Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Walk in the Woods

It's been since before I can remember that a book made me laugh out loud in public. This is a book you want to be careful with. Read it over lunch at your own peril. There are laugh-out-loud, snort hot & sour soup out your nose moments.
And if you've never snorted Hot&Sour soup out your nose, my friends, let me tell you: your sinuses will never be so clear again.
After returning from a 20-year stay in Europe, Bill Bryson decides to rediscover America and hike the Appalachian trail. In searching for companions willing to walk with him, he gets only one response: Stephen Katz, and old friend whom Bryson hasn't spoken to in 25 years.
What ensues is part travelogue, part personal discovery, part history of the Appalachian Trail and it's surroundings. To say that they meet 'colorful characters' upon the way is the definition of understatement. I will never be able to hear the question "What's your sign" again without laughing. They meet inept boy scouts, too-talkative females, and the endlessly lost Chicken John. The section of the book where Katz tries to pick up a married woman at a laundromat along the way is worth the price of admission by itself.
We learn much about the trail and it's history, and how it managed to survive in spite of Bureaucracy's best efforts to screw it up. Short insights into towns and stops along the way prove to be entertaining and integrated, and add well to the whole.
Those who are looking for a pure hiking and travel story may be a bit put off by the history and the enviromental bend of some of the passages, but I found them important. I learned enough about the Forest Service to make me view it with renewed skepticism.
You may be wondering why there's a bear on the cover of the book. Bryson tells us much about bears, and his fear of them, but whether or not he evers encounters one is up to you to decide.
I seek forgiveness for purchasing this book at Wal-Mart. I was there, and it was there, and I was out of reading material at the time. I could have got it from BookMooch, I'm sure. Or better yet, from my local used bookstore. But something about Wal-Mart (which is the seventh level of Hell, by the way) induces you to buy if you go in the door. I think it's pheromones.
A Walk in the Woods is highly recommended.
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