A Walk in the Woods Reading Critique
Title and Author:
A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson
Literary Criticism on Author (by Critic):
The general consensus of many critics on Bill Bryson’s work is that he has a very satirical, yet truthful style, which makes his writing so unique and pleasurable to read. Much of the book uses such a conversational tone that the inclusion of history and factual information doesn't disrupt the narrative structure much. “His humor manages to shine through at just the right moments. I thought there was something very honest, very human, in his sarcasm” (Jenna Baker, MST Publishing, 2011). Kirkus Review said, “…Bryson is a talented portraitist of place. He did his natural-history homework, which is to say he knows a jack-o-lantern mushroom from a hellbender salamander from a purple warty back mussel, and can also write seriously about the devastation of chestnut blight” (2004). Almost every review of this novel shows Bryson’s incredible duality of sarcasm and truth within the book. The humor he uses is a very bright sarcasm that includes with circumstantial evidence and intelligence.
Method of Development:
Because this book is an autobiography, the characters were all completely real and developed from Bill Bryson’s memories of the actual events that occurred in his story. As Bryson’s trek progresses, so does his sense of self. Bryson is transformed from a soft middle-ager to a serious hiker. Along the long Appalachian Trail that stretches from Georgia to Maine, Bill Bryson encounters several people (characters) along the way. An old school-friend of Bryson’s, Stephen Katz, joins Bryson for the trip. An out-of-shape and abrasive companion, Katz is also known for traveling with the author through Europe when they were in their early 20s, as documented in Bryson’s earlier book, Neither Here Nor There. Although Katz complains constantly and is often insufferable on the trail, his well-timed sarcastic commentary is often comedic gold. At other times he proves to be a sincere and loyal friend to Bryson. The first person the pair meet on the trail is Mary Ellen, an obnoxious Floridian who attaches herself to Bryson and Katz. After a few days, Bryson and Katz ditch her by hiking to a road and hitchhiking into town. The pair then meet “Chicken John” later on the trail, a man famous on the Appalachian Trail for his tendency to get lost, sometimes walking in the wrong direction for days at a time. Bryson is delighted to meet him on one of his day hikes near Dalton, where Chicken John reveals that his name is really Bernard.
Analysis of Devices:
Bryson does not use complex diction in this novel, because he wants to really make it understandable and relatable to almost anyone that picks the book up to read it. Although there may be some larger vocabulary words present in the writing, most of the words are smaller and more concise, used in everyday conversation like “remove”, “grinds”, “circumstances”, “depression”, and “frequently”. Some things key to the book are “denim-blue lakes”, “heavy green forests”, “compression straps”, etc. Bryson is very descriptive in his diction and syntax, which makes the writing very realistic for the reader.
Point of View and Structure:
In order for a reader to become interested in a novel, there must be a narrative hook portrayed by the author. Bryson begins the book with a flashback, quite nostalgic, about how he viewed the woods in his childhood backyard. The reader is ultimately hooked by this thought of wonder and unexplored territory to the narrator. This book becomes a narrative told from the point of Bill Bryson, because he is retelling the story, through chronological flashbacks, of what happened on his adventures on the Appalachian Trail. The set up of the book with informative facts at the beginning of most chapters and story form for the rest of the book adds to the interesting structure of...
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