Bill Bryson is one of my favorite authors. His charming accounts of his endless travels never cease to not only inspire me, but also cause spontaneous outbursts of laughter in what usually tend to be quiet environments. He is nothing less than utterly hilarious in his realistic portrayal of his experiences.
The problem with this, is that he is SUCH an inspiring writer, his travel memoirs leave me desperately pining to follow in his footsteps to whichever far-off location it is I am currently reading about.
I mean it when I say he is realistic. I recently started A Walk in the Woods, his novel about walking the Appalachian Trail—or at least starting it; I haven’t gotten far enough into it to know if he completes it. After outlining his shopping experience for more equipment than he ever expected to need, he discusses some of the guide books he read, including one in particular about bears. The referenced story of the child who was dragged out of his tent in the middle of the night by his head (in the bear’s mouth), all because there was a snickers in the tent, would have been enough to deter me from ever hiking again if Bryson didn’t tell it with such wit.
And again, as he’s struggling, on the brink of exhaustion, up the never-ending hills of Georgia. If I had never experienced the sense of accomplishment that follows—the overwhelming pride and satisfaction of reaching the top—I would laugh and say, “Hellll no!”
See, the problem with Bill Bryson is that he describes his experiences, the ups and the downs, and still leaves you yearning for more. I have accepted what I call the “BrysonBug” (a travelbug caused by his tales) and learned from it: I avoid reading anything about a location I am not soon traveling to. I read I’m a Stranger Here Myself—an anthology of stories comparing British and American culture—soon after I came back from studying abroad in England. I could relate. I read Neither Here Nor There (European travel) and Notes From a Small Island (England travel) during the pre-departure phase of my move to England. These left me excited and roaring to go.
Last year I attempted to read In a Sunburned Country (Australia travel) and I had to stop less than a chapter into it. I already felt the bug taking over and I knew damn well—as did my bank account—I wouldn’t be visiting down under anytime soon. (Yet, on a side note, a friend recently moved to Oz so I am hoping for the chance to not only visit but finally read the book that I bought years ago!)
For now, I am going to continue reading, pretending I don’t know that Bryson’s face is still intact and he doesn’t get mauled by a bear—you know, to keep up the suspense—and start planning my own hike. I’ve been wanting to tackle a portion of the Appalachian Trail for a while… this summer seems as good of time as any.