Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Adventure on the Appalachian Trail (Humor/Adventure)

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson is a humorous memoir about Bill’s adventure on the Appalachian Trail, a 2,180-mile trail that takes hikers through fourteen states (Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine). “Thru-hikers” are those hearty souls who actually attempt to complete the trail in a twelve-month period.  The majority of people, however, are “section-hikers” and only walk portions of the trail at a time coming back year after year to begin again where they left off. Then there are the people who complete just a fragment of the trail and call it good.  I’m not sure if they have an official title—maybe “Normal, Casual, or Even Lazy Hikers.” Bill Bryson, who is a well-known a travel/humor writer, was a thru-hiker working his way up the trail in one daunting year.  On great chunks of the trail, his friend Stephen Katz accompanied him. Bill’s account of his time on the trail, the people he met, the challenges of the preparation and the walk itself, as well as his descriptions of his interactions with his walking partner, Katz, had me laughing through the entire book.  Along the way, Bill throws in some statistics—actually lots of them—lots of factoids and bits of history.  But these in no way weighed down the book. It was not Moby-Dickish in any way.  I found them interesting and short enough so they didn’t become involved scientific or historical lessons. They were tidbits about the wildlife, the trail itself, or even towns along the way like Centralia, PA—wow talk about interesting.
I found this book in one of the Little Free Libraries around town.  The top section was all chewed up, as if the bear on the cover had taken a bite out of the book. In fact, there were teeth indents poking through the first couple chapters, kind of like bear braille.  Normally, that would gross me out a bit.  I would have passed on it and picked another book, but this was one I actually had on my wish list.  So, I picked it up with two fingers, tossed it in the back of the car, and gave it a thorough disinfecting with rubbing alcohol when I got home--the equivalent to a scrub down of a radioactively exposed human, like Meryl Streep in Silkwood.  It was worth the effort.

This book was a walk on the funny bone.

Here’s a nibblet from the book—a glimpse of what’s in store for you if you choose to read it:

Nearly everyone I talked to had some gruesome story involving a guileless acquaintance who had gone off hiking the trail with high hopes and new boots and come stumbling back two days later with a bobcat attached to his head or dripping blood from an armless sleeve and whispering in a hoarse voice, “Bear!” before sinking into a troubled unconsciousness.

Bill Bryson, A Wallk in the Woods (Anchor Books, New York, 2007), 5.

Want to learn more about Bryson's books? —check out Marianne's Let's Read blog where she's posted numerous reviews on his many books.

Want to learn more about the trail?—click here


Bryson is becoming my husband's go-to author, just like Sidney Sheldon and Isabel Allende were for my mom. Besides a Walk in the Woods, my husband also has read and has given thumbs-up to In a Sunburned Country; Notes from a Small Island; Neither Here Nor There; The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid; and One Summer: America 1927. With the exception of One Summer, which was more informative than funny, these books had my husband laughing out loud!  This from a man who considers "fine" and "okay" a compliment for books or movies he's watched.  When he tried to read a passage from Neither Here Nor There to me, he had a hard time getting the words out. He was laughing so hard, he had tears streaming down his face.

This book met a several of my 2015 Book Challenges: Read a memoir; read a travel book; read a book that makes you laugh out loud, read a book that will become a movie.

I didn’t realize that this book was going to be a movie until I was almost done with it.  In fact, the movie, starring Robert Redford and Nick Nolte is scheduled to be released September 2.  I’m excited to see it.  It’s gonna be a hoot!

Happy Reading,


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Sunday, August 16, 2015

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Road to Friendship (Epistolary Memoir)

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff  is an epistolary account of a twenty-year correspondence between a New York writer and a used book seller in London.  In 1949 Helene Hanff writes to Marks & Co., Booksellers at 84, Charing Cross Road in London to inquire about out-of-print books that she is looking for. She promptly receives a response and so begins a cordial business relationship that ends in friendship, though the two never meet personally.  Slowly you see the progression of familiarity.  They go from salutations of “Gentlemen” and “Madam” to “Helene” and “Frankie.”  Helene’s witty and sassy letters are at times accompanied by packages of precious goods that are still rationed in post-war England.  She send hams, powdered eggs, and other goodies to an appreciative Frank and his colleagues, which spurs letters from the grateful bookstore recipients as well as Frank’s wife.
This book was on my reading wish list for a long, long time.  I recently, finally, ordered a used copy online, which is of course the modern way that sadly eliminates the need for human-like interaction, but happily gives you so many more options than before. (I had also looked in a good old-fashioned bookstore, but they didn’t have it.) For a penny plus shipping, which is about the cost of one coffee, I received a surprisingly thin, little book which took me about as long to read it as does to drink a cup of coffee. But, I was NOT disappointed.  I loved the letters and how they subtly reveal bits of the writers’ lives and even the times: the food rationings, Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, how difficult and rare it was to get a car in England.  I learned that the pages of many old, old, old books had to be cut before they could be read.  The pages were folded over and bound, so the reader had to take a knife and slice the pages apart.  It’s nothing I would like to do for each book I read now, but it would bring a whole new anticipation to reading a book.

This was an uplifting and endearing book. 

It made me wish I had some kind of correspondence with a total stranger.  But when I thought about it, I realized I have something much, much better. I have been exchanging letters with my friend, Anja, since 1971. (Yikes I’m old!) Anja is my friend whom I met in Germany where we went to the first grade together—well, the first half of the year anyway, before I moved to America.  We have been writing each other ever since and even send small Christmas gifts every year.  Through the years our letters kept us up to date on our lives: husbands, kids (mine), work, and travels (mainly hers). She’s a career woman who’s traveled extensively.  Strangely, we’ve never stepped it up to emails other than a few scant ones here and there, but we are Facebook friends and also connect that way.  We have each visited each other, but wish we could get together more. I think it’s my turn now since the last time I was there was in 1983. She wants to meet me in New York this fall. Wouldn’t that be nice?  Wish I could.  Anja’s friendship means a lot to me—I think forty+ years of correspondence proves that.

