A grouchy, grumbling walk through AmericaFreshly translated into Korean this year is Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods,” and it’s hard to imagine there’s a language in which it wouldn’t be a treat. A middle-aged, rather doughy travel writer, Mr. Bryson moved back to the United States after 20 years in England and decided to celebrate by walking the 2,100 miles of the Appalachian Trail, or the AT, as the reader soon learns to think of it. With Mr. Bryson, even shopping for camping gear is a pleasure:
“I have never been so simultaneously impressed and bewildered. We spent a whole afternoon going through [the salesman’s] stock. He would say things to me like: ‘Now this has a 70-denier high-density abrasion-resistant fly with a ripstop weave. On the other hand, and I’ll be frank with you here’ ― and he would lean to me and reduce his voice to a low, candid tone, as if disclosing that it had once been arrested in a public toilet with a sailor ― ‘the seams are lap felled rather than bias taped and the vestibule is a little cramped.’”
Even less suited than Mr. Bryson for a walk across 14 states is his seriously overweight traveling companion, Stephen Katz, who prepares for the trip by weighing down his pack with dubious foodstuffs, only to fling most of them off a cliff, one by one, in a foaming rage on the first day. The agony of sedentary people on a serious hike is drolly and evocatively described, as is almost everything else to which Mr. Bryson turns his attention ― local yokels (“people have been appalled by northern Georgians for 150 years”), fear of bears (“Black bears rarely attack. But here’s the thing. Sometimes they do”) and, not least, the wonders of the AT itself. Winding from Georgia to Maine, maintained largely by volunteers, it’s shockingly underused, considering that more than 100 million people live within a day’s drive of it.
It somehow sums up the offbeat charm of “A Walk in the Woods” that, after several weeks of trudging their way north from Georgia, Mr. Bryson and Mr. Katz look at a map, realize how impossibly far they have to go, decide the hell with it and rent a car so they can skip the rest of Tennessee. This book will introduce American readers to another of their country’s underappreciated treasures, and might cause readers of any nationality to choke on a beverage once or twice.
A Walk in the Woods
by Bill Bryson
$14.95 (Korean-language edition, 9,500 won)
by David Moll