A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (Bill Bryson)

I put this book down more than three days ago, but in my mind I’m still wandering through the deep woods of America’s back country. I’ve never read a Bill Bryson book before, but I must say that A walk in the Woods was the ideal introduction to his work. His humour in this short travelogue is on form, as he details his attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail. It had me literally laughing out loud, sometimes in very public places.

Maybe what made me pick it up was the fact that I have always thought someday I would hike this trail myself. However, after vicariously experiencing it through Bryson’s account, I think I’ll give it a skip. Bryson goes into great detail about both the beauty, history and challenges of this trail (bearing in mind that it is over 3000 km and goes through  14 states, including Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee and New York).

There is no doubt that Bryson is a skilled writer. He has received both acclaim and criticism for his other works, most notably Notes on a Small Island, about his life in England and has sometimes been described as someone who enjoys his own writing and humour too much. But I didn’t find that to be the case in this book. His ability to give his readers a sense of place (as well as a good laugh) in A Walk in the Woods, is just one of the many delightful reasons to read it. Although it tends to peter out and be inconclusive in places, I didn’t feel that this detracted from my experience of the book.

It was a great read, light, funny and reflective on man’s relationship with nature. One of the most poignant themes that runs through this book, and one that Bryson continuously brings his reader back to, is how humans have destroyed our planet. In that sense, the book is a tragi-comedy, but highly worth the read.

Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (Broadway Books, 1998)