Bill Bryson is a nature writer who has gotten countless people excited about the great outdoors through his carefully crafted memoirs that mingle factual information, personal anecdotes and plenty of humor. In “A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail,” Bryson turns his attention to the majestic mountain range on America’s east coast.
The trek, which was undertaken with his friend Stephen, was a time of soul-searching and self-discovery, and the book describes in amusing detail all of the mishaps they met with along the way, not the least of which involved getting along with each other. The early portion of the book reads like a primer by negative example as they prepare poorly for their journey and find themselves exhausted and not nearly as far along as they had expected. Nonetheless, they carry on, compromising by skipping a portion of the trail, essentially starting over. That they are able to face up to their mistakes demonstrates a maturity sadly lacking in the protagonist of the tragic cautionary tale “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer. “A Walk in the Woods” is ultimately a much more optimistic book.
As Bryson recounts his adventures, he confesses that he is not up to the task of conquering the wilderness. He can only manage small bits, but this realistic view puts him in good company, as fewer than 25 percent of hikers who set out to complete the trail actually do so. While he may not quite accomplish his original goal, the journey is more important than the destination, full of peril and life lessons, and the material was deemed interesting enough that a film version of “A Walk in the Woods” starring Robert Redford is in the works.
Anyone who is enchanted by nature should have a look at “A Walk in the Woods,” a book that is as entertaining as it is educational. Bryson’s accessibility makes him one of the most popular writers in the general travel field, and those who enjoy “A Walk in the Woods” will be delighted to discover how many books bear his distinctive stamp. Whether he’s taking readers on a guided tour of Australia in “In a Sunburned Country” or tackling a multitude of topics in “A Short History of Nearly Everything,” Bryson is a fascinating storyteller, and in “A Walk at the Woods,” he’s in top form. Five stars.