Posted by: chartroose | October 7, 2008

My Love/Hate Relationship With Bill Bryson

I’m currently listening to an audio version of A Walk in the Woods.  It’s my favorite memoir and has been a staple of my reading life since the first time I cracked it open in the late ’90’s.

About a year ago, I heard that Robert Redford was thinking of producing and starring in a film adaptation of the book (costarring Paul Newman, awww), but I haven’t heard anything lately.

I wrote this post in the summer of 2005 and published it on my first blog, which, for inexplicable reasons, was extremely unpopular.  The blog only got about 900 hits in the first year (and about 850 of those were mine), so my entries became more and more sporadic until I quit posting altogether.  This is one of my better pieces of writing from that unfortunate blog:

Bill Bryson, 1998, 274 p.

I have never been a non-fiction fan, although I do occasionally pick up a memoir and attempt to read it.  Memoirs are not totally factual, (otherwise readers would die of boredom) so I enjoy them every once in awhile.  I usually read purely for entertainment, and this is why I appreciate Bill Bryson so much.  Bryson started out as a travel writer and now he’s branched off into A Short History of Nearly Everything.  Quite a leap forward!

Bryson’s travel books ARE memoirs, and they are filled with hilarious anecdotes of his adventures and misadventures as he journeys through America or Britain or wherever he happens to be at the time.  I have learned quite a bit from his travel/humor books, especially A Walk in the Woods, which is my personal favorite.

I have a few anecdotes of my own concerning A Walk in the Woods.  I purchased a used hardcover copy of it in Wayne’s World (Waynesboro) Pennsylvania at one of the local flea markets in 1998.  The flea market’s book selections were abysmal; there were several bodice-rippers, a couple of sorry looking sci-fi books and A Walk in the Woods.  Desperate for something to read, and not having much choice in the matter, I purchased the Bryson book with a heavy heart.  My reluctance to tackle A Walk in the Woods only lasted about 5 seconds.  I was hooked as soon as I read the first couple of pages.

I finished the book in one sitting and was overcome by romantic notions about nature, hiking and especially the Appalachian Trail.  Suffused with joyous enthusiasm, I completely forgot Mr. Bryson’s numerous descriptions of how difficult and painful the trail could be.  It didn’t matter because the great outdoors was right there, practically at my doorstep.  I knew where the trail was!  I could be like Mr. Bryson and have my own Appalachian adventure!  My (then) husband didn’t need much convincing because he enjoys almost any athletic endeavor, and the kids had to come along because they were kids, so they had no choice in the matter.

All went well for around the first 3 minutes of our first hike, which was close to Wayne’s World.  It was beautiful, it was quiet, and the air smelled good.  All of that changed when we reached THE MOUNTAIN.  It was precipitous and rocky and a complete killer.  The trail seemed to be about 2 inches wide.  By the time we got to the top, I was feeling less enthusiastic about Mr. Bryson.  After a short rest, we scrambled down the other side, and, lo and behold, there was THE BIGGER MOUNTAIN.  By the time we reached the top of that, I was starting to think I was a total moron to idealize Mr. Bryson and his silly book.  There were several more of these mountain climbing incidents, at the end of which, near total collapse, I swore to myself that I would track down Bill Bryson and pelt him to death with acorns or pinecones or squirrel skeletons some other woodsy material.

Over the next couple of months, we went on several more Appalachian trail expeditions, most of them originating in southern Pennsylvania.  For some inexplicable reason, my ex and the girls seemed to enjoy them.  I, being the spoiled baby of our little group, became more whiny and out-of-sorts with each successive hike.  Eventually, we quit hiking altogether, and I’m pretty sure it was because of my attitude.  A couple of months later, my already lame marriage really began to fizzle.  Could the Appalachian Trail trips have been partly to blame?  If I hadn’t read A Walk in the Woods, I wouldn’t have come up with the brilliant idea of going on these jaunts.  If we hadn’t gone, my ex wouldn’t have seen how horrible I really am.  If my ex hadn’t seen how horrible I really am…well, you get the picture.  This leads me to only one conclusion:  Bill Bryson destroyed my marriage!

Here is anecdote #2:  In the winter of 2005, my mother was being treated for pneumonia at a community hospital in suburban Denver.  She had Alzheimer’s and was becoming progressively more confused.   Knowing that she had a very short attention span, I brought my dog-eared copy of A Walk in the Woods to the hospital with me.  Older daughter and I read aloud and it was a huge hit!  We tried to find the amusing parts (of which there are many), and most of the time Mom paid attention and laughed along with us.  I had forgotten how fun that little book really is.  Thank you, Mr. Bryson.  I forgive you.

I recently rediscovered my hardcover copy of The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid sharing space with an old chinese food carton, several mismatched socks, a small aluminum baseball bat and a plethora of dust bunnies under my bed.  I
don’t think it smells bad, which is always a major determinant of whether I’ll give away or throw away.  I’d like to give it away because I’ll never read it again.  If you want it, leave a comment and I’ll draw the lucky winner on Monday, Oct. 13th.



  1. Sounds like you related a bit more to Katz! I enjoyed this book a lot too, but I think my favorite bits were about Katz and his rants, throwing heavy things (like water) out of his back pack with abandon! As much as I would like to imagine I would be able to tackle the Appalachian Trail with a zen enjoyment, I fear that the realty would be much closer to a Katz-like breakdown somewhere along the line!

