Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

You know how it is. You come home after a long day of work, throw yourself down in a chair and look for something to entertain you. Some options are too serious, some you've come across a zillion times before. You just don't know what you want. Finally something captures your eye (or you're just too tired to care) and you say, "Fine, I'll read that" and reach over and open the bookcase (you thought I was talking about channel surfing, didn't you?) and pull it out.

You might not know this about me, but I love to read. It's a shocker, I know. I take great pride in the fact that every room of my house except the basement (because of mold issues, most likely) has books in it. I've got bathroom reading, cookbooks in the kitchen. I even have home repair books in my mud room.

The majority of my books, close to 1600 of them, can be found in my library. That makes sense. When you have a lot of books, a library is a good place for them. Those are just baseball books, though. I keep my non-baseball books, of which there are probably only about two hundred, in a barrister bookcase which is where I found myself sitting in front of in the opening paragraph. I rarely acquire books that aren't baseball and so most of the books in the case are ones I've bought and read and felt the need to keep.

I mention this bookcase because it is a treasured possession. It belonged to Judge Jonathan Langham, who was a neighbor of my grandparents. When he passed away, my grandfather purchased the bookcase and it has been passed down to me. I like the idea that a piece of furniture I own has some history. I digress. Back to the book.

I don't remember when I first read A Walk in the Woods or even how I came to have a copy of it. It was probably around the time I was really into hiking. That would make sense given that this is about Bryson's attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail with his friend Stephen.

Bryson and Stephen discover it isn't all they expected. They begin at the southern end of the trail, in Georgia, and make their way north. They hike for several weeks and come across a rest area in Tennessee that has a map of the trail. When they discover that for all the effort they have put in - through all the difficult terrain and bad weather and poor eating and sleeping, they haven't hardly begun - they decide to give up on hiking the whole thing. They leave the trail and find their way to Roanoke, Virginia. Having decided they aren't going to do the whole thing, when the Virginia portion of the trail is lackluster, they halt their tandem efforts.

Bryson makes road trips into Pennsylvania to hike short sections of the trail but discovers the Pennsylvania portions of the trail are perhaps the most lacking in scenery. He does parts of the trail in New England (where Bryson lives) and he reunites with Stephen to do a portion of Maine at which point they are so sick of hiking you wonder if they'll ever do so again.

If you're looking for a book to inspire you to hike, this probably isn't it. If you're looking for something that is a pretty accurate description on what it's like to hike for weeks on end, it's a good book. Bryson is funny, likes to delve into the history of things, and doesn't pull punches when he encounters things that bother him. Sometimes he has a holier than thou attitude about him which rubs me the wrong way.

While I claim this isn't a book to inspire one to hike, it actually made me realize that I miss hiking. My oldest son and I have been talking about some hiking achievements we would like to accomplish (coincidentally, he recently wrote a paper for school about our attempts to hike the Maryland portion back in 2006) and we've decided we're going to do some hiking in 2012. I'm looking forward to that and who knows, maybe I'll find something to write about that will be as entertaining as Bryson.


Mark A. said...

I like Bill Bryson. I haven't tried this one, but I did read:
* Notes from a Small Island
* Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States
* The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way

Hackenbush said...

Bryson is great. Mark -- In addition to "A Walk in the Woods" you have to read "A Short History of Nearly Everything".