A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

I thoroughly enjoyed Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, but with
Christmas and New Year just a few days away this is just a brief post to record a few of my thoughts before they fade from my mind.

This is the Blurb:

In the company of his friend Stephen Katz (last seen in the bestselling Neither Here nor There), Bill Bryson set off to hike the Appalachian Trail, the longest continuous footpath in the world. Ahead lay almost 2,200 miles of remote mountain wilderness filled with bears, moose, bobcats, rattlesnakes, poisonous plants, disease-bearing tics, the occasional chuckling murderer and – perhaps most alarming of all – people whose favourite pastime is discussing the relative merits of the external-frame backpack.

Facing savage weather, merciless insects, unreliable maps and a fickle companion whose profoundest wish was to go to a motel and watch The X-Files, Bryson gamely struggled through the wilderness to achieve a lifetime’s ambition – not to die outdoors.

And here’s what I thought:

I was fascinated by it all from the details of the Appalachian Trail itself stretching from Georgia to Maine, to Bryson’s observations about the people he met, the difficulties of walking with a huge backpack, and his relationship with Katz, who struggled to keep up with him. I know what that feels like, hiking with people fitter than you and seeing them march off in front of you, waiting for you to catch up and then setting off again – I felt sorry for Katz.

I can’t say that it made me want to go out and walk for days along a long distance trail, but I did enjoy reading about his experiences and his descriptions of the trail and of the places he visited off the trail. Some of the route sounds very dangerous, such as this for example as Bryson and Katz walked through a snow storm:

… we came to a narrow ledge of path along a wall of rock called Big Butt Mountain.

Even in ideal circumstances the path around Big Butt would have required delicacy and care. It was like a window ledge of path on a skyscraper, no more than fourteen or sixteen inches wide, and crumbling in places, a sharp drop on one side of perhaps 80 feet and long, looming stretches of vertical granite on the other. Once or twice I nudged foot-sized rocks over the side and watched with faint horror as they crashed and tumbled to improbably remote resting places. (pages 100-101)

What? He watched with ‘faint horror’? It terrifies me just to think of being on a path like that! He goes on to say that all the way along this ledge they were half blinded by snow and jostled with wind. It wasn’t a blizzard, it was a tempest and at one point Katz lost his footing and ended up hugging a tree, his ‘feet skating, his expression bug-eyed and fearful’. Oh, no that is definitely not for me.

I liked all the facts about the flora and fauna, and the history of the Trail and indeed about the history connected to the landscape.  Bryson’s descriptions set the scene so vividly I could easily imagine myself there – too easily in the hard places, but also in the beautiful locations, such as this in the Shenandoah Valley:

… a spacious, sun-dappled dell, tucked into a bowl of small hills, which gave it an enchanted secretive feel. Everything you might ask of a woodland scene was there – musical brook, carpet of lush ferns, elegant well-spaced trees … (page 204)

I wished it had an index and that the map of the Trail was more detailed, oh and some photos would have been good. I shall have to wait until I see the film to really see what the Trail is like.

I set out to write just a brief post! But there is so much more that I could have written that really it is just a brief post.

Library Loot

Library Loot DeweyI went to the library yesterday and borrowed just four books. As we’re moving house at the end of November I may be able to read these in time. In fact I only have one week to read Dewey: the Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron. I only have one week because this is part of the library’s “Top Ten Best Sellers” and cannot be renewed.

I first read about this book last year when many book bloggers were writing about how good it is. As Dewey is a ginger cat and a library cat how could I resist borrowing this book. (Our own little ginger cat Lucy also loves books, always rubbing her head round the piles of books lying around the house and trying to read the one I’m reading!) Dewey dropped into the library returns box as a tiny kitten grows into “a strutting adorable library cat whose antics kept patrons in stitches, and whose sixth sense about those in need created hundreds of deep and loving friendships.”

The next book I found is Excursion to Tindari, an Inspector Montalbano Mystery by Andrea Camilleri. “A young Don Juan is found murdered in front of his apartment building early one morning and an elderly couple are reported missing after an excursion to the ancienmt site of Tindari “. I haven’t read anything by Camilleri but I thought this looked good. The praise on the back cover from The Times is “A joy to read”, whilst the NewYork Times calls it a “savagely funny police procedural”.

Moving along the shelves I came across Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver. I borrowed this because I loved Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. Pigs in Heaven is apparently “a spellbinding novel of heartbreak, love and complicated family ties.”

My final choice is Shakespeare: the World as a Stage by Bill Bryson. I’ve liked everything I’ve read by Bryson and I love Shakespeare, so this was an easy choice. Bryson wanted to know more about Shakespeare because the records reveal little about him. “In a journey through Shakespeare’s time, he brings to life the hubbub of Elizabethan England and a host of characters along the way. Bryson celebrates the glory of Shakespeare’s language – his ceaseless inventiveness gave us hundreds of now indispensable phrases, images and words – and delights in details of his fall-outs and folios, poetry and plays.” I thought it would complement 1599: a year in the Life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro, which I’ve started to read. library-loot

The only question now is – will I have time to read these?

Note: the quotations are from the back covers of the books.