A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson.
Acquired: June 2009, on loan from aunt Irene.
Man hikes Appalachian trail; trail wins; man wins.
Bill Bryson is quite a funny man. Or at the very least, he is quite a funny writer. He's got a good quip and turn to his writing, and does a good job right away of dispelling any myths that he's a phenomenal hiker or even a sane man. There's a temptation to glorify the trail and the endeavor of hiking all 2000+ mountainous miles of it, but there are also plentiful risks, including snake bites, bear attack, murderers, and one's own stupidity. Beware!
Rather than write a travel diary, Bryson has picked apart the story of his own hike and stuffed bits of natural history every few pages. Some of these historical lessons drone on.. and on.. and yes, then they drone on a bit longer before picking up the thread of the story. Most of these tangents are fascinating, like the town of Centralia, CT which is sitting over a subterranean coal-fire with the potential to burn for 1,000 years. Other times, the tangents are too frequent or too long, until Bryson himself notes, after a fascinating but painfully long account of the death of the American Chestnut and the indiscriminate killer, acid rain:
"But let's stop there. I think we've both had enough science for one chapter. But hold that thought, please, and bear it in mind when I tell you that there wasn't a day in the Appalachian woods when I didn't give passing thanks for what there was."
Yes, we have both had enough for now. In all, I really enjoyed this read. But I enjoyed it a little more with a 3-day pause in the middle, in which time I took a science break by reading the lighthearted I'm Down by Mishna Wolff. Was I glad when it was over? Yes. Reading this book felt a bit like a long, arduous hike: some parts of it are easier than others, some parts are unbelievably hard, and a few are even breathtakingly beatiful. When you get through to the other side you can look back fondly and thankfully upon the journey, possibly never wanting to do it again.
The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova