Two Words On: A Walk in the Woods


Bill Bryson is one of the funniest writers I’ve come across. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating.

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

This book prides itself in being a New York Times Bestseller. This alone is mystifying: why would people buy and read a book about hiking in such large numbers? Either hiking or the Appalachian Trail must be surprisingly popular.

In my part of the world, neither of these is true. Still, I picked it up because I’ve read two Bryson books before and I’ve grown to expect the very best (read: hilarious) from him, whatever the subject matter.

Let me tell you how A Walk in the Woods was for me, who has never heard of the Appalachian Trail before, and who doesn’t care much for hiking.

This, in two words.


Witty and sarcastic, Bryson’s humour is best because he doesn’t take himself too seriously. I found myself laughing at him countless times, as he’s anything but shy about his failures and shortcomings. Yet, I grew to like him a great deal. Perhaps it is because he reminds me of someone I’m intimately acquainted with: myself.

Here’s one such example:

I think because I mentioned that I had done a bit of hiking in England, he assumed some measure of competence on my part. I didn’t wish to alarm or dissapoint him, so when he asked me questions like: “What’s your view on carbon fiber stays?” I would shake my head with a rueful chuckle, in recognition of the famous variability of views on this perenially thorny issue, and say: “You know, Dave, I’ve never been able to make up my mind on that one – what do you think?”


As he trods on the Trail, Bryson tells us about facts, places and people of great significance – and anonimity. I’ve learned about the Appalachian Trail (duh!) and its founders, History, its past and current problems. Now I know about places like Centralia, the ghost town in Pensylvannia, Delaware Water Gap with its breathtaking beauty, and Mount Washington with its worst weather on earth, among others. Bryson weaves scientific jargon and humour together effortlessly, it seems.

Here’s proof:

I am no geologist. Show me an unusual piece of graywacke or a handsome chunk of gabbro and I will regard it with respect and listen politely to what you have to say, but it won’t actually mean anything to me. If you tell me that once it was a seafloor ooze and that through some incredibly sustained process it was thrust deep into the earth, baked and squeezed for millions of years, then popped back to the surface, which is what accounts for the magnificent striations, its shiny vitreous crystals, and flaky biotate mica, I will say, “Goodness!” and “Is that a fact!” but I can’t pretend than anything actual will be going on behind my game expression.

There’s a lot more to say about A Walk in the Woods, and about Bill Bryson. Telling you all about it is not what I aim for. But I do recommend it as an entertaing, yet fascinating read.

Tell me what you thought of it, if you read it.
What’s the funniest book or author you’ve read?


One thought on “Two Words On: A Walk in the Woods

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