#38 – A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, by Bill Bryson
- Mount TBR: 36/100
- Rating: 1/5 stars
Everything I have to say about this book is negative, but somehow I feel that’s appropriate, as nearly everything Bryson has to say in the book is negative.
He doesn’t really seem to like or even get along with his primary hiking companion. He meets a few stand-up people along the way–other hikers or the proprietors of charming guesthouses and such–but seems to encounter horrible people far more often, and to spend far more time describing those meetings, because they’re presumably funnier or more interesting. He rants about rangers, about the park service, about the engineering corps. At times he comes off like an angry environmentalist who wants to be a Mountain Man, but shows himself at every opportunity diving right back into the arms of consumerism quite gleefully.
Other reviewers who like this book better claim that’s the joke, that he’s an amateur with lofty ambitions who is including himself in all of this idealistic mockery. But I never got the joke. I never laughed at all reading this, not once. Bryson’s presumed self-deprecation never seemed as deliberate or biting as the attacks he made on his companion, or the laughably over- or under-prepared hikers he met, or whichever public service organization had piqued his ire at the moment. Honestly, those aspects of the book just read to me like he was a bully. Tone matters, and I appreciate snark, but this wasn’t snark to me, it was just plain mean.
In addition, reading this book more than twenty years after its publication makes his attitude towards technology, given near the end, seem silly and quaint. I have no idea how cellular service is on the AT these days, but that story at the very end of the book, when he and Katz get separated overnight? Probably could have been cleared up pretty quickly with cell phones. Instead he spends a few pages talking about all the ridiculous calls for “help” people had made with their shiny newfangled gizmos, but never once mentions any anecdotes about how having ready communication may have saved someone’s life–and I refuse to believe that even then, when cell phones weren’t an everyday item as they are now, that literally no one had ever called for help when they actually needed it. But mentioning those stories would undercut his “technology is bad, nature is good” narrative…
I think it’s time I stop reading Bryson’s books, because with each one, I like them less and less.
#39 – Ice Cream Lover, by Jackie Lau
- Mount TBR: 37/100
- Rating: 3/5 stars
It was fine, but I wished I liked it better than I did.
My stylistic complaints with Lau’s works from earlier in the series haven’t changed here: everything is laid out plainly with no real subtlety, and the lead characters will both tell the reader precisely how they’re feeling during internal monologue. I’m never going to be excited about that much telling.
But here, it felt worse somehow, maybe because both leads were dealing with a lot of deep issues and the treatment of them felt too slick, too easy, because of the plain style. Drew’s insecurities get cleared up with a single, almost unbelievably fulfilling talk with his ex, and Chloe’s dynamic with her father is solved pretty much the same way, and then poof! they’re both ready for a happily ever after. Their problems both seemed more serious than Josh’s and Sarah’s from the previous novel, but everything is solved just as easily.
I liked the emphasis on family. I liked the foodie talk, to a point, but I’m definitely tired of the phrase “ice cream sandwich.” I’m exceptionally glad for the actual inclusion of the word “bisexual” to describe Chloe, because I often have to lament the ways authors will contort themselves in order to have a multi-gender-attracted character without having to label them as anything. I do think her bisexuality was incidental to the story and not a significant part of her as a character, so I would have liked it to be more important, but bisexual people are not a monolith and we’re not all out there with flag pins at Pride rallies, there’s room in our representation for characters whose queerness does not define everything about them. (This is more of a personal gripe than an indictment of the book, just because I find good bi rep so rarely, so I would have liked it to be more prominent. But it’s not wrong or bad or problematic as it stands.)
I’m definitely less impressed with this than The Ultimate Pi Day Party, but with only one book to go in the series, I might as well finish it–after all, this wasn’t bad, just not as good.