Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods Book Club

A new friend and I recently connected with a discussion of books.  She had recommended to me Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods and told me how humorous it was, so I was sold and ordered myself a copy from the library (attempting to save trees and money while keeping our libraries in business).  Brutally vivid descriptions, “If the mattress stains were anything to go by, a previous user had not so much suffered from incontinence as rejoiced in it”  (81), alarming statistics (six deaths on Mt. Washington’s slopes in the first half of 1996), and hilarious analogies fill the pages:

So woods are spooky.  Quite apart from the thought that they may harbor wild beasts and armed, genetically challenged fellows [think The Hills Have Eyes] named Zeke and Festus, there is something innately sinister about them, some ineffable thing that makes you sense an atmosphere of pregnant doom with every step and leaves you profoundly aware that you are out of your element and ought to keep your ears pricked.  Though you tell yourself that it’s preposterous, you can’t quite shake the feeling that you are being watched.  You order yourself to be serene (it’s just a woods for goodness sakes), but really you are jumpier than Don Knotts with pistol drawn.  Every sudden noise [. . .] makes you spin in alarm and stifle a plea for mercy [ . . .].  Even asleep, you are a coiled spring.  (44-45)

This memoir retells not only 870 miles walked on the Appalachian Trail, but also uncovers a touching friendship which had not been nurtured since childhood.

Watershed Nature Center in Edwardsville, IL

Not simply an entertaining, informative read, but also a motivator to walk in the great out-of-doors.  So, a leisurely stroll in the woods, perhaps a nature preserve, is a must for book club with a backpack loaded with water, Snickers bars, Slim Jims, and raisins.

Bill Bryson

Cheryl Strayed’s Wild Book Club

Although I finished reading Strayed’s Wild last week, I have been putting off writing about this read because I dread having to return this book to the library.  Wild is definitely a keeper on so many levels.  Strayed writes with such brutal honesty which allows herself (the protagonist in this memoir) to become an actual flawed human being which, in turn, allows the reader to find herself or himself within the text such as I did.  Struggling with the death of her mother and the end of her marriage, Strayed sets out on a journey across the Pacific Crest Trail in an attempt to find herself, forgive herself, and forget the “what ifs” in life.
A first for me reading this memoir was finding myself laughing aloud again and again while reading about Strayed’s encounters with her U-Dig-It stainless-steel trowel.  Among other uses, this tool was utilized to create a make-shift toilet in the ground.  Having no prior experience with this device combined with Strayed’s blunt description of the undeniable urgings of nature, the visual formed was laugh-out-loud humorous while invoking a sympathetic admiration for the main character.  Fighting fatigue after a recent surgery, I continued to turn Wild’s pages well into the night so that I could rejoice in Strayed’s triumphs along the trail right along with her.
Undoubtedly, a challenge to one’s body would be a fitting way to meet in order to discuss Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.  Perhaps, a team created to benefit breast cancer victims walking a marathon and one-half together as in the Avon Breast Cancer Walk in Chicago would allow plenty of time to discuss Wild and evaluate one’s life . . .  believe me.

Cheryl Strayed

The Man Who Couldn’t Eat Book Club

 Having learned about Jon Reiner’s The Man Who Couldn’t Eat through St. Louis’ Feast Magazine, I was intrigued about a book choice selected by a food culture magazine and regarding a topic close to home, chrone’s disease.  My uncle-in-law suffers from this condition, so I thought after reading I would send it to my aunt and uncle-in-law for reading.  Besides the fact, I am a sucker for memoirs;  learning about other peoples’ lives is intriguing and comforting all in one.
Reiner’s raw storytelling is certainly not “sugar coated.”  Chrone’s disease wreaks havoc not only on the victim’s health, but also his/her way of lifestyle and the lifestyle of those around him/her.  A scene where Reiner longingly looks at the salt-coated crinkles of a french fry and eventually licks despite his NPO (nil per os/nothing by mouth) status mirrors unrequited love.
When reflecting on his numerous stays at the hospital, Reiner writes, ” . . . hospitals have a way of breeding confessions,” (189).  Adept at description, Reiner includes the reader in every page, paragraph, and sentence.  Having recently been hospitalized, I recounted learning of a nurse’s dysfunctional ex as well as the organic eating requirements of another nurse and wondering what truths I revealed while under the influence of pain killers and lying vulnerable in a hospital bed.
For book club purposes, an evening of appetizers at Nosh was offered to the Feast Book Club at independent bookseller Left Bank Books in the Central West End in St. Louis.