Saturday, October 30, 2010

CBRII (book 40): A walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

I enjoy Bryson’s writing. He’s clever and self-depreciating, and always comes across some deliciously random place or fact that’ll make you giggle. He’s on my list of People I’d Like to Have Dinner With.
In his usual style, the title of his book is a complete understatement. The ‘walk’ in question is the
Appalachian Trial, which is over 2100 miles long (nobody appears to be sure of the exact length) and wanders merrily through fourteen states on America’s Eastern seaboard. The ‘woods’ are the Appalachian mountains, which include such luminaries as the Smoky Mountains national park, the Shenandoah national park, the Delaware water gap and the Mounts Washington, Killington and Springer.
It’s a long fucking walk through some seriously big woods.
Bryson didn’t do the entire walk. In total, I think he did just under half, the bulk of which he did with his old friend Stephen Katz. There’s a very interesting dynamic in this relationship, and one that doesn’t reflect too well on Bryson. See, he decided he wanted to hike the trail, and sent out an email to everybody he knew asking for company. Katz was the only one who agreed. Clearly, he thought it would be an amble through the woods with his old mate Bill, out in the fresh air and doing something physical, possibly even an escape from his own problems, which included alcoholism.
Katz was woefully unprepared for what he was doing, that’s true. Bryson had set himself a mission, and Katz was really getting in the way of that. When you’re worn out, it’s hard to be patient with whingers, too. These things are irrefutable facts.
Still, I can’t help but feel sorry for Katz, given that Bryson would just walk off ahead of him (and, in one terrifying example, lost him completely – so much for the desire to do the walk together to avoid trouble), and basically wrote almost an entire book on how useless he was. I’d love to read a chapter or two from Katz’s point of view.
Ultimately, I suspect Bryson works best with people, but only in the relatively short term. Sticking him in the woods, beautiful as they are, with only one other person for company, wasn’t a great idea. There’s only so many ways you can describe a view. It’s something you’ve got to experience, and descriptions can never do them justice. Without other personalities around, Bryson’s own has to fill the gaps, and, like a blogger who hasn’t left the house much (I’m finishing the cannonball, allright?), he tends to get a bit preachy, particularly on the topic of Americans Don’t Walk Enough.
Bryson has every right to be proud of what he achieved, but I think I liked him better when he had no idea what he was getting himself in for.

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