Anatomy of a Book: A Walk in the Wood, by Bill Bryson

Not long after I moved with my family to a small town in New Hampshire I happened upon a path that vanished into a wood on the edge of town. (p.11)

He’s straight into the story.

Running more than 2,100 miles along America’s eastern seaboard, through the serene and beckoning Appalachian Mountains, the AT is the granddaddy of long hikes. (p.11)

And the details.

Daniel Boone, who not only wrestled bears but tried to date their sisters, described corners of the southern Appalachians as ‘so wild and horrid that it is impossible to behold them without terror’. (p.66)

With a good sense of humour. That’s how Bill Bryson often works, and he often uses the following traits.

Changing Status:

In this story it is predominantly Katz, an friend of Bryson, who has the major change. While neither are seasoned hikers, Katz is the least equipped for the trail they embark on.

High Stakes:

The first chapter contains a long outline of danger that befoul the travelling two, including bear attack and snake bite. They could die.

Page Turner:

A movie was made of this book, and used the notion of a determined quest as an anchor and drive for the story. This same quest is openly absent from the book. It is readable for other reasons.

Believable Characters:

Bill Bryson’s voice is friendly and endearing to the reader, as though listening (through reading) to an entertaining friend. Not everyone may enjoy the style, though it does paint characters well.

She regarded us with the crinkled squint of someone who is either chronically confused or can’t see very well. (p.73)


Throughout the book are details of the Trail’s history, relatable and educational experiences of hiking, stories about American wildlife and fauna, and often bizarrely inept examples of American nature preservation.


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