A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods
Bill Bryson


I thought I knew what to expect when I picked up this travel book, an account of Bill Bryson’s hike of the Appalachian Trail. I’d heard of people walking the trail, or parts of it, and I was interested in reading about his experience. Bryson set an impressive goal for himself. The AT is approximately 2,100 miles long and runs from Georgia to Maine. With the threat of encountering large and dangerous animals, struggling over difficult terrain and facing changeable weather, I was excited to live vicariously through Bryson and his college buddy, Stephen Katz. I’d heard the book was hilarious and smiled at the idea of two out-of-shape, middle-aged men walking a couple thousand miles.

The beginning of the book is indeed very funny, with tales about bears and about gearing up for the big walk. But once Bryson and Katz hit the trail, the stories become sarcastic and judgmental, with harsh criticisms of the people he meets along the way, about the National Park Service and their terrible maps. It’s all told with an unpleasant intellectual snobbism and I cringed at his comments about stupid locals, an annoying female hiker and the backward towns he passed through.

I also felt misled by A Walk in the Woods because it turns out Bryson didn’t actually walk the entire trail or sleep under the stars every night. He took a month off in the middle of his adventure and, after his rest, he sampled the trail in various spots, skipped a lot of miles, dabbled in some day hikes, and gave up completely somewhere in Maine. In the end, he completed about 870 miles, or close to 40 percent of the trail. That’s certainly a lot of miles, but a look at the book jacket makes a deceptive promise:

“Back in America after twenty years in Britain, Bill Bryson decided to reacquaint himself with his native country by walking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail.”

A careful read of this sentence reveals there is no promise of completion, but I felt duped nevertheless.

To be fair, Bryson includes a lot of interesting descriptions about the history of the trail, about its plant life and wildlife. He’s clearly at his best in these sections and has a talent for bringing life to otherwise dry subjects. But I just couldn’t get past his disdain for the people around him. In the remote chance we ever met on a trail, Bryson would be one hiker I would make every effort to ditch, to honor the “annoying” female hiker he and Katz abandoned in the wild.

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Reading List Update

I’ve been a busy Book Club Mom lately and I have a big list of books in the queue. Here’s a look at what I’m reading now, and what’s ahead:


Reading now:

A Walk in the WoodsI’m in the middle of reading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. In 1996, Bryson and his old school friend, Stephen Katz, began a hiking adventure on the Appalachian Trail, a 2,100-mile path in the eastern United States, running from Georgia to Maine, through forests and over mountains. Written in 1998, A Walk in the Woods is an entertaining story of how these unlikely hikers fared on the trail. It was made into a movie this year, and stars Robert Redford and Nick Nolte. I’m enjoying Bryson’s commentary and writing style very much and I’m looking forward to reading more. Bryson is a best-selling author of many humorous books on travel, the English language and science.


On the list:

The Dressmaker coverThe Dressmaker by Kate Alcott – this is a historical novel about a woman who survived the sinking of the Titanic and the aftermath of the tragedyMy book club will be discussing this one next month.


we are not ourselves.jpgWe Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas – recommended to me by blogging friend Dawn from Mom Mom’s Apron. Publishers Weekly describes it as “A definitive portrait of American social dynamics in the twentieth century.”


Bridge of Scarlet LeavesBridge of Scarlet Leaves by Kristina McMorris – a historical novel set during the Japanese internment of World War II. My book club read and liked another book by McMorris, The Pieces We Keep (read my review here) so I’m looking forward to this one!


The Oblong Box“The Oblong Box” by Edgar Allan Poe – recommended to me by Jeff at Stuff Jeff Reads. Jeff reviewed “The Oblong Box” on his blog and I found it for free on my Kindle. I always love a good short story so thanks to Jeff for the suggestion!


The Liberty Box 2The Liberty Box by C.A. Gray, the first book of a young adult dystopian series, referred to me by Evil Cyclist’s Books. You can check out his review here. The Liberty Box is a new book series and was released on October 25.


Threaten to Undo UsThreaten to Undo Us by Rose Seiler Scott –Scott describes her historical novel: “As Hitler’s Third Reich crumbles and Stalin’s Army advances, German civilians in the Eastern territories are forced to flee for their lives…Liesel and her four young children hope they can make it from their home in Poland across the Oder River to safety…But all that awaits them is terror and uncertainty.”


I’ll be posting reviews as I work my way through this interesting list.  What are you reading right now and what’s on your list?

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