A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail A Walk in the Woods discussion


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Bill Bryson

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sckenda This is the type of book that my wife and kids hide from me. When I read nature books, I hear the call of the wild and start answering. Like Buck, ancestral spirits summon me. But when I attempt to enthusiastically mimic that voice to my family, I have a mutiny on my hands or, more precisely, passive resistance of a flinty quality that would impress Gandhi.

An infantry captain affixes his bayonet and charges half-way to the enemy trench, only to realize that nobody is following him. The troops think him, quite possibly, mad. This happens whenever I read Edward Abbey, John Muir, Thoreau, or Lewis and Clark. My spirit guides command me to wilderness adventure. My family responds in unanimous Greek chorus, “the woods are lovely dark and deep, but you have promises to keep.”

So instead, I settled for a book about a comic attempt by two guys (like me) in their forties to hike the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail during the spring/summer of 1997. Even as I laughed out loud, I wept silently for all that I have missed and all that has already been lost. I so badly wanted to be with Bryson and Katz, congenial trailmates both.

Afoot and light-hearted, we take to the open road. The pace is leisurely. We pause to study flora, fauna, geology, and regional lore. We meet a few crackpots along the way. Sometimes Bryson gets to preachin'. (He does not like the U.S. Forest Service, and the good citizens and tourists of Gatlinburg, TN, do not want to know what Bryson thought of them 15 years ago.)

Very quickly, I begin to have my doubts as to whether we are going to actually make the South-North (SONO thru-hike) to Mt. Kathadin before the snow makes New England impassable.

The hardest parts of the trail include: The Hundred-Mile Wilderness through dense forests and swollen rivers of northern Maine (so remote you need 10-day’s worth of food and water, which you must lug along with all gear); New Hampshire’s White Mountains (alpine and sub alpine elevations and erratic weather invite unexpected hypothermia even in summer). Pennsylvania’s rocky trail (“Rocksylvania”) makes it particularly dangerous to ankles. The Smoky Mountains, although scenic, are uncommonly steep for the east coast and limited accommodations must be shared with a multitude of tourists. Forget the bears, rodents in the shelters are the biggest threat from the animal kingdom.

This is not your ancestors’ U.S. Eastern forest. The AT is wilder today than when it was first blazed back in the 1920's because the government seized the surrounding farms, which reverted to the wild. Asian blight wiped out the Chestnut trees at the beginning of the century, killing one-fourth of all trees in the eastern USA. The ghost-town of Centralia, PA, was built upon anthracite coal deposits that have been burning underground for 50 years and will continue to burn for at least 250 more years making the surrounding land uninhabitable. ( I was astounded to learn that 50,000 U.S. miners were killed between the U.S. Civil War and World War I.)

It has long been a dream of mind to thru-hike the AT. Whenever it’s a damp, drizzly November in my soul, my heart takes to the wilderness, while my body remains imprisoned in comfort, convenience, circumstance, and inertia. Call me Ishmael.

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Peter Kelley Bryson writes the funniest stuff I've ever read. But I much prefer his earlier travel and language related pieces to his more recent works. Even Bryson has trouble making the history of houses consistently interesting. I would highly recommend The Lost Continent, however--laugh out loud funny from the first paragraph.


Parthena I can read or listen to Bill Bryson's books over and over again. The only other author I can read like that is David Sedaris. His writing is very different but he makes me laugh the same way Bryson does. And he does the reading for his audio books and does it very well, like Bryson.


Amanda Becky wrote: "In a Sunburned Country is complete, pure, unadulterated genius from start to finish. My husband and I still read sections of this out loud to eachother. Bryson is an original."

Isn't that the truth? I read it first and then listened to the audio book. Two sections of the audio book nearly killed me dead with laughter:
His descripion of a three day test match (cricket). The announcers discuss in the most laconic way that the bowler, or is it the batter??, has hopped on a bus to follow the ball. I WEPT with laughter.

The scene where he is walking through the bush and is followed by dogs and winds up bursting into some unsuspecting Australian woman's house through the kitchen. Not one extra word or unneccesary phrase, every little bit of it contributes to a screamingly funny whole.


Steve Erin wrote: "Bill Bryson is a genius. I was certain of this until I read his Shakespeare brochure. He must have needed the money."

