Saturday, August 6, 2016

Audio Book Review: A Walk in the Woods

I recently took my aunt on a whirlwind tour up to Devil's Tower - in other words we did it all in one day. We left my home in Cheyenne at 6 am, got to Devil's Tower about noon (having stopped for breakfast and to look in at a museum in Newcastle, Wyoming), and got home about 9 pm, after having made a stop for dinner.

It was a fun day, but there's no denying it was a long day.

On the way up, we listened to the last four out of five discs of the audio version of BIll Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. (The audio book belonged to my mother and she has a habit of taking the discs out of their case and not putting them back. In this case, disc one was missing.)

(Paperback edition, 1998)

I found the book enjoyable and very interesting, not the least because it gave a history of the Appalachian Trail and also of the ... one might say "mismanagement" of it by the Park Service. I made a mental note to myself that when I got home I would check out the print book so that I could find all these mentions of "mismanagement" and history, and use them as starting points for an article I would write. (No, the Appalachian Trail comes nowhere near Wyoming, but I write articles about anything that catches my attention!)

When I got to the library (the Laramie County Public Library, located at 2200 Pioneer Ave, Cheyenne, WY 82001) I thought to I have the time to read the book? Why not check out the audio version (my aunt had taken the discs we had with her when she returned home.)
I compromised and checked out both the print version and the audio version. On the way home (I live about 5 miles south of the city of Cheyenne proper) I decided to listen to the first disc of the audio book.

And I got a shock.

It wasn't the same narrator.

And I didn't care for this guy's voice at all. His voice was a bit too high, and he kept trying to do the voices of different characters with different accents. When he started talking as Stephen Katz with what sounded to me like a "dumb Southerner's" voice, I turned off the disc.

When I reached home I did some research. The unabridged version of A Walk in the Woods is narrated by Rob McQuay.

Here's a link to that audio book, offered through Audible, I believe:

The version my aunt and I had listened to was an abridged version (still taking up 5 discs) and was narrated by Bill Bryson himself.

I thought Bryson did a much better job with the narration. He didn't try to change voices for each character, although he did seem to lighten it a little when talking as a female character, and his voice was lower and thus did not get on my nerves.

I don't know where my mother got this abridged version, because it doesn't seem to be on sale through Amazon, even in a used version.

By the way, A Walk in the Woods was made into a movie in 2015, starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte. It's changed from the book, of course, and I see that it did not get very good reviews.
I won't be renting it to view, but here's a link if interested:

The soundtrack was put out by Varese Sarabande:

But what about the (audio) book itself?

Well, Bill Bryson is the protagonist, and the book is autobiographical. He has returned to the United States from England, where he'd lived with his family for 20 years. He conceives a desire to walk the entire Appalachian Trail (which takes six months, if you're extremely fit and extremely well prepared) and recruits a friend, Stephen Katz, to walk the trail with him.

They have adventures, of a sort (Bryson talks about the dangers of meeting bears in Chapter 2, but they don't actually meet any bears, just lots of people, some of them annoying) but a lot of the book has to do with the history of the trail, and of how the Park Service manages the trail.
Here's part of what Bryson has to say about the AT:

"...and there was a more compelling reason to go. The Appalachians are the home of one of the world's great hardwood forests-the expansive relic of the richest, most diversified sweep of woodland ever to grace the temperate world - and that forest is in trouble. If the global temperature rises by 4 degrees Centigrade over the next fifty years, as is evidently possible, the whole of the Appalachian wilderness below New England could become savanna. Already trees are dying in frightening numbers, the elms and chestnuts are long gone. the stately hemlocks and flowering dogwoods are going, and the red spruces, Fraser firs, mountain ashes and sugar maples may be about to follow. Clearly, if ever there was a time to experience this singular wilderness, it was now."
I highly recommend reading the book or tracking down the abridged version of it narrated by Bryson. You can try the McQuay version...perhaps it wouldn't have been so bad if I hadn't heard Bryson's version first - I leave that for you to decide!