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Reading Buddies Wrap-Up: “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson

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Here we are at the end of the first Reading Buddies book: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. If you missed the discussion post, you can find it here.

I chose to listen to the book on audio, as read by William Roberts. While Roberts’s narration was lively and well paced, I don’t think I find Bill Bryson as funny on audio as I do when reading him in print. I’ll have to test that theory with future books, but I did find myself giggling a lot more during the passages I read than the parts to which I listened.

Throughout the book I was constantly impressed by Bryson’s ability to cobble together a cohesive book out of so many random tidbits of information. Yes, A Walk in the Woods is his story of hiking the Appalachian Trail, but over the course of the book, he touches on history, culture, ecology, science, and many other topics. I was amazed by how much I learned. I don’t often read a lot of straight nonfiction, but Bryson’s memoir/nonfiction blend worked really well for me.

The non-memoir part of the book that most interested me was the story of Centralia, Pennsylvania, a coal mining town that sits on huge coal deposits. The coal was accidentally ignited and has been burning for decades, with enough fuel left for it to continue burning for many years. Some years ago, the Discovery Channel did a bit on Centralia, which I found interesting:

I do wonder how much has changed since Bryson wrote his book. It was published in 1998, a fair number of years ago in terms of technological advancement. At one point, Bryson expressed his annoyance with all the electronic gadgets finding their way onto the Appalachian Trail. I wonder now how many hikers travel with cell phones, GPS, digital cameras, and so forth and how their inclusion has affected the experience of hiking the trail. And, if hikers do carry such gadgets…how do they keep them charged?

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (cover)

I know several people who have seriously considered hiking the Appalachian Trail. Listening to A Walk in the Woods definitely gave me a better picture of what such an undertaking entails. It also made clear for me the fact that I am most likely not cut out for such a journey. Just the thought of fording rivers and facing the 100 mile wilderness made me glad I was snug at home and not out in the wilderness.

As I was poking around on the book’s Wikipedia page, I came across the mention of a possible movie based on A Walk in the Woods. I couldn’t find any more substantial references, and those I did find were mostly from 2008 or before, so I’m not sure if it’s still being planned. Has anyone heard about this? Now I’m curious!

I’d love to hear your reactions and impressions if you’ve read A Walk in the Woods. Anyone is welcome to leave comments here or on the discussion post. Other participants (if I missed you, let me know!):

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  • Anita

    Hi Erin,
    Interesting what you wrote about finding Bryson funnier in print that on audio. Hmm…

    I’m not doing the read-along on this one, but I read A Walk in the Woods several years ago and remember really enjoying it. I remember reading parts of it to my son, who was around 8 or 9 at the time — he especially enjoyed the part about moose hunting, and Bryson’s description of a moose as “a cow drawn by a three-year-old.” We still talk about that!

    • Erin

      I find Bryson to have some great short bits that work well for sharing with other people. I bet there was a lot in A Walk in the Woods that your son would have found funny! I don’t know what it was about listening vs. reading, but somehow the humor came across differently for me. Very odd.

  • http://www.ragingbibliomania.net/ zibilee

    I am so fascinated with Bryson’s writing and really want to read this book now that I’ve read your thoughts on it. It sounds like an excellent read and one that I would really enjoy. I also think he has amazing range, and just by looking over some of the other books that he has written, I can see that he really is an intelligent and funny man. Great review series on this book, Erin. It has been a pleasure to read!

    • Erin

      That’s true, Bryson does cover a vast array of topics. It seems he focused on travel writing initially, but since then he’s really branched out! Before I’d thought he was a witty writer, which he is, but now I also know he can organize a fascinating mish-mash of information into a coherent book. I’ll definitely be reading others!

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  • http://www.lovelaughterinsanity.com Trish

    When I saw your post earlier this morning it reminded me that I needed to check to see if my library has a copy of this one on audio. I’ve heard such great things about Bryson on audio. It does!! 😀

    I’ve always wanted to go to the Appalachian Trail–maybe not to hike, but to drive around the area. I’ve never been to the states in the Appalachian mountains (or at least not that I can remember) and have heard it’s gorgeous!

    • Erin

      Awesome! I hope you enjoy it! You’ll definitely learn a lot. I’ve thought doing the Trail for a weekend or something might be fun, or, like you said, to see something of it another way. There’s a point where it crosses 90 through Massachusetts, and I’ve driven by that multiple times, but that’s as close as I’ve gotten!

  • http://www.joyweesemoll.com/ Joy Weese Moll

    Thanks for the link to that video, Erin! It really added to my experience of reading that section in A Walk in the Woods. And thanks for setting up this Reading Buddy experience — it was fun!

    • Erin

      You’re very welcome, Joy! I felt like Centralia was something I wanted to see and was glad to find a video. I’m glad you enjoyed reading together! I’m playing catch-up today and tomorrow and will be stopping by your blog to read your final thoughts very soon, I promise :-)

  • http://www.lifewithbooks.com Jenners

    Bryson’s ability to work all kinds of factoids into his books is what makes him so wonderful to me. It has been a long time since I read this book but maybe I’ll revisit it one day.

    • Erin

      Yes! Such random information woven together into something coherent and interesting. You think you’re reading about one thing, but you end up learning about it and a whole pile of other things at the same time.