Saturday, October 3, 2015

A Walk in the Woods

Title:  A Walk in the Woods
Author:  Bill Bryson
Publication Information:  Seal Books. 1998 (original). 2015 (movie tie-in edition). 416 pages.
ISBN:  1400026717 / 978-1400026715

Book Source:  I received this book through a publisher's giveaway free of cost in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Blogging for Books.

Opening Sentence:  "Not long after I moved with my family to a small town in New Hampshire I happened upon a path that vanished into a wood on the edge of town."

Favorite Quote:  "In America, alas, beauty has become something you drive to, and nature an either/or proposition - either you ruthlessly subjugate it ... or you deify it, treat it as something holy and remote, a thing apart ... Seldom would it occur to anyone on either side that people and nature could coexist to their mutual benefit..."

Two older curmudgeonly men, who have not seen each other in years, decide to go for a walk. Not just any walk, but a trek to hike the Appalachian Trail. Why? Because they can. Bill Bryson is the instigator. In moving to New Hampshire, his interest is piqued in the proximity of the Appalachian Trail. He decides to hike it. It'll be something to do. It'll get him moving and active again. Ultimately why ... because, well, why not?

He now needs a partner. He tries amongst his friends and family, and gets no interest or inclination except for one person. The only person interested is Stephen Katz. Katz and Bryson grew up together and were even traveling companions on a European adventure. However, at this point, they have seen each other a handful of times in the twenty five years that have come before. "We had remained friends in a kind of theoretical sense."

So, now, you have a man who has never attempted such a trek setting out to hike the Appalachian Trail. You have him deciding to go on this adventure with a man he has barely seen in years, a man who may or may not be in any physical condition to undertake this quest. You have, of course, the many wonders and dangers of the almost 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail. You have the people (dare I say characters?) they meet along the way. This becomes the setup for this book of comedic adventure and history.

A large part of this book is a history and naturalist lesson into the Appalachian Trail. This aspect ranges in scale from the grand beauty of the trail to descriptions of the smallest of creatures like the salamander and the fresh-water mussels. The facts are interesting although the tone at times is a little didactic. The descriptions are just that; they don't necessarily inspire a feeling of witnessing these things on the trail alongside these men. Alongside the descriptions is a clear condemnation of things that may be slowly destroying this natural habitat and its inhabitants. "The National Park Service actually has something of a tradition of making things extinct." Statements such as these clearly express the author's opinions and focus on a need for change.

The other part of this book is the interaction between the two men, the people the meet, and a running commentary on anything and everything. From this perspective, the tone of the book is at times funny and at times a little-self serving and unkind. Poking fun at oneself can be funny for we all see a lit bit of ourselves in that humor. We can relate, and it is healthy to be able to laugh at yourself. I find poking fun at others - especially one person at a time - less funny and, often times, not funny at all. It depends on the context and the perceived tone. For this book, this does not work for me.

This book is part travelogue, part comedy, and part monologue. It is at times informative, at times unkind, and at times funny. It is a personal journey, a social commentary, and a call to action. Overall, my reaction is as diverse as the book itself. Parts I could skip over and parts I really enjoyed.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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