Before I came to Australia, I read Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country. Not only did it give me an overview of what the Australian countryside is like, it gave insight into the character of the people, as well. Also, it was freakin’ hysterical. My parents may recall me bringing the book to the table, and reading aloud from his description of listening to cricket, on the radio. The man has a real way with words, and regularly makes me laugh.
So, upon reading this book, I realized that I would finally have to read A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. For years, I’d thought of this book as “the one with the bear on the cover”, because when I worked in a bookstore, I saw it on the bestseller shelves, and front and center in the travel section, whenever I was shelving books. So, I knew it was popular, then, but popularity has never made me willing to read books. Just because it makes Oprah’s book list doesn’t mean it’s a worthwhile read, in my very humble opinion.
But the time had finally come to read it, and I downloaded it to my Kindle. I’d been away from the U.S. for eight months, and it would be interesting to read about this particular American’s views of one of our national landmarks. Bill Bryson is American, but he lived in the U.K. for twenty years, so his viewpoint would probably still be hilarious, but possibly, he’d have a very different point of view from any other American. Possibly, he’d even have a European way of looking at things.
Upon starting A Walk in the Woods, I immediately found myself trying to keep from laughing out loud. Yes, I was in a restaurant, reading my book, and trying to not draw more attention to myself. Very few books make me laugh aloud, but Bryson never fails to catch me out.
So, he describes the hiking on the trail, with many chapters of description of its beauty, as well as the hilarious anecdotes involving his hiking partner, Katz. Actually, my favorites are whenever he starts talking to anyone about hiking and camping equipment, starting with when he went shopping for it all. But there are some real, in-depth moments between him and Katz, in relation to Katz’s past history of drunkenness an drugs, and his present life, where he has to commit to strict abstinence from drink. So, from the beginning of their travels to the end, you see the revolution of a friendship, one they never expected to have.
Many chapters start off with an explanation of the Trail’s history, or history of Appalachia itself. I really enjoyed all the history, but again and again, I found myself annoyed by Bryson’s opinions on evolution, pollution, and the American people. You really want to think that, as an American, he likes his fellow countrymen, but he seems to think that we’re killing our planet, killing every animal and tree, and that every American is fat and stupid. He doesn’t seem to approve of tourism or capitalism, but I can’t be sure. His books sell because of capitalism, you know.
Ok, maybe not EVERY American, but despite the humor in some areas, I often got the feeling that he’s not really looking for the best in America and our people, because he already thinks we’ve done our worst to this world. Yes, the National Park Service has a bunch of ridiculous rules, does stupid things, is underpaid, and considering they’re a federal agency, we’re probably lucky they haven’t done worse to our homeland.
But blaming us for every bit of damage to the wilderness, and then turning around and giving us credit for actually having the Appalachian Trail. Wasn’t that nice of him? Of course, I’m not going to complain about all the evolution, acid rain, and global warming that he harped on, now and then.
This is really a good book, honestly. I’m not complaining so that you won’t read it. I’m just complaining because I’m allowed to (it’s my blog, remember?). If you read between the lines, you can see that he does love this wonderful country we call the United States, and he felt privileged to see so much of it on the AT. Also, his book is entertaining, informative, and well-written. I just wish that someone would inform him that capitalism and local groups (not the federal government) are the reason that our forests are getting bigger, being made cleaner, and that all the rest of the animals aren’t dying off.
And he may think that moose (moosen!) are beautiful and stupid, but he really needs to read The Politically Incorrect Guide to Hunting, and figure out why it’s good that we hunt for moose and deer. Overpopulation of any of these animals is NOT a good thing.
From Bryson’s book, I continued on to Museum of Thieves, by Lian Tanner, a young adult book that had caught my fancy (a good cover picture and blurb on the back will get me, every time). It was alright, nothing special. I finished it because I rarely leave books unfinished. And now, I’m smackdab in the middle of a Georgette Heyer mystery, Detection Unlimited. Heyer’s mysteries aren’t as well-known as her romances, but they’re still well-written, hysterical, and full of amazingly detailed characters. This one is no different, and I was lucky enough to choose the one that I didn’t immediately remember the ending. I know what happens in almost all of them.
From here, I’m not sure what I’m going to read next. I started reading The Hobbit aloud with one of my girls, again, and now I’d like to read through that and Lord of the Rings. But then, I watched the newest movie version of Oliver Twist, tonight, and I’m debating whether I should read that next. I’ve never actually read it, just grew up watching Oliver!, the musical version. It was really good, and makes me curious to see what the actual story involves. So, we’ll just have to see which book wins out.
And now, it’s late, and I’m wiped. I love Friday nights, because I get to sleep in on the following morning.