Merry Wanderer of the Night + travel writing

A Walk in the Woods

This past spring I took a fitness walking course with my best friend from high school and we had to read a portion of A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

by Bill Bryson. I was immediately taken by the part we read because he spends a lot of time discussing how difficult it is to get around America without a car. How our country is not built for bikes or walking. This is something I'm passionate about and really noticed when I moved from Iowa City back to the Des Moines area the summer after my freshman year. That is all the book is about, in fact the majority of the book is a travelogue of Bryson (who is also from Des Moines I might add!) and his old friend Katz attempting to hike all 2,100 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Quite the feat, and you can guess right from the beginning that they won't be able to do it.

It doesn't really matter though. Bryson makes so many interesting observations about America along the way that I could have cared less about him actually hiking the trail. They stop in several small towns for breaks from the wilderness and they rediscover the wonders of a hot shower and warm meal. While there, Bryson talks about the loss of small town America and the loss of the sidewalk. He talks about hitchhiking and bonding out in the woods. He talks about real nature versus cultivated nature. And he does all of this very sarcastically, very wittily. The first three fourths of this book are really a joy; full of information but still interesting to read, the way all nonfiction should be. This example about the roads built by the Forest Service is a great example of this.

"The reason the Forest Service builds these roads, quite apart from the deep pleasure of doing noisy things in the woods with big yellow machines, is to allow private timber companies to get to previously inaccessible stands of trees. Of the Forest Service's 150 million acres of loggable land, about two-thirds is held in store for the future. The remaining one-third--49 million acres, or an area roughly twice the size of Ohio--is available for logging. It allows huge swathes of land to be clear-cut, including (to take one recent but heartbreaking example) 209 acres of thousand-year-old redwoods in Oregon's Umpqua National Forest."

I'm glad I read this book, but I found the last fourth of the book rather difficult to get through. Bryson decides to leave the trail for awhile, and when he returns he decides to drive portions of the trail, get out and hike, and then drive a little further. This is extremely boring and difficult to read about. It felt like Bryson ran out of steam towards the end both physically and mentally, and the writing just gets crappy. Long gone are there great sarcastic paragraphs chock full of information about the Forest Service, and we are introduce to a crabby, sleepy Bryson who just doesn't give a damn.

I give this book a B.

Also, I recently started a podcast called Green Reads with my boyfriend and this is the first book were going to talk about. We're in the process of submitting our podcast to iTunes but in the meantime you can check out our blog, listen to our introduction podcast, and follow us so you know when our regular podcasts are going up!

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A Walk in the Woods + travel writing