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A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America…

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (1998)

by Bill Bryson

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A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson is part travelogue, part comedy, and part monologue. The book is at times informative, at times unkind, and at times funny. It is a personal journey, a social commentary, and a call to action to protect the Appalachian Trail. Overall, my reaction is as diverse as the book itself. Parts I could skip over and parts I really enjoyed.

Read my complete review at: http://www.memoriesfrombooks.com/2015/10/a-walk-in-woods.html

Reviewed for the Blogging for Books program ( )
  njmom3 | Oct 3, 2015 |
The Appalachian Trail trail stretches from Georgia to Maine and covers some of the most breathtaking terrain in America–majestic mountains, silent forests, sparking lakes. If you’re going to take a hike, it’s probably the place to go. And Bill Bryson is surely the most entertaining guide you’ll find. He introduces us to the history and ecology of the trail and to some of the other hardy (or just foolhardy) folks he meets along the way–and a couple of bears. Already a classic, A Walk in the Woods will make you long for the great outdoors (or at least a comfortable chair to sit and read in). ( )
  makaiju | Oct 1, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Oh, how I love Bill Bryson. He's everything I look for in an author. A good writer. Brave, but not too much. Human. And funny. Most of all, funny.

So last week I reread A Walk in the Woods. I reread it slowly. It was one of those books you don't want to end. All along the way you are laughing. You just have to laugh at Bryson. He tries to do the hard thing, but it's...well, hard. And his companion, Katz, is equally human. Quintessential Americans.

So much fun. ( )
  debnance | Sep 27, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is the second time of reading this book and it is not in the same caliber as WILD by Cheryl Strayed or as good as his other travel books in content. Nevertheless, it is written by Bill Bryson so how can you go wrong?! It has the same dry humor and insightful comments and observations as his other books. Well worth reading for those interested in taking the walk themselves, want to enjoy a good light read or just be be entertained. ( )
  ashmolean1 | Sep 27, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Bill Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods," details his (mis)adventures hiking the Appalachian Trial.

It's a light, easy to read, recounting of his attempt to hike the trail. It's much like Peter Mayle's Life Provence books, with more emphasis on readability than veracity.

Bryson's book is engaging; unfortunately, I was bothered that he finds himself even more engaging than I do. ( )
  dianaleez | Sep 24, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
review via blog: http://tewigleben.blogspot.com/2015/09/a-walk-in-woods-rediscovering-america.htm...

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail By Bill Bryson — A Review
Memoirs are selfish. It's the nature of the book, and should be expected. The best memoirs allow your footsteps to follow those of the author, their thoughts and emotions to become your thoughts and emotions, and preserve the humanity of the story and still keep it engaging.

A Walk in the Woods is pretty close to accomplishing this for me. At turns an adventure story, pseudo guidebook to the Appalachian Trail, and a friendship narrative, Bryson's trademark humorous and self-deprecating style keeps the pace of the book moving.

Hikers are an interesting bunch, and I think everyone has their own reasons for choosing to tackle a difficult trail like the AT. I enjoyed hearing Bill's reasons, and the back and forth between him and Katz, the out of shape, old college friend who was the only one who would accompany him.

I love nature, I love walking in the woods and climbing a hill every now and then, but I'm not one to go running at 5 AM. Ever. A perspective of hiking this beautiful and monstrous trail from folks who aren't professional runners and eat an occasional (or more than occasional) Snickers was motivational for me. Maybe someday I can do something out of my comfort zone, too.

If you have read any of his other books and liked them, chances are you'll like this one too. It's not about getting there, it really is - as cliche as it sounds - about the journey.

*I received this book free from LibraryThing with movie tie-in cover via their Early Reviewers program. ( )
  tewigleben | Sep 21, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A Walk in the Woods must be one of the most recognized travel memoirs in existence. Certainly the most famous book of Bill Bryson’s. Generally I get glassy stares and polite nods when I talk about a book I'm reading, but not so with A Walk in the Woods. No sooner did I mention the title and people perked up and said, “Oh, the Bill Bryson book?” Even if they hadn't read the book themselves, most had heard of it.

The memoir begins in New Hampshire where the author and his family have returned to the U.S. after 25 years of living in England. Although Bryson was born in Iowa, his time away from the U.S. left him longing to get reaquainted with his homeland. When he sees that the Appalachian Trail passes near his home, he does some research and becomes enamored with the seminal hiking trail. Despite the hardships and irrationality of hiking 2168 miles of wilderness, Bryson decides to attempt it.

