Saturday, September 28, 2013

Book review: "A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail"

This isn't a perfect book. Like the author's hike along the Appalachian Trail, "A Walk in the Woods" has its ups and downs. But Bill Bryson has such an easy and inviting writing style that you can't help but be carried along, chuckling, sympathizing, understanding. This is the kind of book you might pick up and before you know it an hour has gone by.

Bryson is witty, observant, and succinct. Unlike some outdoors writers who feel they have describe every leaf in the forest, Bryson shows that much can be told in short, colorful passages. When joined on the trail by his sometimes-hiking partner Stephen Katz, Bryson's narrative is at its best (we need more Katz!).

Even in mundane settings, at cheap motels and muddy camping shelters, the author manages to have interesting encounters and describes them well. Along with the pains and travails of his hike, Bryson mixes in some history and an occasional lesson in natural science. He reminds us that much of what we take for granted is fragile, temporary and fleeting.

He even manages to make the theory of continental drift entertaining: "The continents didn't just move in and out from each other in some kind of grand slow-motion square dance but spun in lazy circles, changed their orientation, went on cruises to the tropics and poles, made friends with smaller landmasses and brought them home."

I do have some quibbles. Sometimes, Bryson goes off on an opinionated tangent (e.g., the National Park Service stinks) that doesn't fit in well. Also, some of the dialogue is just too perfectly funny; I have no doubt that he used plenty of literary license. Those are minor complaints, though. The book is a pleasure to read.


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