This book met a several of my 2015 Book Challenges: Read a book that has a number in the title; read a memoir; read a book set in a foreign country (England); read a book that has or will become a movie (released in 1987 starring Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft—on my list to see.)

Happy Reading,


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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Little Free Libraries, Coeur d'Alene, ID Update

Take a Book, Leave a Book – Coeur d’Alene, ID Update (Fun Stuff)

Take a book, leave a book—that’s what the Little Free Libraries are all about—sharing books. It seems like these libraries are popping up like popcorn in Coeur d’Alene!  I just found four more. How exciting!  (Click here to see original post)
317 W. Mill Ave, Coeur d’Alene, ID.  This library is awesome and my photo doesn't do it justice.  It matches the beautiful house and the topper is that the house and library have matching whimsical pine cone rain chains hanging from them! The library has a nice selection of books, and there's a bench right next to it.  Here’s what steward, Kim, wrote about her library on the Little Free Library map locator:

Besides brushing my teeth, reading is the only thing I do every day. I have an extensive personal library and have always delighted in sharing books with others, so becoming an LFL Steward was the next right thing. My partner, Tom, and I bought and have been renovating the house in which I was raised, and he designed and built our LFL to resemble our home, including his original pine cone rain chain. Our grand opening was July 2nd, 2015, and we are both looking forward to the next chapter.

806 N 4th St, Coeur d’Alene, ID.  This striking library is located in front of a business called Gizmo-CDA a Makerspace, which is a creative community workspace where people of all ages can build and experiment while sharing tools and ideas.  I pass Gizmo-CDA on my walk to work and have seen many creative pieces out front like this great statue (right), but I never noticed the library until I searched the Little Free Library map again.  I’m not sure how I missed this piece of art—this beautiful library. I love the design and the blue set against the orange background.  This library mainly offers a mix of kids and adult books. (

5th and Wallace, Coeur d’Alene, ID at the St Luke's church parking lot. This big roomy library offers books for adults and children alike.

11th and Boyd, Coeur d’Alene, ID. This little guy has a license plate roof and sits on a stool. This library is not registered with the Little Free Library organization, but it’s fun just the same. I can't remember what book I left here, but I won't forget that I took a chewed up version of A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. What a funny book!!  Loved it.  My husband read it and loved it, too!  In fact, he became a real Bryson fan reading more and more of his books. Bryson is becoming his go-to author, just like Sidney Sheldon and Isabel Allende were for my mom. Besides a Walk in the Woods, my husband also has read and has given thumbs-up to In a Sunburned Country, Notes from a Small Island, and Neither Here, Nor There.

Not in Coeur d’Alene?   Not to worry.  There are Little Free Libraries everywhere.  Click below to find one in your area.

Happy Reading,


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Saturday, August 1, 2015

Notable August-Born Authors

August Authors in the Spotlight (Authors)

Happy Birthday to Notable Authors born in August! 
Click on the links to read reviews.

August 1, 1819
Herman Melville
Famous for Moby-Dick (1851), a whale of a book that produced bipolar reactions of being wholeheartedly panned, then enthusiastically praised. Read my review to find out what I thought about it.

August 2, 1942
Isabel Allende
Famous for adventurous family sagas such as House of Spirits (1985), Daughter of Fortune (1999), and Zorro (2005), Allende’s version of the legendary masked man. 

August 4, 1841
W.H. Hudson
Famous for Green Mansions (1904), about a man who escapes to the forests of Guyana and forms a relationship with Rima, the mysterious girl who sings like a bird.  This book is definitely different—at times magical and strange, but interesting nonetheless.    

August 8, 1896
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Famous for The Yearling (1938), about a poor Florida family in the late 1800s and a naughty deer that turns from pet to pest.

August 9, 1927
Daniel Keyes
Famous for Flowers for Algernon (1959), a book about a little mouse that made a big difference to a man named Charlie.  Get out the tissues. Unforgettable.   

August 10, 1952
Suzanne Collins
Famous for The Hunger Games trilogy (2008-2010), in which kids must fight to the death for entertainment—an updated version of Roman gladiators, and although I didn’t really want to read it (but did for my book club), it turned out to be more intriguing than morbid. 

August 15, 1885
Edna Ferber
Famous for many books that were turned into movies, theater productions, or musicals including Pulitzer Prize-winning So Big (1924), Cimarron (1929), Giant (1952), Ice Palace (1958), Saratoga Trunk (1941), and Showboat (1926), a book I really enjoyed.

August 19, 1930
Frank McCourt
Famous for his humorous and heart-breaking memoir, Angela’s Ashes (1996).

August 27, 1871
Theodore Dreiser
Famous for An American Tragedy (1925), and Sister Carrie (1900), about a woman's rise from rags to riches, and the people she stomps on to get there.

August 27, 1899
C.S. Forester
Famous for his Horatio Hornblower series and The African Queen (1935), about an austere spinster and a crude skipper who make their way through the African jungle during WWI. I loved this book and the way Rose and Allnutt’s relationship developed.

August 30, 1797
Mary Shelley
Famous for being a homewrecker and penning the classic, Frankenstein (1818). Read more about the adventures of Mary and Franky in my review.

August 31, 1908
William Saroyan
Famous for the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, The Time of Your Life (1939), and novels such as My Name Is Aram (1940), and The Human Comedy (1943) about a telegraph messenger during WWII.

Happy Reading,


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