“It would be useful (I wasn’t quite sure in what way, but I was sure nonetheless) to learn to fend for myself in the wilderness. When guys in camouflage pants and hunting hats sat around the Four Aces Diner talking about fearsome things done out-of-doors, I would no longer have to feel like such a cupcake. I wanted a little of that swagger that comes from being able to gaze at the far horizon through eyes of chipped granite and say with a slow, manly sniff, ‘Yeah, I’ve shit in the woods.’”

Determined not to hike alone, He sets out to find a companion willing to tackle the multi-month journey with him. Unsurprisingly, he’s not only rejected by his friends and family, but most question his sanity. Finally an estranged friend from his past answers the call. Stephen Katz, an overweight, rude, and recovering alcoholic begs to come along. Though their relationship had ended on less than amicable terms decades earlier Bryson agrees to have Katz along.

The book recounts their funny, scary, and mundane moments on the trail. While hiking seven miles to the trail head in Georgia, Katz, who has fallen behind, becomes frustrated with weight of his pack. In a moment of fury he tosses most of the duos food over the edge of a cliff. Another time the two become separated and lost in a remote section of the trail. After spending a night apart they finally find one another. In the moment of relief two men finally let their guards down and reconcile their differences.

The book also captures the exhausting monotony of long distance hiking. Most books I've read gloss of this inconvenient and glamorous reality. But Bryson captures it in perhaps the most perfect description of futility of ever, which I shared on my blog last month. (http://erlenmeyer316.com/a-few-words-for-august-2015/)

Bryson writes with a distinct wry, british tone and his self deprecating style sets 'A Walk in the Woods' apart from other hiking memoirs. For instance Cheryl Strayed’s Wild is an excellent book. But it bears the marks of my generation: self absorption, existential dread, exhaustive introspection, and over-seriousness. Another excellent book, Peter Jenkin's 'A Walk Across America' exhibits similar, albeit toned down, traits. Although those aspects resonate, they also tend to make for downer stories….in a good way. (Yeah, you wouldn’t want to have to live inside my head.) Bryson, on the other hand, never takes himself too seriously, has a wonderful curiosity, and writes with a contagious levity.

The strange thing though is that my favorite thing about this memoir weren't recollections of the trail. Liberally mixed in are geological, biological, political, and social histories of the Appalachian trail. These sections fill me with absolute awe and wonder with the workings of evolution, human nature, and geology. There were the parts I couldn’t wait to share with people. This magical passage was perhaps my favorite:

"For all its mass, a tree is a remarkably delicate thing. All of its internal life exists within three paper-thin layers of tissue - the phloem, xylem, and cambium = just beneath the bark, which together form a moist sleeve around the dead heartwood. However tall it grows, a tree is just a few pounds of living cells thinly spread between roots and leaves. These three diligent layers of cells perform all the intricate science and engineering needed to keep a tree I alive, and the efficiency with which they do it is one of the wonders of life. Without noise or fuss, every tree in a forest lifts massive volumes of water - several hundred gallons in the case of a large tree on a hot day - from its roots to its leaves, where it is returned to the atmosphere. Imagine the din and commotion, the clutter of machinery, that would be needed for a fire department to raise a similar volume of water.

And lifting water is just one of the many jobs that the phloem, xylem, and cambium perform. They also manufacture lignin and cellulose; regulate the storage and production of tannin, sap, gum, oils, and resins; dole out minerals and nutrients; convert starches into sugars for future growth (which is where maple syrup comes into the picture); and goodness knows what else. But because all this is happening in such a thin layer, it also leaves the tree terribly vulnerable to invasive organisms. To combat this, trees have formed elaborate defense mechanisms. The reason a rubber tree seeps latex when cut is that this is its way of saying to insects and other organisms, “Not tasty. Nothing here for you. Go away." Trees can also deter destructive creatures like caterpillars by flooding their leaves with tannin, which makes the leaves less tasty and so inclines the caterpillars to look elsewhere. When infestations are particularly severe, some trees can even communicate the fact. Some species of oak release a chemical that tells other oaks in the vicinity that an attack is under way. In response, the neighboring oaks step up their tannin production the better to withstand the coming onslaught.

By such means, of course, does nature tick along."

