erin's Reviews > A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
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Jan 31, 2007

did not like it
Recommended for: Smug jerks, misanthropes, tourists
Read in December, 2006

It's been a busy couple of weeks, so I thought I'd spent the last of my holiday indulging in a witty travelogue to set my feet itching. Unfortunately, I picked the wrong book. Years of declining the advice of the Bryson-worshipers, it seems, was not in vain.

I'm halfway through, and - like the author on the daunting trail - am unsure as to whether or not I can finish my task. Bryson sounds, to put it mildly, a real jerk. He's smug and superior, and spends most of the book complaining about his companions on the trail. A common motif is how everyone one is but a weekend hiker, that he is a true back-to-nature type in comparison. True, some of his encounters sound less than thrilling, but even the obnoxious woman he encounters should get credit for tackling the trail by herself. Instead, she's unceremoniously ditched (in real life as well as print) by the man who couldn't stomach the thought of going alone. He enlists the companionship of a long-lost friend with whom he'd proven incompatible on a previous travel experience. Said "friend" is then derided throughout the book for his sloth, roughness in manner, and lowbrow tastes. Meanwhile, Bryson paints himself as Guardian of the Trail, criticising the Parks Service along with all who venture through her woods.

I'm still waiting for even a glimpse of the much-vaunted Bryson wit and charm to show itself. At the moment, he's nothing more than the stereotypical Blue Stater - putting himself on a pedestal while looking down his nose at everyone else. It's not attractive, and it makes for a very frustrating read. I wish he'd stayed home.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 116) (116 new)


message 1: by Bobby (new)

Bobby "Blue Stater"...WTF? Speaking of pedestals, have you noticed yours. Thanks for the review though, I think I'd have the same reaction to this book so I'm glad to avoid it.



Paul Although, I do agree that Mr Bryson complains about his companion throughout the book and pays mind to any of the park keeper's negligence, I still found the book entertaining. It gave me ideas for trips I may take in the possible future.


Sarah I don't think whether or not you like Bill Bryson's personality should be your basis for disliking his book. Maybe if you try looking deeper than on the surface of the character, you'd see that his obnoxiousness is a device to entertain and even endear himself to the reader--he's a classic fool for trying to hike the trail with so many pretentions and so little experience. This is intended to make the reader laugh, not go on the attack.


message 4: by erin (new) - rated it 1 star

erin Thanks for your comments, Sarah, but I disagree. As Bryson makes his personality the basis of his books, I feel justified in disliking them for this reason. I don't find obnoxiousness entertaining or endearing in any form, least of all when it's spouted by a smarmier-than-thou misanthrope. After this run-in with his work, I've abandoned Bryson completely. I choose, instead, to get my travel-related belly laughs from Tim Moore, who has the same kind of misadventures, but refreshingly, none of the know-it-all attitude. Tim Moore's the traveller who, for the cost of a cerveza, entertains you with anecdotes as you cool your heels. Bryson's the guy, sitting alone at the next table, grumbling under his breath about the inauthenticity of our experiences compared to his.


message 5: by Emily (new)

Emily Thomas :) I completly agree. I have to read this book for school and I hate it. I have to force myself to read it everyday. Its not a book that you get into.


Sarah Do you have any grounding for hating it? I think it's okay to dislike a book, but you need to think about what it is about it that makes you hate it. And I still maintain that disliking the voice is not grounds for disliking the book.....


message 7: by erin (new) - rated it 1 star

erin Again, I disagree. My opinion is *my* opinion, and I feel justified in liking or disliking books based entirely on my own feelings and reactions. I spent three hours in Bryson's highly unpleasant company; I shudder to imagine spending the month on the trail with him. Just as I would avoid befriending a narcissistic jerk like Bryson in real life, I can choose to avoid his books for the same reasons.


message 8: by Emily (last edited Oct 07, 2008 06:30AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Emily I came away with a very different interpretation of Bryson's tone. I really thought he was mocking himself as much, if not more, than anyone else, although I will admit that he buys into the stereotypes of Southerners a little too heavily.
On a different note, too enjoyed Tim Moore's Continental Drifter.


