Sunday, 7 February 2010

book review - "A Walk in the Woods"

This was the fifth book I read for my "book a fortnight throughout 2010" scheme. I still haven't finished book #3 yet, so unfortunately review #5 is of book #4, confusing things further. This review is also hugely late - don't tell anyone but even though the date of this post is 6th February 2010, I'm actually writing it on the 21st. Tee hee.

Now down to the serious BOOK TALK: this is the first book that was not taken from the bookshelf of a family member, and also the first non-academic paper-based item I've taken out of a library for around 5 years. It was exhilarating. I intended to get 'The Lost Continent' by the same author (keep a look out for this later in the series), but after I was consistently foiled by my ocular abilities, and reluctant to look like a pillock by asking the lady at the desk where it was for the third time, I settled for the first Bill Bryson book to cross my sights.

It may be the author's immense writing ability resulting in all of his books being awesome, it may be my affection towards aforementioned author's works resulting in a biased opinion on my part, or it may just be good luck, but whatever it is this book was a good random find! (That was really long winded...)

The book itself recounts a series of hikes along the Appalachian Trail undertaken by the author and (for the most part) his friend Stephen Katz. The 'for the most part' could refer to the fact that their friendship is sometimes placed under strain, or the fact that Katz is not present for all of the hikes (as was the intended meaning). The aforementioned Appalachian Trail is a hiking trail of disputed length that runs along the East of America. It crosses 14 states along it's path, as well as a great many mountains. The length is disputed due to renovation works, inaccurate measurements, and a plenitude of other factors (all examined in the text).

Bryson's style is to intertwine personal accounts with historical and scientific ones to create an interesting and compelling story is something I have discussed before, and 'A Walk in the Woods' follows this trend delightfully. It discusses everything from why he decided to walk the trail, the conception and history of the trail and the people involved therein, the range of camping equipment available and the relative benefits of each ("'it lets you see what you've got in there, without having to undo the zipper', he explained and looked at me with an expression that invited staggered admiration"), the friendly people they encountered along the trail, the not so friendly people who have been known to haunt the trail, the varieties of wildlife on the trail (friendly or otherwise), and the state of accommodation and toilet facilities along the trail (the latter is probably unfriendly), to name but a few.

Therefore, in these modest 337 pages is crammed a constant supply of interesting, inspiring and often hilarious information. I think that's what gets me about Bill Bryson's writing; one minute I can be laughing at an amusing anecdote, the next being bequeathed with obscure but enticing knowledge, before being bought sharply back to reality with a sobering statistic, such as the fact that an extremely high proportion (I misplaced the statistic) of trees along the trail are at risk of disappearing in the next few decades (I misplaced this figure as well), from causes ranging from preventable disease to the insatiable appetite of the logging industry.

The ability to remind the reader of the dire state of things, however, is something Bill Bryson is able to do all too well; for example he points out that "America [has entered] the age not just of the automobile but of the retarded attention span", a quote whose likely truth has unfortunately been made all to clear to me by this book. Accounts of how large portions of the Appalachian Trail were cleared to make way for hotels, guesthouses, roads, and other tourist-driven ventures, again placing a large portion of the wildlife at risk, are commonplace in the historical sections of this book.

But yes. I'm not really sure what else to say, so I'll wrap it up: this was a good book, somewhat inspiring as I have a strange desire to go hiking at the moment, which will have to be followed up if it doesn't dissipate. Until then I'm going to return to the stack of books I've assigned myself to read, along with the multitude of other tasks I have to do.


No comments:

Post a Comment