The April selection of the Great Readers of m was "A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson. Cheryl chose this book and it is definitely now part of top 10 books that I love.
Perhaps it was a fit of angst dealing with his own personal version of a mid-life crisis that led Bill Bryson to tackle the challenge of hiking the 2,100 mile Appalachian Trail! It was certainly a solid understanding of his own personality and clear recognition of his own physical and mental limitations that prompted him to invite his friend, Stephen Katz, an overweight and out of shape recovering alcoholic with an inordinate fondness for snack foods and cream soda to accompany him on this daunting challenge.
The demands of the AT ultimately proved too much for Bryson and Katz who sensibly (and with an almost relieved sense of philosophical acceptance) decided to abandon the notion of a complete through hike. But the resulting story, drawn from Bryson's daily journal of the summer's efforts, is an overwhelming success and pure joy in the reading.
"A Walk in the Woods" is an extraordinary, entertaining travelogue on both the AT - the Appalachian Trail - and the people and places of small town America that dot the trail's path along the eastern seaboard from Georgia to Maine. At the same time, it is much, much more. Bryson is scathing in his political commentary and almost enraged criticism of the ongoing state of mismanagement and the sadly misguided policies of both the Parks and Forest Services of the US government.
"A Walk in the Woods" is also a deeply moving introspective examination on the nature of friendship, family, perseverance, joy and despondency. As he and Katz amble along rock strewn trails dappled with sunlight broken by the leafy forest canopy, Bryson frequently, effortlessly and almost without our even noticing the change, wanders metaphorically off the main trail and onto a side path of lightweight but nonetheless informative and educational sidebars of nature writing on an amazingly wide variety of topics. Glaciation, bears, bugs, ecology, continental drift, hypothermia, hypoxia and weather are only a few examples of the topics.
Then there is the humour! It is perhaps an understatement to say that, in this regard, Bryson has a rare gift. He has treated his readers to laughs originating in every imaginable corner of the vast world of humour - wry sardonic wit; biting satire; slapstick; self effacement; sarcasm and insults; fear; and even extended comedy sketches worthy of stage or television. His description of the astonishingly stupid and entirely self-absorbed fellow hiker Mary Ellen who has the annoying habit of constantly clearing her sinuses with a grating honk is definitely laugh-out-loud material.
Pure entertainment and enjoyment from first page to last. I believe Bill Bryson would consider it a compliment if I suggested that "A Walk in the Woods" is the first book I've ever read with a smile on my face during every single moment of the reading. Highly recommended - even if you've never spent a single night under nylon in the woods.