Archive | 10:18 AM

Book Review: A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson (5/5)

12 Jun

I’ve read two Bryson books before this and liked them both. I saw this book at a used book sale around the time the film came out and decided to add it to my TBR. It was the first Bryson memoir I’d encountered and I ended up listening to it so I could enjoy it sooner. I really want to go hiking now.

A Walk In the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Apalachain Trail by Bill Bryson

Other books by Bill Bryson reviewed on this blog:

The Mother Tongue
Made in America

Summary from Goodreads:

The Appalachian 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).

I didn’t know what to expect from this book. I liked Bryson’s sense of humor and wit in the two books I’d read previously, both of which are non-fiction. I hoped it would translate to memoir as well. I was glad it did and really enjoyed the dynamic between Bryson and Katz at the beginning of the book. I felt the story changed a lot when they split up for the summer and it was never really the same when they rejoined each other. I did feel I was cheated a bit because I’d thought they were doing the trail in one stretch, not in a big stretch to start, small daily stretches with just Bryson in the middle, and then a short stretch together at the end. I understand it’s reality, it just wasn’t what I believed when I started out.

I felt Katz seemed very believable. He had his foibles but he was also a strong person and did his best to hike the trail. I did feel Bryson pained himself in a dazzling light, but what memoirist wouldn’t. It’s his story so he’s sure going to look good in it. The quick descriptions of his fellow hikers were fun but I wonder how much they would have changed if he’d stuck with them for any length of time.

For lack of other options, I’ll say Katz was my favorite character. I liked his devotion and obsession with modern life and technology and how that contrasted with his time on the trail and dedication to get up and walk every morning. His reluctance was clear and I kept hoping for him to have a change of heart, but I don’t think it ever came about.

I related to Bryson better. I’m someone who likes to finish something when I start it. I won’t complain, even if my decision is making me miserable. I put my head down and push on. I felt like Bryson was doing this in the early parts of the trail. I would have done the same. Fake it until you make it. He pretended he was having fun and enjoying himself even when he wasn’t.

Bill Bryson
Image via Amazon

I liked the first third of the book best; when Katz and Bryson were hiking the trail together. I could feel their excitement and their dread that the trail went on forever and they’d never reach Maine. Every minor setback felt like life-or-death and I could see how that would happen on the trail.

I was disappointed with the middle portion of the book when Bryson was hiking alone. I felt these were a bit melodramatic and filled with a bit more background on the trail and the Park’s Service than I wanted to hear. Other parts of the book, he mixed that information in well with the story, but the middle was a bit too heavy on history and background and light on hiking time. Probably because there wasn’t much.

My audiobook was narrated by Ron McLarty. I enjoyed his narration a lot though his accent threw me at times. It didn’t come out much, but when it did, I laughed aloud a few times. He had good inflections for Katz and Bryson and Bryson’s frustration came out well with McLarty’s voice.

Bryson has an appreciation of nature that’s mostly forgotten in our society today. The trip he took was guided with maps and involved minimal contact with the outside world. Today, that same trip would likely be taken with a cell phone and periodic Facebook updates for friends and family to know he was OK. It’s hard to escape nature but Bryson found some benefits from doing so.

Writer’s Takeaway: My favorite memoirs blend story with background and research and Bryson does this well. You learn about the trail, the area he’s in, the people who have been there before, and what led him there. It’s a great blend and rather than one story about walking a long distance, you get that plus four or five other areas which are well researched and where you learn a lot of related things. He’s a master of this as I’ve learned from his other books.

I enjoyed this book and really can’t say something too bad about it. Five out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
A Walk In the Woods by Bill Bryson (1998) | I’ve Just Finished Reading…
A Walk In the Woods | So Much To Read
A Walk In the Woods by Bill Bryson | Ton of Worms