Books / Features

Review: Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods [Folio Society]

The Folio Society accomplish something that very few other publishing houses consistently achieve, and that’s not only celebrating some of the finest book titles out there but they attain it with an absolute touch of class. An independent publisher, they champion both fiction and non-fiction by focusing on the best of the individual genres, ones where we find writers who have honed that rare equilibrium between intelligent, informed and welcoming – all huddled inside the wonderful shape of a perfectly crafted book.

Today we’re exploring and appreciating a fresh publication of Bill Bryson’s modern classic A Walk in the Woods, but this isn’t just any old re-release, it’s bound in blocked cloth, it’s set in Kennerley with Source Sans as display over 296 pages and features a range of original illustrations by artist James Weston Lewis. As well as the exquisite aesthetic, this is a wonderful example of not just doing things for the sake of it but picking an accomplished title and renewing it with beautifully reflective and accompanying artworks, that add depth to the book and offer it a further layer beyond the pages.

Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods is an incredibly fun expedition, and I grew up reading his work with the likes of Notes from a Small Island, Down Under, and The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America. With A Walk in the Woods, we’re in primetime Bryson as he decides – almost on a whim – to take on the 2,000-mile (and other argued distances) trek along the Appalachian Trail in North America. If you don’t know it, the trail (AT) stretches from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine and whilst you could start from either end, obviously, it crosses 14 states and you’ve really got to consider both the seasons and the sheer scale, before you even get to ‘how’ you’d achieve it.

As with all Bill Bryson travelogues, he finely calculates that trademark sense of observational comedy, with amusing crankiness in the right places and a genuinely addictive and fun style to hitch a ride with. This return to A Walk in the Woods is a fine reminder of how much he inspired my writing early on, I like the natural touch and when you’re in nature itself, then you can also afford to be opinionated and perceptive at the same time. In truth, if Bryson’s work doesn’t persuade you to get out there and become a travel writer to, well, I’d be surprised but however you approach the book, you’ll get a great lesson in wit and invention whether in your tent or on your sofa.

Of course, accompanying him on the journey is his old friend Stephen Katz (under a pseudonym there), which adds to the journey in a much bigger way than it could have, considering how Bryson didn’t even know if they’d finish the trail itself at one point. So, after we travel through mountain peaks, natural habitats and so much more, even out of the caustic comedy, it’s the underlying respect for the trail and natural world that grows in realisation. Sure, things didn’t really go according to his original plan, and that might be understating it, but what Bryson creates is an enduring work and offers an almost historic (already!) look back into a time that feels longer ago than it really was – in a positive nostalgic sense.

With that in mind, this adventure is ready for you to experience, now! The Folio Society’s version of A Walk in the Woods arrives in a blocked slipcase, and those aforementioned illustrations bring it to life in a modern way. As well as three, full-colour pieces within the book – including a double-page spread – you’ve got a series of black and white vignettes, and a recreation of their travel map, amongst the pages and journey.

All these things work together into a book that opens the story further, and even if this your first time to Bryson’s writing, it’ll take you somewhere different, both visually and in admiration for both the design and words of wonderful escapism, as we join Bill Bryson on the Appalachian Trail and off out into the unknown…

Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods is available to buy now here.

Head over to The Folio Society and admire, and pick up, one of their all-new Summer Collection, a set of 9 new books including A Walk in the Woods, plus the likes of Selected Short Stories by Philip K. Dick, John le Carré’s A Perfect Spy, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, and even Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

foliosociety.com/uk

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