I recently finished reading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods and although it is not officially a running book I feel like it warrants a review on the blog based on the fact that it is focused on hiking the Appalachian Trail. I have not yet watched the movie that recently came out based off the book so I cannot comment on how the movie matches up to the book, but I did watch the trailer and it seems like it has general similarities.
I loved this book for multiple reasons, although one of the reasons why I loved it might be off putting for others. If you love a book that will make you actually laugh out loud Bryson’s account of his trip hiking the AT is definitely one for you. There were multiple times while I was reading when I literally could not keep myself from bursting out laughing because of Bryson’s wit. He does a great job discussing his planning of the trip and the overwhelming nature of gear stores. He mentions many great books that he used to prepare himself for what he might encounter on the trip that would be good follow up reads for people interested specifically in the AT. It is also a really quick read for the most part. Some sections of the history and preservation descriptions he provides get a little dense, but he is self-aware of that as a writer and pulls himself out of the descriptions before they become too prolix. If you are interested in a summary of the book I found a succinct one on bookrags that gives a great overview of the details of the book. The story has some twists in it and I do not want to spoil it for anyone by giving too many details here.
I have been on one section of the AT and can attest to Bryson’s account of the difficulty and seemingly never ending nature of the hills and mountains he faced. I also really liked the fact that Bryson included a lot of the history of the trail and information about current (in 1997) preservation and status of the trail. He explains many facets of the trails formation and the politics involved in maintaining it today. Obviously the book is somewhat dated so although he does cite his sources, whether or not the statistics and facts mentioned about policy still ring true today are questionable. This should not reflect poorly on his writing, it simply is something to be aware of as a reader since the book was published about twenty years ago. There are big sections of the book that are dedicated to the history and preservation of the trail- I loved that he included this but if you simply want a story about a hike this is not a book for you. The only other qualm I had with the book was that there is some profanity in it, which I think cheapens some of the writing and makes the book seem rougher than it has to be. I feel like it is important to mention that here because it is not appropriate for younger runners and hikers to read because of the language he uses at certain points in the story.
All in all I would give the book four out of five stars.