When I first learned that A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson’s hilarious travelogue about his adventures hiking the Appalachian Trail, was going to be made into a movie starring Robert Redford, my first thought was, “A Walk in the Woods! I loved that book! I need to go read it again!” As is often the case for book nerds, adaptation news is exciting mostly because it provides a built-in excuse to revisit favorite reads. I’m certainly looking forward to this movie—the trailer is delightful, and the cast is stellar. But Bryson’s funny, charming, and utterly delightful memoir springs to life even without the aid of the big screen. Here’s why.
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It actually is laugh-out-loud funny
The term “laugh-out-loud funny” gets thrown around a lot these days, applied to books, movies, and comedians that you’ll barely chuckle over, or even smile faintly at. As a result, I’ve learned to be cautious when it comes to believing it that something is actually going to make me laugh out loud. But A Walk in the Woods is one of the few books that actually delivers on that promise. It is shockingly funny. It is so funny that if you read it in bed while lying next to your spouse, he will demand to know just what it is you keep laughing about, and eventually you will refuse to read another joke aloud to him, and will tell him to just read it himself when you’re done.
It’s for everyone
Whether you’re a consummate hiker who knows what a crampon is, or a city slicker who has never ventured further into the wilds than the Turtle Pond in Central Park (and who snickers at the term “crampon”), there is something in A Walk in the Woods for you. Bryson is open about his lack of hiking experience when he sets off on this infamously difficult trail, and his wry account of the many pitfalls he encounters and errors in judgment he makes at every step will give outdoorsy people a good chuckle, while giving indoorsy people some very useful tips. (Perhaps my use of the word “outdoorsy” tells you which side of the doorsy I myself am on.)
It is packed with fascinating and engaging information
As he takes you along the storied Appalachian Trail, Bryson also gives you a rundown on some mind-blowing facts and figures about the trail’s creation, its history, and the areas surrounding it (it’s where I first encountered the intriguing—and deeply disturbing—story behind the town of Centralia, PA). If you’re familiar with Bill Bryson’s writing, you know that he packs an inordinate amount of really fascinating information into the pages of his books, whether he’s writing about the English language, as in The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way, or the history of the world, in the voluminous and aptly titled A Short History of Nearly Everything. Fortunately, because he is a deeply amusing writer, you don’t even realize that you’re being educated as well as entertained. His books are smart, but they’re so funny that you don’t realize just how smart they are. That’s a lot harder to do than it looks, and Bryson is a master at it.
It’s peopled with unforgettable characters
When I learned that A Walk in the Woods was going to be adapted into a film, part of me was disappointed that Bryson wasn’t going to play himself, because he seems like one of those rare individuals who is just as interesting in person as he is on the page. Fortunately, he’s being played by an actor you may have heard of named Robert Redford, who is certainly no slouch. Bryson’s eccentric, bumbling, and alarmingly non-athletic friend Katz, who agreed to accompany Bryson on the expedition, is being played by Nick Nolte, which sounds to me like perfect casting.
The book makes a great gift for people who are hard to shop for
Most people I know have read A Walk in the Woods (or, they better have) thanks to the period during which it became my go-to present for people I was completely clueless about how to shop for. Father-in-law? Check. Boss? Check. Mailwoman? Check. I literally cannot think of anyone I would not recommend giving this book to—except possibly Bill Bryson himself—although I’m sure he would graciously accept it, and tell you it’s the thought that counts.
Are you excited to read—and then see—A Walk in the Woods?