Bill Bryson brings his familiar wit and humor to A Walk in the Woods that we’re all familiar with fro such wonderful titles as Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way (1990), In a Sunburned Country (2000), and A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003), among many others. In it, Bryson shows a rapt preoccupation for the overwhelming landscape in which he has placed himself and his friend Katz. He also skewers other hikers, the American preoccupation with driving cars everywhere, certain historical aspects of the founding of the Appalachian Trail, the U.S. Forest Service, and of course, himself.
I would be pleased to say that he does all this with the typical humor we’ve come to expect from him, but Bryson’s funny moments are separated here by long stretches in which he recounts the physical trials of hiking the Appalachian Trail (“AT”), what he considers the misguided policies in place which govern the trail, people’s abuse of it, and his own disillusion with some of it. The result is a highly personal and believable account with flashes of charm and I’m going to say it,
Bryson almost never deals with issues in any deep or serious way, principally as a matter of choice, I assume. He does recite certain kernels of environmental orthodoxy, an area where advocates needlessly play fast and loose with fact in the service of laudable goals. In my reaction to the book, this rises above the level of quibble, but not by much.
Overall, this is an enjoyable bit of Brysonia, full of honesty, and full of Bryson’s own affable persona.