Thursday, April 06, 2006

off the shelf

frederick buechner once said that “to truly tell the story of anything well is to tell the story of everything.” that quote always arrests me. it makes me think about the great stories i’ve heard, the stories of those i know and love who have lived well and it really makes me think about the story that is mine to tell. but since i don’t feel up to musing about such deep things this morning, i’d like to tell you a little bit about a story i’ve been reading over the past couple of days.

on saturday afternoon i was mired in a funk and seeking solace in the library. every time i walk into our local library, which providentially sits only a block and a half from the house, i always check out their used book cart for another volume that can establish residence on my shelf and likely go unread. this particular saturday, i was surprised to stumble across a yellowed but usable copy of bill bryson’s a walk in the woods. i’d heard great things about this book, so for the reasonable price of two quarters, i decided to give it a shot.

although i had planned to polish off the history of the negro leagues i’ve been reading, i decided to read bryson’s introduction first. after the first few pages i was hooked. now bryson’s book is on the shelf and the negro leagues book is sitting precariously in my half finished pile.

if you haven’t read any of bryson’s work before, i think that a walk in the woods is a wonderful place to start. throughout these pages bryson records his, and his reformed-alcoholic, overweight, lovable imbecile of a friend katz’s ,attempt to walk the appalachian trail. as these lovably crotchety guys drag their middle-age asses up mountains, struggle to find sleep on rat infested sleeping pallets and wrestle with the ever-present temptation to take the nearest highway to the greasy spoon (where katz may or may not find yet another endomorphic woman of his dreams), bryson provides an oral history of such diverse subjects as the AT, the coal mining industry in pennsylvania, the forest service and the mortality rate on mount washington. i fear that i’ve made the book sound like a boor, so you’ll have to trust me that it is far from. it is one of the most engaging, witty and insightful pieces of travel/adventure writing that i have read in a long time.

here are a few excerpts that i found funny.

whilst reflecting on bear attacks: their causes and avoidance a book that kept bryson keyed up and “saucer eyed” late into many nights, bryson confesses: “what on earth would i do if four bears came into my camp? why, i would die, of course. Literally shit myself lifeless. i would blow my sphincter out my backside like one of those unrolling paper streamers you get at children’s parties – i daresay it would even give a merry toot – and bleed to a messy death in my sleeping bag” (pg. 19. and to answer your question, yep, that’s for you james the girl).

when bryson and katz sat down for dinner at shaw’s, a well known hostel in monson, maine, they were joined by “two others, a sweetly hesitant and wholesome-looking young couple, both tanned and fit and also very clean.” after the guys are caught unawares by the couple’s extended dinner prayer, bryson tries to make conversation. the following is a record of what ensues:

“so you’ve nearly done it, huh?” i (bryson) said, a trifle inanely but just trying to make conversation.”

“yes,” said the girl. she said it slowly, as two syllables, as if it hadn’t previously occurred to her. there was something serenely mindless in her manner.

“did you ever feel like giving up?”
the girl thought for a moment. “no,” she said simply.
“really?” i found this amazing. “did you never think, ‘jeez, this is too much. i don’t know if i want to go through with this?’”

she thought again, with an air of encroaching panic. these were obviously questions that had never penetrated her skull.
her partner came to her rescue. “we have a couple of low moments in the early phases,” he said, “but we put our faith in the Lord and His will prevailed.”
“praise Jesus,” whispered the girl, almost inaudibly.
“ah,” I said, and made a mental note to lock my door when i went to bed.
“and God bless Allah for the mashed potatoes!” said katz happily and reached for the bowl for the third time” (pgs. 249-250).

1 comment:

W. Wilson said...

that sounds a lot like the kind of good read I've been looking for. thanks for the head's up...