Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa. For twenty years he lived in England, where he worked for The Times and The Independent, and wrote for many major British and American publications. His books include the travel memoirs Neither Here nor There, The Lost Continent, and Notes from a Small Island, as well as The Mother Tongue and Made in America. He now lives in Hanover, New Hampshire, with his wife and four children.
YA-Leisurely walks in the Cotswolds during a 20-year sojourn in England hardly prepared Bryson for the rigors of the Appalachian Trail. Nevertheless, he and his friend Katz, both 40-something couch potatoes, set out on a cold March morning to walk the 2000-mile trail from Georgia to Maine. Overweight and out of shape, Katz jettisoned many of his provisions on the first day out. The men were adopted by Mary Ellen, a know-it-all hiker eager to share her opinions about everything. They finally eluded her, encountered some congenial hikers, and after eight days of stumbling up and down mountains in the rain and mud, came to Gatlinburg, TN. Acknowledging they would never make it the whole way, they decided to skip the rest of the Smokies and head for the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia-by car. Late that summer, for their last hike, the pair attempted to hike the Hundred Mile Wilderness in Maine, near the trail's end. They got separated and Bryson spent a day and night searching for his friend. When they finally were reunited, "...we decided to leave the endless trail and stop pretending we were mountain men because we weren't." This often hilarious account of the foibles of two inept adventurers is sprinkled with fascinating details of the history of the AT, its wildlife, and tales of famous and not-so-famous hikers. In his more serious moments, Bryson argues for the protection of this fragile strip of wilderness. YAs who enjoy the outdoors, and especially those familiar with the AT, will find this travelogue both entertaining and insightful.-Molly Connally, Kings Park Library, Fairfax County, VA
This funny book has been well represented on radio and television talk shows, with Bryson presenting humorous and often poignant observations about his overweight, ex-alcoholic hiking partner Stephen Katz and their experiences along the Appalachian Trail (AT). Bryson had moved to England and gained most of his hiking experience along that country's friendly trails from village to village and pub to pub. An experienced travel writer (The Lost Continent, Audio Reviews, LJ 9/1/93), he decided to tackle the 2200-mile trail from Georgia to Maine‘and then discovered that wilderness hiking and British hiking are two very different things. Ultimately, Bryson and Katz struggle along a part of the southern trail and then abandon the whole idea. Bryson drives down and samples parts of the remaining AT, such as the Pennsylvania coal country, and finally he and Katz decide to give it another chance and set out into the 100-mile wilderness of Maine‘and quickly drop out again. The book's value lies in its humor and its trenchant observations on the environmental damage along selected portions of the trail and on the history both of the trail itself and the areas of the eastern mountains through which it winds. The author is often hilarious, his companion Katz is an entirely sympathetic character, and one learns a lot about those subjects Bryson touches upon. Fortunately, William Roberts is an excellent reader; his voice is alternately sardonic and matter-of-fact, just like Bryson writes. This will be popular in public library collections especially.‘Don Wismer, Cary Memorial Lib., Wayne, ME
Returning to the U.S. after 20 years in England, Iowa native Bryson decided to reconnect with his mother country by hiking the length of the 2100-mile Appalachian Trail. Awed by merely the camping section of his local sporting goods store, he nevertheless plunges into the wilderness and emerges with a consistently comical account of a neophyte woodsman learning hard lessons about self-reliance. Bryson (The Lost Continent) carries himself in an irresistibly bewildered manner, accepting each new calamity with wonder and hilarity. He reviews the characters of the AT (as the trail is called), from a pack of incompetent Boy Scouts to a perpetually lost geezer named Chicken John. Most amusing is his cranky, crude and inestimable companion, Katz, a reformed substance abuser who once had single-handedly "become, in effect, Iowa's drug culture." The uneasy but always entertaining relationship between Bryson and Katz keeps their walk interesting, even during the flat stretches. Bryson completes the trail as planned, and he records the misadventure with insight and elegance. He is a popular author in Britain and his impeccably graceful and witty style deserves a large American audience as well. (May)