Danielle I agtree with Sarah- Bryson is intending to be self-deprecating. I enjoyed the book.


message 10: by Abi (last edited Sep 11, 2008 03:22PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Abi I think I see the problem. You see, something is required to enjoy a Bryson book. It's a good sense of humour. Particularly an appreciation of irony and dry wit. I suppose it was too subtle for you?
To call Bill Bryson 'smug' is to completely fail to get the joke.


message 11: by Abi (new) - rated it 5 stars

Abi And really, a 'know-it-all' attitude? Bryson has made a living from coming across as an enthusiastic but somewhat bumbling amateur.


message 12: by erin (new) - rated it 1 star

erin I'm finding these responses from Bryson readers interesting. First I was denied my right to an independent opinion, now I'm chided for having no sense of humour, thus not "getting the joke". Bryson's "wit" (sic) - in this book, at least - is based in smug, loutish behaviour. This is not something I find funny, nor a pleasant way to spend my time, thus, I will not be picking up any more Bryson tomes to dispell this first impression. (And why should I, when I can find much funnier and more decent people doing the same kind of thing Bryson does?) Yet the Bryson Brigade continue to make frequent, finger-wagging visits, defending their fave. Do they feel personally offended because they haven't swayed me to their thinking? Do they want me to get the joke? If so, they should note that I'm not likely to be won over by any arguments when they're presented to me in the same smug and loutish tones for which I denounced the book in the first place. About the only thing I can agree with is the designation of "bumbling amateur", but this applies less to Bryson's adventures than his authorship.


Jw423 I didn't find that the tone of the book was degradeing to anyone except maybe the south. I get the humor and also agree that Bryson includes himself in the fun. However I'm haveing a hard time with the flow of the book. It seems that it just starts to get going with the actual adventure of the trail, when Bryson goes off on a bash the Forest Service tangent. I didn't pick up the book for his political view. I wanted to read about a guy and his freind out on an adventure.
Maybe Bryson is known for his rants in his books and I am at fault for not knowing the auther before reading.
Just my opinion, but I feel that the side steps take away from the story and make it feel choppy and out of place. Possibly a great place for these stops would be in a end of the book My Views on....... section. Or possibly just another book.
I like the book somewhat for the adventure and humor side, but would not reccomend the book to anyone.


message 14: by Jill (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jill Well, here's one red stater who is finding this book hilarious and doesn't find Bryson smug at all. In fact, I found him quite charming. I'd love to meet this gentleman in real life.

He just doesn't suffer fools gladly, regardless of where they come from.

And he dedicated this book to the companion you think he was so mean about.


Elizabeth Lee If you don't like a book, you don't like it; end of story.

One can't tell a person that the reason she doesn't like a book is invalid! It's perfectly fine to dislike a book because you're irritated by the narrator. People have different tastes.

Did she enjoy the book? No.
Then does she dislike the book? Yes.
Is that ok? Yes!
Do you have to agree with her? No, but she still doesn't like the book.

The fact that many people like it doesn't mean she's wrong to not like it. Good gracious.



anne s. I liked this book a lot, but I do see where you're coming from. I don't mind a little snarkiness here and there, and as others have mentioned Bryson *was* very self-deprecating. But that doesn't mean you didn't make some good points.


message 17: by Leftbanker (new)

Leftbanker I think Bryson should just stay home and not torture himself with travel. It is obvious that he despises anything new and he hates people. According to him everyone in the world is fat, or stupid, or both. I don't think that he is funny...ever. Just my opinion. I keep reading him. I guess that I'm just compulsive and his books are so popular that they are difficult to ignore. I did enjoy learning about the AT in this account but he sure does whine a lot.


Laini I'm glad he'll continue to write DESPITE your opinion, since plenty of us blue folk enjoy his work. Enjoy your Larry the Cable Guy bio.


message 19: by erin (new) - rated it 1 star

erin A note to all the indignant blue-staters I appear to have offended: We* need to learn not to be so easily offended, and to recognise criticism when it applies.

