My First Book Review! A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson.

This book was definitely not on my list of reading for reviews, my goal was to review books that are related to health and beauty, not entertainment. But a co-worker of mine recommended the book insisting that I will be laughing out loud with every page. I had lent my co-worker a different book, and felt obligated to read this one even though I wasn’t really interested. After all, I work full time while trying to manage a start up business. My choice of books are usually

in the creating natural products category, or if I do get a chance to read for entertainment, it’s usually a non-fiction choice.

But I felt obligated, and so went on Amazon to read some reviews. While I got excited this was a story based on the author’s actual experiences, I was actually discouraged by one reviewer in particular, because s/he made it sound like the author is an irresponsible wannabe hiker who had this crazy idea to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT), and did so in a very destructive manner. That particular reviewer also complained about the author’s lack of knowledge of the AT and pointed out different trails and implied the author had no idea what he was talking about. I actually heeded this reviewers advice, and decided to buy the book used in order to avoid contributing any income to the author. Once I received the book, I was a bit hesitant to start, but when all was said and done, the book was actually not half bad.

While I found the book entertaining, I can’t say that I laughed with every page. Actually, I found the author’s humor uninspiring due to the underlying tone behind the humor. I quickly realized that I should have caught on to that particular reviewer’s comment about being an employee for the National Park service. Of course this person would take insult with what is written in the book, as even though it was intended to be humorous, the reality is that a large portion of money has been wasted by the National Park Service, which never used the money to protect the trails like intended. If the maps were all created by volunteers, then of course different folks will have different opinions on what was where, all depending on which map they followed, resulting in different opinions on which direction was what on the trail.

Perhaps the comment in the book where the author states “The National Park Service actually has a tradition of making things extinct” was a blow that was just too hard to handle for a Park Service employee whose intention is just the opposite. Perhaps what was missed here was the reality that it’s not the little man’s (or gal’s) fault for being forced to follow laws and regulations that come from the top, which are usually from someone who is clueless to the reality. Perhaps that reviewer failed to continue reading into the part where the author addresses the issues of staffing shortages, and the greatly reduced budget for the parks themselves.

But with that aspect aside, I did enjoy the book. I kept having two questions I wanted answered. Will both the author and his friend Katz finish the trail? And will either be attacked by a bear as the author
feared. That curiosity alone kept me reading, and in the process, I learned a great deal about a trail, that to be honest, until I read the book have never known existed. As someone who loves to hike, should I ever find myself on the East coast of the US, I may just check out the trail for no other reason than to say I’ve been there.

I was disappointed to learn that when trekking such a long hike, one does not prepare for months of travel, but rather a few days at a time, with the expectation that one will stop in a picnic area or a camping resort that offers vending machines, running water, etc. I suppose I envisioned the book to be full of helpful hints on packing best for a hike across such a trail, and instead I realized that you need lots of cash to pay for those amenities along the way. Even more disappointing was learning of the number of people who drop out from such a hike for various reasons, even with all the amenities abound just a few days apart.

Despite the lack of hiking/packing tips, the author did an incredible job of pointing out the sheer stupidity of some people when it comes to nature, I won’t spoil the book, but those were the parts I think my co-worker found were worth laughing out loud about. Just a different taste in humor I guess. I find such stupidity as putting honey on your child’s hand to have the bear lick it off to be disturbing, not funny, but perhaps my co worker, who is much wiser than I, has found that such disturbance is best dealt with via laughter.

Although I was disappointed with the easy re-stocking of supplies options, I found the conditions of the hiking experiences to be entertaining. I used to love camping, and never really thought much to
the adverse conditions. But now, as a non-invincible adult, even I prefer the comforts of an RV over a tent. Running water, instant heat and refrigeration are wonderful spoils of life. All things we take for granted. So I can’t blame the author for taking the easy way out when the going got tough and covered with rain. But, and this is a big but coming from a health freak as some like to call me. I find the hiking experience in the book to be void of what real hiking is like, where you pack light foods like dried nuts and berries, and use a water filter along the way, and not live on burgers and fries with sodas.

So… if you’re looking for a book that would offer skills in maintaining health while trekking out on a six month hike, this is not it. If you would like to read an enjoyable story of two guys roughing it in the
woods, and perhaps have a few silent laughs, this is a great book.

Lastly, there is a movie now out based on this book, which I haven’t seen. I was told by my co-worker that the movie was not able to capture the descriptions of the Appalachian Trail the way this book has, but again, haven’t seen it myself.

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