Saturday, October 24, 2015

Book Review: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is a best-selling American author of very funny travel memoirs,  as well as books on the English language and science.   Here he tells the story of his trek through the wilderness along the Appalachian Trail with a companion who is even more unprepared for the trek than is Bryson, himself.  

Both men are middle-aged, sadly out of shape, trying to carry heavy packs on their backs on a 2,200-mile trail that begins at Springer Mountain in Georgia and ends at Mt. Katahdin in Maine.  Bryson and his companion have no outdoors experience, but Bryson, in particular, wants to enjoy the scenery before it is ruined by acid rain and over-population.  At times the two hikers are nearly defeated by the trail, but they are determined to reach their goal.  Bryson masterfully portrays the different hikers they encounter, which include students, senior citizens, Boy Scouts, and other adventurous trekkers, with his usual highly descriptive and humorous style. 

I thoroughly enjoyed Bryson's grasp and use of the English language and grammar.  Perhaps, I have been reading entirely too many first run e-books that have failed the spell and grammar check options of the authors' computers.  Shortly before I started the book, I happened to see a preview of the movie adaptation and was never able to get the image of Nick Nolte out of my mind, as I read.  It was masterful casting for that character, but I much prefer to use my own imagination when reading.

I do have several issues with the book.  But, I will only elaborate on these two:   

Bryson seems to take issue with the fact that the Appalachian Trail never integrates with the rest of the areas it passes through as trails and paths do in most of western Europe.  He uses the example of paths in Luxembourg that connect "the whole of Luxembourg, not just its trees".  Having walked some of those Luxembourg paths, I do agree with the quoted words; but why can't the Trail stand on it's own merits without being tied to another landscape...which I feel it does.

He made a couple (or more ) comments about hillbillies being affected by "corn liquor and generations of profoundly unbiblical sex"  that almost caused me to throw away the book in defense of my Arkansas  Ozarks heritage.  It amazes me that a person of such cosmopolitan character and education can still exhibit such prejudicial stereotyping of a locale of which he obviously has no first-hand knowledge.

In spite of my criticisms , I do think the book a good read.  The Appalachian Trail should be experienced by every American, if only a mile or two, at a time.  Some readers have taken umbrage with the whining and complaining and the littering of the terrain with excess gear exhibited by the two main characters.  But, in defense of Bryson and the "Nick Nolte" character, this adventure was clearly an arduous and exhausting endeavor that few middle-aged, unprepared persons would even attempt, much less without some whining and complaining and questioning their sanity.  Even so, the littering of such a pristine wilderness was unsettling.

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