When you begin this book you'll be convinced it's a book about hiking the Appalachian trail. About half way through you'll begin to realize you've actually been reading a love letter to the beauty and wonder of America's nature. A love letter written with a contagious curiosity, passion, and reverence for the grandeur that exists all around us. Like a guide, it leads readers out of themselves and into the wonder of the natural world and desire to experience and protect it. Like Bryson's journey this book will change the way readers look at nature and their relationship to it.
  erlenmeyer316 | Sep 21, 2015 |
Funny as hell! I thought [a:David Sedaris|2849|David Sedaris|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1213737698p2/2849.jpg] had a monopoly on making you laugh every damn page. Ok, he still does. [a:Bill Bryson|7|Bill Bryson|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1189096502p2/7.jpg] goes into some heartfelt and sometimes annoying conservationist passages. But the dialogues and situational humor between him and Katz are singular! ( )
  Victor_A_Davis | Sep 18, 2015 |
Bill Bryson's engaging tale of his trek hiking along (much of) the Appalachian Trail. Anyone familiar with Bryson's work will know he has peppered his saga with loads of history, especially of the AT, the U.S. Forestry Dept., logging, coal mining, flora and fauna (bears!). It is the interplay with his hiking companion, Katz, which supplies entertainment, humor and pathos. ( )
  michigantrumpet | Sep 11, 2015 |
This book is more than a travel journal of two non-hikers on the Appalachian Trail. Their hiking provides only a stage for discussions on the social condition of America, local history, the environment, and the complexities of friendships.
Bryson’s observations while hiking the AT evolve into the saving of our fragile environment and the absurdity of bureaucrats’ entrusted with the building and maintenance of the AT.
This was my first reading of Bill Bryson while my son has talked about him for years. I found him entertaining and funny. I just saw the movie today (Staring Robert Redford & Nick Nolte). I enjoyed the movie, but like most there was a lot of literary freedom involved. The best parts were about Mary Ellen & Beulah.
  mjv0 | Sep 8, 2015 |
A little preachy at parts, but the chapters actually dealing with Bryson and Katz on the trail is entertaining.

PopSugar 2015 Reading Challenge | Task #8: A funny book ( )
  Bodagirl | Sep 5, 2015 |
Read this on a few years ago, I guess with the movie coming out it is popular again. I loved it! The humor made me LOL!! ( )
  lorriwilliams12 | Sep 1, 2015 |
I am terribly disappointed by the fact that I did not fall in love with this book. When I was choosing a book to read, I took one look at the ratings for this book on Goodreads and knew that I had to read this book right away. Seriously, every single one of my friends on Goodreads gave this book either a 4 or 5 star rating. And they said it was funny. I love funny. I knew that I would just love this book.

I didn't love it. I was actually bored for most of this book. I do admit that this isn't the kind of book that I usually read but a humorous non-fiction story about hiking the Appalachian Trail sounded fabulous. I really did enjoy the parts of the book that focused on Bill and Stephen's adventures on the trail. I just wish that the focus of the book would have stayed with Bill and Stephen.

The problem was that there was just too much other stuff crammed into this book. I sometimes felt like I was reading a textbook....a well-written textbook...but a textbook nonetheless. In this short little book, I learned about the history of the Appalachian Trail, some geology, information about bears, trees, the National Park Service, birds, and various other things. A lot of the time the book just felt dry and information packed. I was glad that some of this information was shared in a fun way that actually put a smile on my face. All too often, I felt like skipping entire sections of the book so that I could get back to the actual hike.

I had hoped that this was going to be one of those side splitting funny kind of books. It had its moments of humor but nothing that made me do anything more than crack a smile. There was no laughing out loud and the parts that were funny seemed to be rather sparse. Don't get me wrong, I can tell that Bill Bryson is a very funny guy but I need a lot more of those kind of moments to offset the parts of the book that were dry.

I did notice that there is a movie based on this book that is soon to be released. I actually am looking forward to that movie because I suspect that it will focus on the parts of the book that I really enjoyed....the actual hike. I don't think that there will be too many geology or history lessons found in the film. I am thinking that I actually want to go an see the movie when it comes out and I never go see movies.

I am not going to be recommending this book but I am seriously in the minority with this one. I would tell readers to pick it up if it sounds interesting to you. You may be one of the many who really love it. I still really wish that I was one of the many readers who love it.

I received an advance reader edition of this book from Blogging for Books for the purpose of providing an honest review. ( )
  Carolesrandomlife | Aug 31, 2015 |
I listed to the audio of this book; the performer is fantastic! His comedic timing is spot on. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. It's laugh out loud funny. ( )
  acargile | Aug 30, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A funny and informational account of Bryson's venture into hiking the Appalachian Trail. I found myself enthralled by the novel, and I very much appreciated the history and facts that were included. It is part writing for the outdoor enthusiast, part travel writing, but all around funny and enjoyable. ( )
  Alie | Aug 30, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A truly adventurous read…and great for those that want to vicariously go on an adventure.