*I'm a left-leaning Canadian, which puts me firmly into the ultra-violet section of the American political spectrum. I've never seen Larry the Cable Guy, though from his descriptions of his travelling companion, I presume Bryson would enjoy watching, if only for the superiority self-esteem boost he'd probably get.


message 20: by Kristina (last edited Apr 06, 2010 01:43PM) (new)

Kristina I bought this book for a friend because he loves to read and is an outdoorsy sort of guy.

In short, he hated this book. He practically said all the same things as Erin. He now uses the pages to start his grill.


message 21: by [Name Redacted] (new)

[Name Redacted] erin wrote: "I'm finding these responses from Bryson readers interesting. First I was denied my right to an independent opinion, now I'm chided for having no sense of humour, thus not "getting the joke". Brys..."

I think you've hit the nail on the head. I love this response!


message 22: by [Name Redacted] (new)

[Name Redacted] erin wrote: "A note to all the indignant blue-staters I appear to have offended: We* need to learn not to be so easily offended, and to recognise criticism when it applies.

*I'm a left-leaning Canadian, whic..."


So fantastic. I'm adding you as a friend.


message 23: by Zach (new) - rated it 5 stars

Zach Based on your summary, I'm not entirely sure we read the same book.


Jaimie I could not agree with you more, Erin! I could not stand Bryson's smug attitude throughout the book. Funny, because A Short History of Nearly Everything (which I read first, thank goodness) is one of my all time favorites.


message 25: by Suzy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Suzy Nash Did we read the same book? I read this book in a public place and literally passed out from laughing and had to be revived by smelling salts.


David Harley Lame review.. Go back to you Red State..


message 27: by [Name Redacted] (new)

[Name Redacted] Harley wrote: "Lame review.. Go back to you Red State.."

Might be worth reading the comment thread before you start ignorantly proclaiming what she should do. Here's what the reviewer said about herself:

"note to all the indignant blue-staters I appear to have offended: We* need to learn not to be so easily offended, and to recognise criticism when it applies.

"*I'm a left-leaning Canadian, which puts me firmly into the ultra-violet section of the American political spectrum. I've never seen Larry the Cable Guy, though from his descriptions of his travelling companion, I presume Bryson would enjoy watching, if only for the superiority self-esteem boost he'd probably get."


Pamela Pickering I'm consistently amazed how people get so offended and nasty over another's review of a book. It's as if they've written it themselves. Can't someone just state an opinion without bringing in a lot of hostility? IT'S A BOOK not a member of the family. I rc'd a such a nasty response to a book I didn't like that you would have thought I ran over this girl's puppy on purpose. Really? I was going to ruin her day because of something I said about a book?

I'm very fortunate to have such good GR friends that they respect my ability to have an opposing opinion. In my opinion, this is what GR is for to share views and critiques openly without fear of recrimination.

(Just my 2 cents)


Christie I am love..love...loving this book. I don't care one little teeny tiny what others may say.. Okay I guess I am curious. But this book is laugh out loud funny. I will relish and enjoy this book to the end and glad of it. I feel bad for folks who didn't enjoy it, but it doesn't change opinion one bit.


message 30: by Pam (new)

Pam I was editing my to-read list because there seemed to be too many books on there that I wasn't sure I really wanted to read anymore. This was one of them. Having read two other Bryson books, I told myself that I still wanted to read A Walk in the Woods, even though the other books were not my cup of tea. I'll admit I love the cover and a few of my friends gave it 4 & 5 stars. Your review has convinced me to remove this book from my to-read list and walk out of the woods and never look back. Thanks.


message 31: by Ben (new) - rated it 1 star

Ben I couldn't agree more, Erin! Well said.


Waterman Erin I cannot agree....Bill is worth the effort, keep trying don't give up yet!


Kimberly I'm so glad to have found someone else who felt the exact same way I did about this book! I didn't even finish it I thought it was so boring...and his attitude really annoyed me. I read travel narratives all the time and have travelled and hiked quite a bit myself...this book was pretty obnoxious...have no idea why everyone makes such a big deal about it! One of my good friends raves about this book and was horrified when I told him I gave up 3/4 of the way through. I simply didn't care whether or not he finished the hike..or what happened to him at all.


