One of the ways you can tell it’s finals is that, on my night stand, there is a Bill Bryson book, in this case A Walk in the Woods. (Another way is that I get a bit unstrung, as evidenced by my last post.) I can’t afford to read something with a strong narrative flow at bedtime just now, as I’m short enough on sleep as it is, but I need something absorbing enough to stop my poor overheated brain from running around on little tracks squeaking, “Vested interests, measuring lives, and unborn widows, oh my! Too many papers! Too much work! No time!” (Wills, Trusts, and Future Interests exam this morning. A tip for non-lawyers: if you ever hear the phrase “Rule Against Perpetuities,” run away. Fast.)
A Walk in the Woods is perfect for this. It’s nonfiction, and it’s reasonably episodic, but it’s quite funny and very distinctive. I can read a couple of chapters, chuckle, think, “Hey, it could be worse—I could be in the cold, wet, bug- and bear-filled woods with a 40-pound pack on my back,” and then go to sleep. This is probably the best of Bryson’s travel books (I haven’t read his language ones yet), with just the right mix of seriousness, great description, and pure silliness:
[Bryson is in the local bookstore, stocking up on information about the Appalachian Trail.]
On the way out I noticed a volume called Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance, opened it at random, found the sentence “This is a clear example of the general type of incident in which a black bear sees a person and decides to try to kill and eat him,” and tossed that into the shopping basket, too.
This was originally published in the U.K., and that was the version I first read; it’s interesting to see the changes that were made for the American version. Besides changing “boot” to “trunk” and the like, the main thing I notice is the tweaks to the ending, which make it a little less snarky and a touch nicer about Katz (a college acquaintance of Bryson who accompanies him on the trail, despite being even less suited for it than Bryson, which is saying something).
(I’m also curious what kinds of notes Bryson took while on the trail. He never mentions it, so it’s hard to say, but he planned to write a book about it, so he must have been taking some notes. I always wonder this sort of thing when I see full dialogue quoted in reminiscences, is all.)
Anyway, in case there’s someone out there who hasn’t read this yet, I recommend it.