Erin, I'm surprised at your negative reaction to the Shakespeare book... I thought it was a brilliant distillation of what is known and thought about Shakespeare, with humorous treatment of some of the scholarly fussbudgets, too. I recommended it to my Shakespeare club (we meet every other week during the winter months to assign parts and read Shakespeare's plays--all of them) and everyone who read it seemed to love it as much as I did.


message 56: by HJ (new) - rated it 3 stars

HJ Kim wrote: "I read it quite a few years ago, but the one thing I remember was that bear scene. It was and still is the funniest scene in a book that I have ever read!"

I agree. I was listening to it while driving and had to stop the car and cry with laughter. I also like the fact that BB has written about so many different things and so well - I was thinking that it's quite leap from A Walk in the Woods with bears to Shakespeare, and then I remembered "Exit, pursued by a bear" from The Winter's Tale and thought, maybe not...


Sharon Amanda wrote: "I've enjoyed all his books. Have you listened to him read any of his books on cd or tape? They are the best. Ordinarily the author is not the best choice to read the book - but Bryson is fabulous, ..."

I JUST CAN'T GET ON with his style of writing... what am I missing ? I think I will look out for the c.d version - I want to give this book / author another try


Moonlight This is one of my favorite Bryson books and the first I read. I read it years ago, shortly after I moved near the Appalachian Trail. Bryson can make you laugh but he can also scare you. What more could you ask?


Sharon Sharon wrote: "Amanda wrote: "I've enjoyed all his books. Have you listened to him read any of his books on cd or tape? They are the best. Ordinarily the author is not the best choice to read the book - but Bryso..."

NO , didn't think about listening books until prompts / ideas from 'goodreads' but will be on the lookout now for them.


Jessica Mccormick Amanda wrote: "I've enjoyed all his books. Have you listened to him read any of his books on cd or tape? They are the best. Ordinarily the author is not the best choice to read the book - but Bryson is fabulous, ..."

I will have to look into the audio cds! It has to be hilarious! Would make for a fun road trip!


Jessica Mccormick RJ wrote: "Natalie wrote: "No one's chimed this in, but you MUST try his The Thunderbolt Kid. I'm missing a few words in the title, I'm sure, but it's wonderful. He ribs his life growing up in Iowa, family ..."

This book had me laughing so hard, I was crying. The story about the uncle and cottage cheese makes me laugh to this day. I definitely recommend this one!


Firstname Lastname Riko wrote: "Patrick Mcmanus has a series of humorous books that are in the same vein as Bill's work, but Bill's work feels more real."

Real Ponies Don't Go Oink!


Soffía Just finished reading "a walk in the woods" and I had a few laughs but nothing more..


Marilee Soffía wrote: "Just finished reading "a walk in the woods" and I had a few laughs but nothing more.."

I'm so sorry you didn't enjoy it. Many people, myself included, think it's a minor masterpiece. So much is going on in his narrative, but the images... they're priceless, IMHO, of course.

I've read all Bryson's books and a few fall short on the enjoyable scale. But they're always erudite, scholarly and/or drop dead funny.

I was interested to learn that he had returned to the UK a few years ago to work at a university as a ... dean, provost [?] ...some official position, but one where he had a lot of contact with students, who I read were deeply saddened recently when he decided to leave his post.

He's an incredibly prolific writer, with a new book out this fall.


Patrice I really appreciated Bryson after trying to read "Wild"!


message 66: by RJ (new) - rated it 5 stars

RJ It's a book I've read three times. It's got a good mix of humour and history. I don't read a lot of books more than once but this one I can.


Marilee I agree. I've also read it 3 times, and I always laugh. It was supposed to be made into a movie, but it never happened. I think it could be a good one, in the right director's deft hands.

Bryson's new book is another of his explorations of a slice of life... this time, "One Summer: America, 1927". It's getting good early reviews.


Soffía Marilee wrote: "Soffía wrote: "Just finished reading "a walk in the woods" and I had a few laughs but nothing more.."

I'm so sorry you didn't enjoy it. Many people, myself included, think it's a minor masterpiece..."


I haven't read any of his other books. But he's a good writer, no doubt. I just didn't really like the book.. Maybe I had to high expectation :-)


message 69: by Aysh (new) - rated it 5 stars

Aysh Erin wrote: "Bill Bryson is a genius. I was certain of this until I read his Shakespeare brochure. He must have needed the money."

I have wiped the Shakespeare book from my mind.


Melinda Brasher I enjoy Bryson's writing. My first was I'm a Stranger Here Myself. Also loved Mother Tongue.


Kathy Hale Makes me want to go for a walk


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Books mentioned in this topic

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (other topics)
The Winter's Tale (other topics)

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Will Ferguson (other topics)