Waterman No go back into woods and try again...the section on Mary-Ellen is very funny. Lots of interesting info and the sight of the sweating Bryson labouring through the woods is worth the walk!


Kimberly Kim wrote: "I'm so glad to have found someone else who felt the exact same way I did about this book! I didn't even finish it I thought it was so boring...and his attitude really annoyed me. I read travel narr..."
I'm going to add something to my comment and say that I actually did think this book was funny in the beginning (ask anyone: I laugh at anything and everything), but something about his tone ended that pretty quickly for me. This is only the second book in my life I stopped reading before the end...like I said: I just didn't care where he ended up.


Laura Siegel I loved this book, perhaps because I listened to the audio version. What may have appeared in print as smugness was really the author laughing at himself for undertaking such a ridiculous venture given his lack of experience and physical shape. Bryson does have that kind of dry wit.


message 37: by Erin (new) - rated it 3 stars

Erin Gourley I think you have every right to like or dislike a book, but I do have to say that as far as his portrayal of Katz, you cannot accurately judge it if you're not through with the book. I ended the book with an immense affection for Katz, and Bryson even dedicated the book to him. As far as the author's attitude and tendency to go off on tangents, I thought he did a nice job of making fun of himself, and the things I learned from his tangents (which were very smoothly integrated into the adventure story, to me) I will remember for the rest of my life.


Tristan What this reviewer fails to understand is that wonderful and inimitable thing known as British humor. Ha.


message 39: by T.S. (new) - rated it 2 stars

T.S. I couldn't agree more. My review, though more concise, shared my similar reaction. The best part, though, is that actually hikes little of the trail...and rediscovered nothing about America. Looking forward to reading Cheryl Straed's "Wild."


Phillip W still a good book, well written, informative, and funny.


Emily British humor?!?! Yet another one of his inadequate and phony storytelling devices. It pairs nicely with his bogus "self-deprecation". I found him to be incredibly demeaning to southerners. I thought it was extremely unfortunate for him to nickname a young woman waiting on him "Betty Slutz". His ego seems to continue to get the better of him when he suggests that he believes that he is destined to encounter all of the world's stupidest people at some point in his life, as if his intellect is something to revel in. Furthermore, he seems downright negative about damn near everything. And it's not nearly as charming worn on him, as it is his good buddy, Katz. He is so full of himself. I guess he missed that big humility lesson many pick up on the AT. nothing humbling about his experience. It seems wasted on him.


message 42: by Waterman (last edited May 30, 2012 03:16AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Waterman Goodness me you really don't like Bill Bryson and it is patently obvious you really need a sense of humour!


Emily Greg wrote: "Goodness me you really don't like Bill Bryson and it is patently obvious you really need a sense of humour!"

Ah, a term that was "patently" overused! ;) See I actually have a great sense of humor!


Waterman Hilarious!


Matthew Wow. My favorite book of all time. Not sure what's not funny. What's more, Bryson's pleas for saving the eastern hardwood forests and his disdain for places like Gatlinburg, TN, are spot on. Unapologetic 'blue-stater'.


Waterman Don't worry Erin you probably just didn't get the jokes!


message 47: by [Name Redacted] (new)

[Name Redacted] Wow, the amount of bile and raw hatred she's getting for not liking this book makes me very glad I am not friends with any Bill Bryson fans. If these comments are any indication, his fans are among the most insulting and intolerant readers out there...


Amanda J I've never had any desire to read this book, but all this decisiveness has me curious...


Waterman Yes do it!


message 50: by Leftbanker (new)

Leftbanker If you think this review of Bill Bryson is harsh I dare you to read my review of The Lost Continent. And no, I don't think Bryson is the least bit funny. The thing is, the last time I checked Goodreads was about soliciting opinions. Oh my God, someone doesn't like a book I like. Grow up, people.


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