This was the category it took me the longest to decide on for the eclectic reader challenge. It almost seemed too obvious to pick Pratchett, Adams, Bryson, Collins, Maconie, all writers that had made me laugh out loud. At the same time, it seemed a bit risky to pick an author that I wasn’t sure of – maybe their humour wouldn’t appeal – so I decided to go for the tried and tested. Really, all of this was simply a justification for reading another wonderful Bill Bryson book.
I picked A Walk in the Woods because although I have never hiked the Appalachian Trail, I do like to hike and have done a long distance walk before so I thought I would have some empathy with what he went through.
As with all of the Bryson books that I have read, this was like being reunited with a particularly talkative old friend. The tone of the book is warm and friendly as if you were one of the fellow hikers that Bryson meets and chats to after a long days hike. Bryson is always engaging even when passing on historical detail which could be boring in a lesser writer’s hands.
Bryson, and his friend Stephen Katz, face many challenges on this walk, not least of which is their own lack of fitness at the beginning. They hit snowstorms, are assailed by insects, have maps that are dangerous in their uselessness and meet a fellow hiker so annoying that I would certainly have understood if they had murdered her in the middle of the night. In the end, they abandon her and go to spend the night in a motel.
Even when Bryson feels he is facing certain death – be it by bear, snow, sun or dehydration – he never loses his sense of humour and is quite happy to describe his own idiocy in as much detail as he describes Katz’s. He knows he is a little bit hopeless and that helps the reader to warm to him.
In the end, they do not hike the whole trail – the hundred mile wilderness at the end proves too much for them. And I must confess I was disappointed. Not because I felt that they should tried harder but because it meant the end of my journey with them, a little bit sooner than expected. A superb read for anyone who has ever donned a pair of walking boots.