Saturday, January 22, 2005

A Walk in the Woods

I've just finished reading A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson. The first chapter charmed me so completely that I determined to read only one or two chapters a day, as a treat. That lasted about three days before I lost control and finished the book in one sitting.

I read several books a week, fiction and non-, and even when I'm enjoying a book I will skip and skim large portions unless the writing really -- and I mean really -- grabs me. And I think nothing of giving up on a book after reading just a few pages. I'm sorry, but if you haven't captured my interest by then, you're never going to. "It's not you, it's me," I'll mutter as I toss aside some perfectly good author's pride and joy. And it's true. I have an incredibly short attention span and if I am not fascinated -- with a book, a movie, a conversation -- I'm outta there. Some people have cited that as evidence that I am uncommonly intelligent and discerning.

Ha. Haven't you people ever heard of Attention Deficit Disorder?

Oh, I have favorite books that I read over and over. But most novels just don't impress me much. I find them briefly entertaining, but not particularly memorable. I go through them like paper napkins at a pizza party.

I like nonfiction. I like wry humor. So Bryson's book really did it for me. I must have laughed out loud a dozen times while reading it. That's edging close to my record, I think, for a nonfiction book.

The New York Times Book Review called Bryson "a lumbering, droll, neatnik intellectual who comes off as equal parts Garrison Keillor, Michael Kinsley, and . . . Dave Barry."

No. Garrison Keillor has a way with words and can often make me smile, but I'm rolling my eyes when I do it. Dave Barry has never made me smile because he's not clever; merely goofy. And Michael Kinsley is a brilliant writer, but acerbic. So if you put these three guys into a blender and poured out a single author, I would not buy his book.

But I'm infatuated with Bryson, and I think everyone should go hunt up a copy and read A Walk in the Woods. Then you, too, can shudder as the author shares his fears of walking through a wilderness full of man-eating bears and other hazards, including, "loony hillbillies destabilized by gross quantities of impure corn liquor and generations of profoundly unbiblical sex".

Oh, man. I loved that sentence so much I read it three times.

Here's one of the passages that made me giggle. This exchange takes place when the author is at an outdoor outfitters, where he is just about to purchase a backpack for his hike on the Appalachian Trail:

"It doesn't come with straps?" I said in a new, level

"Oh, no." He surveyed a wall of products and touched a
finger to his nose. "You'll need a raincover too, of course."

I blinked. "A raincover? Why?"

"To keep out the rain."

"The backpack's not rainproof?"

He grimaced as if making an exceptionally delicate
distinction. "Well, not a hundred percent. . . ."

This was extraordinary to me. "Really? Did it not occur
to the manufacturer that people might want to take their
packs outdoors from time to time? Perhaps even go
camping with them. How much is this pack anyway?"

"Two hundred and fifty dollars."

"Two hundred and fifty dollars! Are you shi__," I paused
and put on a new voice. "Are you saying, Dave, that I pay
$250 for a pack and it doesn't have straps and it isn't

He nodded.

"Does it have a bottom in it?"

Maybe this was hilarious to me in part because my husband and I just bought one of those top-of-the-line backpacks (a Christmas gift for Number Two Son) that did not come with straps or a rainproof cover. I am pleased to report that it did have a bottom. My husband is no tightwad, but he does insist on getting something for his money.

Even if you're not normally one for armchair travel adventures, read A Walk in the Woods. I think you'll like it.


Anonymous said...

HEY WE hillbilly are not loony!!!!!!
Thank you very much!

Anonymous said...

You don't find Dave Barry hilarious? While not every column or book of his is consistently hilarious to me, he had a significant success rate when it came to making laugh me so hard that gobs of snot flew out of my nose and across the room. (Booger jokes are mandatory when speaking of the Great Dave.)

Many a Sunday afternoon found me in the bathroom with the local paper,cackling. From a discreet distance, my hubby would say, "You're reading Dave Barry, aren't you?" Sure enough. (Sometimes, it might be DILBERT, but usually it was DAVE tickling my silly bone.) Visits from Mr. Language Person. Too funny. And his book on Japan--the whole explanation of how the Japanese never say no--killer.

Now, that excerpt you put up, the one by Bryson, was okay. Amusing, but not very funny. I didn't even chuckle. Subjectivity, thy name is humor.

Anonymous said...

I loved this book! Not something I would ever have dreamed of picking up, but it just happened to be one of the books sitting out on a table at a Bed & Breakfast in Vermont. Seemed like something good to read while out in the boonies. Like you, I couldn't put it down and (rather than stealing the darn thing) made a stop at the nearest bookstore before we left so I could bring it home and finish the final few chapters. The author has an exquisite sense of humor, to be sure.