  2. I’d have read your first blog, if I’d found you. Alas, I’ve only recently discovered the joy of Book Barrage.

    Oh, don’t add me . . . sorry. I’ve read A Walk in the Woods (loved/hated it) and I’ve got a copy of . . . that other one. Too tired to look. Actually, I believe Bryson wrote about the English language before he got into travel, didn’t he? Not sure, but I thought The Mother Tongue was his first. Whatever he writes, I love his sense of humor. Sometimes I get tired of all the beer drinking, though. He drinks an awful lot of beer.

  3. No need to enter my name in the giveaway, my book stack threatens to topple at any minute!

    I wanted to comment on the personal connection you made to *A Walk In the Woods*, especially the part about reading it aloud to your mother. It made the review for me.

  4. WordPress…pthpt. I have too many hours invested in my template to migrate to wordpress. You just need to get a new job.

  5. I for one would like to be in the drawing 🙂

    Your review of A Walk In The Woods was really good — I’m glad you came back to blogging. I think the best books are those that come with a story or specific memory of why they were so important to us; this sounds like a really good one (even the marriage part, if that makes any sense).

  6. I can’t imagine you having an unsuccessful blog!

    I LOVE AWITW! Would it be so terrible if I dared to say that I think BB is shagworthy?

  7. I love Bill; his style of writing – the “lazy, campfire conversation” style – is perhaps my favourite, and I’ve enjoyed all of his books to date although you’ve reminded me that I bought The Thunderbolt Kid and put it down after only a few chapters to read something else.

    Now where did I put it?

    Oh, and I’ve also listened to a lot of them as audiobooks (normally for long car journeys)… most of ours seemed to feature someone called Kerry Shale as the narrator.

  8. OK, I’ll add Bryson to my Chartroose Challenge. He’s been on my list to read for awhile now.

  9. You are too funny! A Walk In the Woods is the first (and only) book I’ve read by Bryson and I LOVE it – it’s funny and inspiring all at the same time.

    I’d love to read another of his books so sign me up!

  10. I’ve done day hikes on the AT (mostly in VA), but the thought of doing anything more is too daunting for me!

    I’ve read (and loved) A Walk in the Woods, but thus far it’s my only Bryson. I’d love to be entered in the giveaway!

  11. Dreamybee–I am quite a bit like Katz, although I think he’s a bit more acerbic than I am. Once, when we were on one of those ill-fated hikes, I threw a conniption fit because I was sure my ex and the girls (who were ALWAYS ahead of me) were discussing what a pathetic loser I was. What was wrong with me? I think back on that time and cringe.

    Nancy–I’m not sure what his first book was. I know that he recently wrote a book on Shakespeare, so he really did branch out. It does seem like he drinks a lot. He’s seems like a good ol’ boy type, but perhaps that’s a bit deceptive. It would be fun to meet him and find out, wouldn’t it?

    Dawn–Yeah, the reading to Mom part is really special. Shortly after that, it got so she couldn’t focus on much of anything at all. Alzheimer’s is a terrible thing; I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

    Jill–The new job thing may be coming even though I don’t want it to. We’re having to take “flex time” now and we’re losing some of our benefits. Damn Dubya, and damn the greedy financial sector thieves that have made our economy so unstable!

    Kim–I totally agree with you. I think this book has impacted my life more than any other. Who’d a thunk it? At least my most memorable book could have been an “intellectual” novel like “Ulysses” or something!

    bybee–I’ve always thought he was shagworthy. For one thing, he’s a redhead (yum) and for another he reminds me of a big ol’ bear. I like big ol’ bears!

    Jack–Yes, his writing style is so comfortable, at least in his travel memoirs. I like books that are cozy and comprehensible, not ones that filled with nose-in-the-air wordsmithery!

    Care–Oh good! I think you’ll really like this one! I love your little gypsy scarf avatar–you were such a cute kid!

    Heather–“…Thunderbolt Kid” is a fun read. Maybe you’ll win!

    fyrefly–Ditto to you!

  12. I love A Walk In The Woods. I giggled like a maniac through that – which, naturally, I was reading in public.

    I hope you cited Bill Bryson in your divorce. The callousness of the man.

    His accent always throws me.

    Unbelievable. That your first blog was not a resounding success.

  13. Bill Bryson doesn’t LOOK like a homewrecker!

  14. I have a copy of this but have never read any Bryson. When I took a class on travel writing, there were several young men in the class who used Bryson for inspiration, which seems like a good idea but I don’t think they quite got the humor down.

    Am very glad you could eventually forgive him 🙂

  15. A Walk in the Woods was my first Bryson too. I loved it and wanted to go hiking, fortunatly, I came to my senses.

    Don’t enter me, I already have Life and Times.

  16. I have a weakness for big, redheaded guys…sigh.

  17. Oh, yes, I would love to chat with Bryson. I could just drink rootbeer and listen. That would work. I’ve got a copy of the Shakespeare book, here, actually. Don’t forget NOT to enter me. I’m just chatting with ya. 🙂

  18. Sorry, forgot to say don’t enter me in the contest; I’ve already got a copy.

  19. I like the continuing theme about red-headed guys. keep it up!

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