Themes: Journey, the civilized world of home versus the very much untamed world of the wilderness
One of the most interesting aspects of this book is the unlikely friendship between Bryson and Katz. What is the relationship based on? Consider, especially, the episode in Maine when Katz gets lost: somehow the friendship is altered. How does Bryson's attitude toward Katz change over the course of the book? How does Katz himself change? Or does he? What was Katz's motivation, anyway, to walk the AT?
The book offers an excellent microscope through which to examine the meaning of friendship—our own friendships. Do the two men remind you of friends who tested your patience, but who exhibited intense loyalty? What role does friendship play in this story?
In fiction a journey usually symbolizes a journey of self-discovery—at the end the protagonist comes to learn something about him/herself. Although A Walk isn't a novel, do either of the men come to greater self-awareness by the end of their journey?
The tone of the book veers back and forth between humor and seriousness, even anger. In fact, the book is a sort of jeremiad against environmental threats to the great wilderness areas of the country. Is Bryson's anger justified? He criticizes, but does he offer solutions? Are there solutions?
Katz pokes fun at rural Southerners, which some readers find funny, others find offensive. You?
Why does Katz make a good traveling companion for Bryson, and what effect does he have on the unfolding story?
What optimism, or lack of it, does Bryson's story have for the future of the American wilderness?
More than giving the reader a glimpse of natural wonders, A Walk in the Woods gives Americans a glimpse of their own characters, blemishes and all. Bryson calls our attention to the bad taste and laziness of Americans, the twin causes of much of the unsightly development of the Appalachian Mountains. While he does this, he raises complicated questions about the use of forests. Are they to be enjoyed visually or used as resources? Is it possible to do both responsibly?
“But I got a great deal else from the experience. I learned to pitch a tent and sleep beneath the stars. For a brief, proud period I was slender and fit. I gained a profound respect for the wilderness and nature and the benign dark power of woods. I understand now, in a way I never did before, the colossal scale of the world. I found patience and fortitude that I didn't know I had. I discovered an America that millions of people scarcely know exists. I made a friend. I came home.”
For the Smokies are a very Eden. We were entering what botanists liked to call “the finest mixed mesophytic forest in the world.” The Smokies harbor an astonishing range of plant life - over 1,500 types of wildflower, a thousand varieties of shrub, 530 mosses and lichen, 2000 types of fungi. They are home to 130 native species of tree; the whole of Europe has just 85. -pge 90
“There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep and that was nothing like a good night’s sleep,” he announced when he stirred, and gave an appreciative guffaw. His happiness, it turned out, was because he had killed seven mice and was feeling very proud - not to say pumped up and gladiatorial. Some fur and a nubbin of something pink and pulpy still adhered to the bottom of his water bottle, I noticed when he raised it to his lips. Occasionally it troubled me (I presume it must trouble all hikers form time to time) just how far one strays from the normal measures of civility on the trail. This was such a moment.
Generic Questions for Nonfiction
1. If your book offers a cultural portrait—of life in another country or region of your own country, start with questions a, b, and c ...
What observations are made in the book?
Does the author examine economics and
politics, family traditions, the arts, religious beliefs, language or food?
Does the author criticize or admire the culture? Does he/she wish to preserve or
change the way of life? Either way, what
would be risked or gained?
2. What is the central idea discussed in the book? What issues or ideas does the author explore? Are they personal, sociological, global, political, economic, spiritual, medical, or scientific?
3. Do the issues affect your life? How so—directly, on a daily basis, or more generally? Now or sometime in the future?
4. What evidence does the author use to support the book's ideas? Is the evidence convincing...definitive or...speculative? Does the author depend on personal opinion, observation, and assessment? Or is the evidence factual—based on science, statistics, historical documents, or quotations from (credible) experts?
5. What kind of language does the author use? Is it objective and dispassionate? Or passionate and earnest? Is it polemical, inflammatory, sarcastic? Does the language help or undercut the author's premise?
6. What are the implications for the future? Are there long- or short-term consequences to the issues raised in the book? Are they positive or negative...affirming or frightening?
7. What solutions does the author propose? Who would implement those solutions? How probable is success?
8. How controversial are the issues raised in the book? Who is aligned on which sides of the issues? Where do you fall in that line-up?
9. Talk about specific passages that struck you as significant—or interesting, profound, amusing, illuminating, disturbing, sad...? What was memorable?
10. What have you learned after reading this book? Has it broadened your perspective about a difficult issue—personal or societal? Has it introduced you to a culture in another country...or an ethnic or regional culture in your own country?