I love memoirs about hiking, and I love Bill Bryson's various books. So I thought that this would be the best of both worlds. Bryson writes eloquently, and offers a find balance of personal anecdotes as well as interesting history, science, or geographical explanations. You can't go wrong with A Walk in the Woods.

The story focuses on Bryson and his friend Stephen Katz as they attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail, starting from Georgia and concluding in Maine. He offer various experiences that occur during the course of the hike, some more memorable than others. I especially loved the part with their wonderful hiking-mate, Mary Ellen. And as much as I would love to do something as thru-hiking a trail, the details Bryson offers on potential mishaps that could occur don't encourage me in the least bit. So I think I'm fine with reading about the hike.

For lovers of hiking, this is a great read. ( )
  jms001 | Aug 25, 2015 |
Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson , originally released in 1998, has been re-released as a tie in for the upcoming movie of the same title.

Even though it has been a few years since this book was originally published it is still a great memoir, and great introduction to the Appalachian Trail, which extends for over 2,000 miles up down the east coast of the United States from Maine to Georgia.

Part memoir, part educational lesson about the trail itself, the US National Parks Service, and nature and conservation, this is a good title for those looking for a humorous yet insightful book about hiking, history, and the great outdoors. It is full of details and facts, and contains quite a bit of interesting information in its 300-or-so pages. As you follow Bryson, and his friend Stephen Katz along portions of their hike, you’ll find out why hiking the Appalachian Trail is no walk in the woods.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  sklee | Aug 25, 2015 |
This funny, interesting book was an absolute listening pleasure. The narrator’s droll delivery is well suited to the writing style, which intersperses informative passages with a hefty dose of humor. While I loved learning more about the Appalachian Trail, the highlight of the book is the descriptions of the author’s hiking partner, Stephen Katz. I’m not really sure how much of Katz is an embellishment and how much is real, but I truly hope that every word is true.

Even if you have no particular interest in the Appalachian Trail, A Walk in the Woods is still a fascinating and entertaining book. I highly recommend it, no matter the format. (By the way, don’t rely on the trailers for the upcoming film adaptation to give you a sense of this book; from what I’ve seen, they’re essentially two totally different things.) ( )
  les121 | Aug 23, 2015 |
I really wanted to give this book 5 stars. At times it was so engaging I couldn't put it down. The first half of the book with the lead in to the hike and the actual telling of events of the hike up through Tennessee were really funny. Bryson and his companion, Katz, are quite a team. Hilarious at times. The third quarter of the book is slow, even boring at times. Bryson is hiking the trail on his own. There is a lot of trail history and science thrown in to lengthen the story, which is sometimes interesting, but mostly boring. I had to skip parts of this or I never would have made it through the book. There just isn't much for him to talk about when he is out on the trail alone. For the ending, Bryson and Katz team up again to take a stab at the end of the trail in Maine. Once again, Bryson's telling of the interactions between he and his friend are quite entertaining. He wraps it all up nicely, and in the end I was glad I read the book. ( )
  valorrmac | Aug 19, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
"A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson

Seventeen years after its original publication, sporting "Now a major motion picture" label, this rambling account of an attempted long hike on the Appalachian Trail came into my hands. I had been on the trail long ago. I never would have aspired to do more than sample it, and salute those who complete it.

(I was tempted to leave the above as my review but find I cannot. Like Bryson and Katz, I press on.)

Neither himself or his overweight companion had any realistic expectation of completing the journey. We marvel that they did as much as was possible against all odds, appreciate Bryson's honesty, and look forward to the film. ( )
  Esta1923 | Aug 18, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
In the mid-1990s, expatriate writer Bill Bryson decided that the best way to reconnect with his American heritage and upbringing was by walking the Appalachian Trail, the celebrated 2,200-mile (or so) pathway that stretches through the mountains of the eastern seaboard from Georgia to Maine. A Walk in the Woods chronicles his adventures on that journey, along with detailed accounts of many of the people and sights he encountered along the way. Beyond those reminiscences, Bryson also offers lengthy forays into such diverse additional topics as the origins and development of the AT, significant moments during the Civil War, the myriad shortcomings of the Forest Service and the Army Corps of Engineers, the history of crime and other fatalities along the trail, as well as the many, many ways in which mankind has failed to protect either our physical environment or our wildlife populations.

I suppose I have to admit to being slightly disappointed with this book, particularly since I have enjoyed so much of the author’s past work. Being re-released as part of a movie tie-in promotion about two decades after its original publication, considerable portions of A Walk in the Woods feel quite dated, especially the ponderous statistical support given for social and ecological arguments that were undoubtedly fresh twenty years ago. Whether these issues involving wilderness preservation still resonate with readers today in the same way and for the same reasons is debatable, but then neither the author nor the publisher have made any attempt to update the book for events that have transpired since then. By all appearances, the text of this “new” edition seems to be exactly the same as it was when originally published in 1998.

