A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

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A Walk in the Woods

by Bill Bryson

published by Anchor Books

2006

I read this book as part of my Parents Association Book Club.

My Review

This book was the February selection for the book club I belong to through my kids’ high school’s parents association.  It was chosen by the calculus teacher, soI really wasn’t sure what to expect.  I was so surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this.  I haven’t read any other books by Bryson, but I am hoping to change that very soon.

Bill Bryson was born in America but lived for over 20 years in England.  He returned to this country and settled in New Hampshire with his wife and children.  Out for a walk one day, he happened upon a trail that was a small part of the Appalachian Trail which runs from Maine to Georgia.  Bryson decides that he wants to walk the trail himself, and sets about preparing for this big hike- mostly by buying very expensive equipment and leaving it in the bag until the day he is about to depart.  He is concerned about hiking alone, mostly due to a fear of death by Bear, so he looks about for someone to accompany him.  The only person willing to do this is his high school friend, Stephen Katz, an our of work, out of shape man he hasn’t seen or spoken to in years.  What follows is a hysterical tale of hiking- or not- told in an amusing and breezy tone.

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I thought Bryson did a great job with this book.  He intertwines his tale of hiking the AT with history, geology, and human interest stories.  He retells the history of Harper’s Ferry, explains the tectonic formation of the Appalachian Mountains, and recounts numerous stories of bears eating campers.  When something- he still isn’t sure what- happens across their campsite one night, Bryson freaks out thinking it is a bear.  One of the stories he includes was a surprise to me- the story of Centralia, PA., the town that is on fire.  I had to put the book aside and look it up.

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I read this book not too long after reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed and I was afraid they would be similar.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  The experiences and messages of these two are totally different.

If you haven’t read anything by Bryson, I would definitely recommend A Walk in the Woods.  It was fun, informative, and interesting.  As someone who rarely reads non fiction, this is one I would definitely read again.

Some quotes-

“Hunters will tell you that a moose is a wily and ferocious forest creature. Nonsense. A moose is a cow drawn by a three-year-old.”

“I have long known that it is part of God’s plan for me to spend a little time with each of the most stupid people on earth, and Mary Ellen was proof that even in the Appalachian woods I would not be spared. It became evident that she was a rarity.”

“Black bears rarely attack. But here’s the thing. Sometimes they do. All bears are agile, cunning and immensely strong, and they are always hungry. If they want to kill you and eat you, they can, and pretty much whenever they want. That doesn’t happen often, but – and here is the absolutely salient point – once would be enough.”

Summary

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 entertaing 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).

More about the author

Bill Bryson

Author profile


Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1951. He settled in England in 1977, and worked in journalism until he became a full time writer. He lived for many years with his English wife and four children in North Yorkshire. He and his family then moved to New Hampshire in America for a few years, but they have now returned to live in the UK.

In The Lost Continent, Bill Bryson’s hilarious first travel book, he chronicled a trip in his mother’s Chevy around small town America. It was followed by Neither Here Nor There, an account of his first trip around Europe. Other travel books include the massive bestseller Notes From a Small Island, which won the 2003 World Book Day National Poll to find the book which best represented modern England, followed by A Walk in the Woods(in which Stephen Katz, his travel companion from Neither Here Nor There, made a welcome reappearance), Notes From a Big Country and Down Under.

Bill Bryson has also written several highly praised books on the English language, including Mother Tongue and Made in America. In his last book, he turned his attention to science. A Short History of Nearly Everything was lauded with critical acclaim, and became a huge bestseller. It was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize, before going on to win the Aventis Prize for Science Books and the Descartes Science Communication Prize. His next book, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, is a memoir of growing up in 1950s America, featuring another appearance from his old friend Stephen Katz. October 8 sees the publication of A Really Short History of Nearly Everything. (less)

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

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Wild

From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

by Cheryl Strayed

published by Knopf

2012

My Review

I admit I was interested in this book after I read about it when the movie was about to come out.  I know a lot of bloggers really loved it too, so I thought I would try it, even though non fictions not my cup of tea.  I have heard great and awful things about the book, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

I really liked it.

Many have complained the author is a whiny, self indulgent, narcissistic character, others that the story didn’t really focus on the Pacific Crest Trail.  Some have gushed about what an amazing thing she did.  It was a confusing place from which to start a book.

If you are living under the same rock that I was here is a quick break down.  Cheryl Strayed was pretty destroyed by losing her mother to cancer.  Cheryl was 21?, and her mom in her very early 40s.  Her siblings dispersed, her step dad remarried.  Cheryl proceeded to destroy what was good in her life by repeatedly cheating on her husband, and then telling him.  After separating from him, her life got even  worse.  She hooked up with a drug user and started doing heroin.  She had an abortion.  Just when it looked like she was doomed, she decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Souther California to Oregon.  She had never really hiked before-so probably not a very smart choice.  She didn’t prepare physically or mentally.  She just set out with a gigantic backpack.

Honestly, at no point in this book did I think to myself- wow- she is brave, or strong, or smart.  She was unprepared.  She didn’t really know what she was doing.  But- and here is the point, I think- of the whole story-she DID something.  When she knew her life was going terribly wrong-she stopped, evaluating everything in the process.  She TRIED to work through her problems on her own out there.  There was no wonderful happy ending, except that she made it through and came out on the other side, while having one of the best, rewarding and amazing experiences of her life.

I loved reading about all the wonderful people she met out there (though there were also some pretty creepy ones).

I am really glad I read this book.  It reaffirmed for me that we are all only human.  We make mistakes.  Hopefully, we learn from them and become better people.

Now I can’t wait to see the movie!

Summary

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State — and she would do it alone.
Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.