) --Colleen Preston
||0.9 x 4.9 x 7.9 in.
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Posted by Tracy Leeflang on 1/8/2000
Very seldom do I read anything that makes me laugh out loud. To do so more than once or twice in a single book almost never happens. With "Walk," I became almost hysterical over certain chapters - in an airport, no less, while waiting for my flight. People must have thought I was nuts! Anyway, this is the story of two middle-aged and out of shape men (Bryson and his buddy, Katz) who decide to hike the Appalachian Trail. The AT is the third longest nature trail in the US, stretching from Georgia to Maine, along some incredibly rough terrain. Not all of their journey is rustic, however, as they often take a break to spend a night in the closest little town off the trail to have a shower, sleep in a "real" bed, and wash the grime from their clothes. It is during one such trip to the laundromat that Katz has a rather interesting encounter with 300 lb. Beaulah, her extra-large-sized panties, and a washing machine. Aside from the comical adventures, Bryson also has a great deal to say about the AT itself, and in particular, how much the National Parks Service needs a giant kick in the pants to help preserve these Trails.
More than a hiking narative.
Posted by Jerry Clyde Phillips on 5/10/2000
This is much more than a travelogue of two neophyte hikers on the Appalachian Trail, and readers looking for a blow by blow account of the travails of Bill Bryson and his companion, Stephen Katz, will be disappointed. Hiking provides only a backdrop to a heartfelt discourse on the social condition of America, local history, the environment, and the complexities of friendship. The pretext for the book was Bryson's return to the United States after twenty years in Britain, and his interest in "rediscovering America" after such a lengthy absence.
The vast majority of the reviews of the book cite its hilarity (one reviewer called it "choke-on-your-coffee funny"), and indeed there are very many funny parts. However, the deeper I got into the book, I detected a strong shift in the author's sentiment from satire to deep introspection. His observations became more acute, more angry, and more individualized as his long hike constantly brings to his mind the fragile environment of the Trail, the insanity of bureacrats entrusted with the AT, and his own personal limitations.
This was my first encounter with Bill Bryson, and while I found him entertaining, a beautiful writer, and an astute observer, some readers will be put off my his sharp satiric wit. It is certain that he will offend somebody. A friend of mine, who also read the book, was very much upset by the fact that Bryson and Katz didn't hike all 2,200 miles of the Trail, and that somehow their "failure" should prevent the telling of the story. This is utter nonsense and just throws more manure onto the present dung heap that has accumulated from the participants involved in peak bagging, wilderness races, and experiential therapy groups.
Bryson and Katz at least tried to hike the entire AT, and they returned from their hike as changed men who learned many lessons about the wilderness and friendship. Towards the end of the book, the two men are talking about the hike. When Katz remarks that "we did it," Bryson reminds him that they didn't even see Mount Katahdin, much less climb it. Katz says, "Another mountain. How many do you need to see, Bryson?" I agree with Katz (and ultimately Bryson). They hiked the Appalachian Trail.
Posted by Anonymous on 11/18/1999
Fair Warning -- do not read this book while commuting - you will be laughing so uncontrolably you will risk being committed by your fellow commuters. I have loaned this book to 3 friends - in each case, the spouse was so intrigued by the constant belly laughs that they also read the book before returning it. One friend bought copies for Christmas presents. The appeal is that universal. I dare say even those with no interest in backpacking or the Appalachian Trail would find the book highly entertaining.
A very good book not only for the fans of hiking
Posted by Aleksandra Nita-Lazar on 12/19/2007
I found "A Walk in the Woods" my first encounter with Bill Bryson's books, a very enjoyable and educational read. I picked this particular book to start my acquaintance with him, because I like hiking and often explore parts of the Appalachian Trail (from New York to New Hampshire) myself.
Bryson writes with great sense of humor about his decision to walk the Appalachian Trail, the preparations, the choice of his walking companion (a hilarious figure of his old friend Steve Katz), the hike itself, with all its joys and troubles. The Trail is the dominating presence here, and although there is a lot of personality and jokes, the thoroughly researched information about the history of the Trail, the flora and fauna, the geographical, geological and meteorological conditions, is what I found most interesting. Especially, because it was written in a captivating manner. I loved the atmosphere Bryson created in this book.
Bryson's brisk style made me read his book from cover to cover almost without any stopping and I regretted only that it ended so quickly. The subject could easily have made the book nothing else than a guide, and only thanks to the sparkling, original prose it was so much more...
I appreciated the author's honesty when he admitted that he and Steve had many difficulties while walking the trail and found the initial task of walking the whole length of the trail impossible to accomplish. Since they skipped parts of the route were the ones I know best, I felt that there was no harm done and I was just encouraged to walk more of its Northern and Southern parts. I will definitely return to this book in future.