What bothered me the most about the story, however, was that the parts involving the author’s actual experiences on the AT were simply not very interesting, nor were they in the slightest bit charming. In fact, Bryson devotes relatively little space to the time he and Stephen Katz, his sometimes trail companion, spent hiking and camping, preferring more frequently to regale the reader with their perpetual efforts to find motels and restaurants away from the AT where they might be more comfortable. Further, in addition to complaining about the hardships associated with virtually every step they take, Bryson and Katz do some incredibly mean-spirited things to other hikers, such as ditch a lonely (albeit annoying) elderly woman in the middle of a walk, insult another woman’s weight because she hasn’t yet hiked the trail, and steal the laces from the boots of another woman whom they found to be obnoxious at an overnight rest stop.

By the end, I was not quite sure what the author’s real purpose was for the entire venture, besides being a good reason to write another book. Indeed, he abandons very early on the prospect of walking the entire trail; instead, he ends up hiking less than 40 percent of the AT and takes some significant time off in the middle. (Katz is present for considerably less time than that, although he does provide some occasional comic relief.) Also, for all the talk of confronting the omnipresent dangers of the AT (e.g., gun-toting ne’er-do-wells; wild animals, such as bears, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes; hypothermia and dehydration), Bryson encounters exactly one moose and experiences one brief stretch when he finds himself underequipped for some fog and rain that materializes suddenly. So, for as interesting as some of the associated historical vignettes were to read, the lack of focus left me more than a little frustrated, which is something that I never thought I would say about a book by Bill Bryson. ( )
  browner56 | Aug 17, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
In the 1990s Bill Bryson hiked much the Appalachian Trail, but not all at once. The trail stretches from Georgia to Maine and is a daunting prospect, even doing sections at a time. It is about 2600 miles in length, which is one source of humor in the book, because no one knows exactly how long the trail actually is. Humor is a large component of the story. Bryson can mine a good laugh from the most harrowing or ridiculous situations. However, as A Walk in the Woods progresses, and Bryson’s quest takes on a serious tone, the humor is less evident, which is fitting.

Bryson’s writing draws you in immediately. It is engaging and full of precise observations. Unlike many serious hikers he is ambivalent about backpacking equipment. One item he carried: “A big knife for killing bears and hillbillies.” Neither of which he encountered.

Bryson intersperses his story of walking the trail with bits of history, trail lore, observations on the surroundings and other hikers, and facts. He expounds geologically, describing the changes the earth has gone through, setting the scene for development that created much of the world.

He worries, needlessly, about encountering angry wildlife. On the rumors of Mountain Lions that were released pets: “It would be just my luck, of course, to be savaged by an animal with a flea collar and a medical history. I imagined lying on my back, being extravagantly ravaged, inclining my head slightly to read a dangling silver tag that said: ‘My name is Mr. Bojangles. If found please call Tanya and Vinny at 924-4667.”

A star of the book is Bryson’s friend, Stephen Katz, who accompanies him part of the way. Katz sometimes provide comic relief and is a foil for Bryson. Bryson takes pride in hiking the trail. As he puts it, “I understand now, in a way I never did before, the colossal scale of the world. I found patience and fortitude that I didn’t know I had. I discovered an America that millions of people scarcely know exists. I made a friend. I came home.” ( )
  Hagelstein | Aug 13, 2015 |
An endlessly entertaining travelogue which suffers slightly from a bit too much wit and some much-too-late emotional grounding. Still, it's hard not to love Bryson's seamless fusing of history, humor and adventure. ( )
  Zonnywhoop | Aug 10, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Bill Bryson has to be one of my favorite authors and in this book he travels the Appalachian Trail with his old buddy Katz. The thing I like about his writing is that he always seems to balance interesting facts and stories with what he's trying to accomplish. I mean, on its own, hiking is not a fascinating subject for me, but Bryson has a knack for your keeping your attention.

It really is impossible to not like Bill Bryson. If there was anything about this book that I didn't like, it was the the slow middle where he and Katz part ways for the summer before returning to the trail towards the Fall. Katz and Bryson's relationship really make this book what it is. You'll be cheering them along if you pick up this book.

(2015 sidenote: I can not wait to see this movie. Perfect casting choices.) ( )
  rosylibrarian | Aug 3, 2015 |
I won this book in a first reads giveaway! :) I cannot wait to receive and read it! :)
  kimg77 | Jul 30, 2015 |
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