Nonfiction Review: A Walk in the Woods

January 4, 2021 Uncategorized 4 ★★★

Nonfiction Review: A Walk in the WoodsTitle: A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail
Author: Bill Bryson
Source: Book Swap
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

Summary: The sense of humor in this book left me with mixed feelings, but the personal stories and fun facts were great.

This memoir of hiking the Appalachian Trail is the second book I’ve read by author and novice hiker Bill Bryson. I tried his A Short History of Nearly Everything and found his dad joke-y humor wasn’t enough to carry me through a long book that rehashed natural history I’m already familiar with. This memoir, which included details of his personal experience and new-to-me info, was much more enjoyable. I’m glad I finally gave his books a second chance.

The humor in these books is one of their strong points. It reminded me of Mary Roach a bit, especially in the author’s impressive ability to constantly be funny. Unlike Roach, though, his humor was sometimes dated, including some fat-phobic jokes that should really be laid to rest. This wasn’t entirely out of line with his other humor, which sometimes felt a little cruel and at others expense. There were also a couple of graphic potty-humor moments that felt jarringly out of place. A lot of the humor was also self-deprecating though and highlighted both the fears and joys of a novice hiker, which I found very relatable. This was more common than the humor that didn’t work for me.

The author also did a great job of blending his personal experiences with entertaining anecdotes, fun facts, and sobering information about loss of natural areas in the United States. In fact, one of my main takeaways from this book was that the National Park Service seems to exist to facilitate logging more than to protect our forests. At least as of publication of this book in 1997, significantly more effort was being spent building roads than studying disappearing wildlife. I enjoyed Bryson’s outsider perspective on how Americans interact with nature and at least mostly agreed with him. His own personal growth and his relationship with hiking buddy Stephan Katz were also particularly enjoyable. Although this is a bit dated, I’d recommend it to anyone who’s willing to skim through that to enjoy a funny personal take on a beginner’s experience of the Appalachian Trail.

4 Responses to “Nonfiction Review: A Walk in the Woods”

  1. Rennie

    I was so surprised to see you reviewing this right now because I JUST read this in the last weeks!! It was on my list forever but like you I didn’t much like his dad-joke style and every other book I’ve read by him, aside from The Body, has been totally underwhelming. I only gave this one a chance because I’d loved The Body so much and I needed something light and distracting to switch off with while reading Obama’s book.

    You really hit the nail on the head with how I felt about this one. At times it was really entertaining and I was shocked and disturbed by what he shared about the Park Service as well. I couldn’t believe that. But it does feel a bit dated, and I’m suspicious of some of the dialogue as it all sounds a bit like things he would say. But it was a pretty fun read in general and I’m glad I finally got to it, and learned something about the trail and the history and culture around it as well. So fun to read your take on it!

    • DoingDewey

      Oh, what a fun coincidence! I’m behind on reading blog posts, but I look forward to hearing your more detailed thoughts if you review this too. Your positive review of The Body, which came at the same time as a review from Bookish Beck, is part of what pushed me to give Bryson a second chance. It sounds like The Body might just be the one to read!

      Haha, I was also suspicious of the dialogue, although my first thought was that he might have agreed on it with his friend to make them both sound funny 🙂 It was a bit too neat though. I liked it enough that I did pass it on to my sister, who’s done quite a bit of hiking the Appalachian trail herself.

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