A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson

Posted 26 June, 2013 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 22 Comments

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Title: A Walk in the Woods
Author: Bill Bryson
Published: 1998; Pages: 374
Genre: Narrative Nonfiction/Memoir
Rating: 3.5/5

In Short: Author Bill Bryson embarks on a backpacking/hiking through along the Appalachian Trail beginning in Georgia and ending in Maine.

Why I Read it: I picked this one up a few years ago based on blogger recommendation to read Bill Bryson. It just happened to be the first Bryson book I came across at Half Price Books. I suggested it for my work book club this month as something funnier than what we have been reading.

Thoughts in General: I’ll be honest. I had never heard of The Appalachian Trail before I read Wild by Cheryl Strayed last year (I had never heard of the Pacific Crest Trail either). I enjoy outdoorsy things and have been camping in a tent a handful of tents, but I did not grow up with the outdoors. However, I am fascinated with the idea of strapping a pack onto my back and wandering off into the woods. I don’t know that I’d ever really have the guts to do this, but I did put it on my bucket list. I just have to convince Scott that this sounds like a fun idea or condition my kiddos to eventually want to do this with me.

You didn’t really want to hear about the book did you? Oh, ok. A Walk in the Woods is part anecdotal and part informational. Bryson recounts his experiences on the trail and his tail is especially colorful when his pal Stephen Katz is hiking with him. In fact, these were my favorite parts of the book and I wish that more of the anecdotal was included rather than the informational. Bryson and Katz together are a sometimes a bunch of bumbling idiots and their play and interaction with each other is often laugh out loud funny.

In between the hiking stories, Bryson does what he does best and gives his reader lowdown on everything to know about the history of The Appalachian Trail, tidbits about the various environments from Georgia to Maine, facts and commentary on the towns along the way, and much much more. I’ve only read one other Bryson book (At Home) but I am loving how his books are a smorgasbord of intellectual nuggets–the types of things that make you want to nudge the person next to you and say “Hey, listen to this!” While I liked and appreciated these parts of the books, I wanted more of the anecdotal and found myself enjoying the book more when Bryson was actually walking.

Bottom Line: A Walk in the Woods came highly recommended to me and because of this I strongly suggested it to my book club (we draw our picks so it was actually luck of the draw). I felt a little bit let down because I wanted this book to be hilarious. It’s always a bummer when you expect one thing and are delivered another. No fault of the book and I still enjoyed it and found it easy to pick up to read but I won’t lie that I was disappointed I didn’t get more chuckles from this one. I do recommend A Walk in the Woods, especially to adventurers and outdoors enthusiasts or really anyone who loves random information overload.

I didn’t listen to the audio on this one because Bryson only reads an abridged version–also a disappointment as I think this book would be great on audio (there is an unabridged version but I opted for paper since I already had the book).  Also, have you heard that Robert Redford is slated to direct A Walk in the Woods?

Do you have a favorite Bill Bryson book? Would you be interested in a hiking/backpacking trip in the woods?

22 Responses to “A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson”

  1. What a timely post! One of my flute students is trying to decide on a non-fiction book to read for an AP class, and this is on the reading list. We were just talking about it yesterday.

    Great review!

  2. I tend to find Bill Bryson hilarious just, all the time, but thinking about this one now, it did get a bit serious towards the end there right? He has definitely been funnier, but I still liked this book a lot- BUT I will just say that I read it before Wild, and I think if I’d read Wild first, I’d be a bit like ‘Oh, poor you and your struggles, Bryson- Go and hike the PCT alone as a woman, will ya?!’

    Not that they’re exactly comparable but I just KNOW if I’d read Wild before this, I would have had it in the back of my mind the whole time I was reading it.

  3. I think my favorite is In a Sunburnt Country but I haven’t read Thunderbolt Kid yet. When I was a young teen, my dream was to hike the AT or PCT. But I’ve walked only little bits of both.

  4. I can’t believe you had never heard of the Appalachian Trail before Wild! Maybe it’s an east coast thing but I know tons of people who have hiked at least part of it. Even I’ve been on a little bit of it.

    I’ve read one Bryson book – The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid – and I liked it a lot but didn’t think of it as being hilarious.

  5. I’ve read Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything and really enjoyed it. I never thought of him as a humorous guy though he has his moments. Maybe next time you guys can read some Dave Sedaris instead? :-) How are you feeling now that you’re in the final stretch of pregnancy?

  6. I haven’t read Bryson either, but I have this book and his title about Australia, I think. Looking forward to both…one day!

  7. I’ve never read any of Bryson’s books. I picked up At Home once from the library but never got around to reading it. I have to find the time to read one of his books.

  8. I just finished this on audio (unabridged, not read by Bryson) and it is definitely not his funniest although it still had his signature dry wit and there were moments that had me laughing out loud walking down the street. I really liked his I Am A Stranger Here Myself and Notes from a Small Island.

  9. I have this one on my shelf. I personally have little desire to do any kind of long hiking/back-packing, but the Appalachian Trail kind of intrigues me.

  10. My parents have a copy of one of his books but I’ve not got round to reading it (though I’ve my eye on it after all the recommendations from blogs). I guess I’m not too informed about the funny factor, so maybe that could work in my favour?

  11. I have not heard of this one, I only do short walks in the woods, no overnighters. Sorry to hear you were disappointed.

  12. I haven’t read any Bryson, yet. I do have this one on the shelves and look forward to it. Partly because I’m amazed by all the hikers who go out on these trails as that’s something I’m fairly certain I would never be into (spiders!).

  13. Bryson has been on my radar for quite some time, thanks in no small part to blogger recommendations, and I definitely want to pick this one up! We live within a few hours’ drive of the Appalachian Mountains, yet I’ve rarely spent any time there. As I get older, I’m learning the mountains are really good for my soul… want to get out and explore on my own! (Though I’m far from a nature girl. Reading a book like this one and taking a day trip to snap photos is enough for me.)

  14. I felt let down by “A Walk in the Woods” too—friends who recommended it just RAVED that it was THE MOST HILARIOUS THING and I didn’t find it all that funny. Katz was funnier than Bryson, I thought. I did like his writing, though, and I love travel memoirs in general, so I’d like to give another book of his a try—haven’t decided what yet, though!

  15. This book is hilarious!

    Bryson’s sense of humor and his sense of adventure is very funny. Even a couch potato would love this book.

    My husband and I plan to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail in 2010, and I bought this book as research for our hike. I couldn’t put the book down!

  16. I really liked this book but I wasn’t expecting it to be hilarious so I was pleasantly surprised. Also, I have listened to another book narrated by Bryson and in my opinion he has a bit of a distracting lisp so I don’t think you missed out there.

  17. I have just recently started venturing into the world of hiking with my boyfriend. We have taken a couple trips up to Yosemite which have only been day trips but are still a lot of fun. I’m thinking that maybe if I get more in shape, a full out backpacking trip could be in my future!

    I’ve never ready any of Bryson’s books but I did read some of his essays in college. He is a great writer and I think that his nature ethic is definitely worth exploring further!

  18. I have this book on my shelf but didn’t know much about it before I picked it up. Now I think I could relate a teensy bit as I actually stepped on part of the Appalachian trail a few weeks ago while on a hike- our trail intersected with it for a ways- so hope I will read it soon. I hope I do get a few laughs out of it…