A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

I read probably ninety percent of my books on my Kindle. This was the first physical copy of a book I read since The Great Gatsby last Nov/Dec. Kindles are great, but wow, I forgot the wonderful feeling of holding a real book. Will I make the switch back to physical books? Unlikely. But I’ve decided to try to read more hard copies when possible. My problem is that as soon as I finish one book I want to move right on to the next and the Kindle makes that possible without any prior planning. I’m a millennial, I need instant gratification. My favorite part about the Kindle, though, is the fact that a 1000 page novel and a 100 page novel take up the same space in my purse. This is especially convenient considering I read every day on the Subway. A large book would simply be too much of a hassle.

I received A Walk in the Woods through a book subscription service called Coffee and a Classic. I did it for the very purpose of being forced to read hard copies. Every month (at least for the three I signed up for) I will receive a book (I chose classic nonfiction books, but you can choose fiction or children’s) and tea (you could also choose coffee or hot chocolate) and various other book related items. I loved my first box and am very excited for my next one in a couple of weeks.

Anyways, let’s get to the story. A Walk in the Woods is Bill Bryson’s account of his time spent on the Appalachian trail. Spoiler, though it doesn’t take long to find this out, he does not hike all 2,000+ miles. This was mildly disappointing, but regardless, he hiked a lot and had plenty of entertaining stories to tell. I read some reviews on Goodreads today and was surprised at the number of people who thought Bryson was smug. Perhaps The Black Swan simply set the smug bar too high for me, but I really didn’t feel that Bryson acted at all superior. He was entertaining and comical, sometimes at the expense of his companions, but that is what I would expect out of a book like this. I appreciated the honest account.

Bryson also spends a fair amount of time discussing the history of the trail along with the various towns along the way. I enjoyed the contrast between the fun trail stories and the informational sections. His writing is incredibly easy to read and most certainly memorable. You learn a bit, you laugh a bit, and you might even gain some motivation to go out on a hike yourself. Overall, I would certainly recommend.

Here is the one (long) quote I wrote down:

“…America’s attitude to nature is, from all sides, very strange if you ask me. I couldn’t help comparing my experience now with an experience I’d had three or four years earlier in Luxembourg when I went hiking with my son for a magazine assignment. Luxembourg is a much more delightful place to hike than you might think. It has lots of woods but also castles and farms and steepled villages and winding river valleys – the whole, as it were, European package. The footpaths we followed spent a lot of time in the woods but also emerged at obliging intervals to take us along sunny back roads and over stiles and through farm fields and hamlets. We were always able at some point each day to call in at a bakery or post office, to hear the tinkle of shop bells and eavesdrop on conversations we couldn’t understand. Each night we slept in an inn and ate in a restaurant with other people. We experienced the whole of Luxembourg, not just its trees. It was wonderful, and it was wonderful because the whole charmingly diminutive package was seamlessly and effortlessly integrated.

In America, alas, beauty has become something you drive to, and nature an either/or proposition – either you ruthlessly subjugate it, as at Tocks Dam and a million other places, or you deify it, treat it as something holy and remote, a thing apart, as along the Appalachian Trail. Seldom would it occur to anyone on either side that people and nature could coexist to their mutual benefit – that, say, a more graceful bridge across the Delaware River might actually set off the grandeur around it, or that the AT might be more interesting and rewarding if it wasn’t all wilderness, if from time to time it purposely took you past grazing cows and tilled fields.”

Altogether I spent 10 hours on a bus to get out of NYC this weekend to have all of 24 hours of hiking, kayaking, and running along the lake. I can very much appreciate the part about “beauty has become something you drive to.” Yeah, yeah, there are closer places to NYC, but regardless, seeing nature while living in a big city is a difficult task.

Speaking of this past weekend, I think I’m still trying to catch up on sleep, so with that, goodnight!

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