Because Hiking and Reading Are Pretty Much the Same


A scenic path through the wilderness

Over the past few weeks, in between rounds of Robinson Crusoe (on audiobook) and Journey to the End of the Night (in French), I’ve turned my exhausted eyes on A Walk in the Woods. The memoir—a classic work of travel writing if ever there was one—hilariously describes Bill Bryson’s attempt(s) in the mid-1990s to hike the Appalachian Trail—a 2,200-mile stretch from Georgia to Maine.

After weeks of hiking, Bryson and his companion, Stephen Katz, arrive in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. At a local outfitter’s, they spot a 4-foot map of the Appalachian Trail and, eager to measure their progress, examine the lower half of the map. They discover that their trek, in its entirety, covers barely two inches.

In Bryson’s words,

One thing was obvious. We were never going to walk to Maine.

Instead of feeling defeated, Bryson and Katz celebrate their liberation from a self-imposed obligation. They were, they reasoned, left to select the sections of the AT they wanted to hike, and to enjoy the journey. “A whole dimension of drudgery,” he wrote, “—the tedious, mad, really quite pointless business of stepping over every inch of rocky ground between Georgia and Maine—had been removed.”

Recognizing their limitations—and reining in ambitions run amok—freed them from the weight of a burden they didn’t even realize they carried. (They were, in all likelihood, too distracted by the 40-pound burdens that were their hiking packs.)

Today, I am recognizing my limitations, reining in my ambitions, and removing the weight of a burden that is simultaneously weighing me down and blocking my path.

Oh, I’m still going to read all 100 Greatest Books of All Time. That’s what this Challenge has been about all along, and I’m as determined as ever to meet it, shake its hand, and take a selfie or two with matching duck faces and a flattering filter.

But I’m not going to write long-form reviews of every last title on the List.

This blog has steadily overtaken the time and energy I intended to devote to reading—and as much as I love it, something’s got to give. The blog was meant to accompany the Challenge, not become one of its own. And as my only obligation is to myself, I think it’s time I eased up a little.

Since—for now, at least—I hate the idea of stopping entirely, I’m just going to cut back. I’ve begun preparing a series of “Quick Reviews” of those novels I don’t feel inclined or equipped to critique more thoroughly. The first set is scheduled to go up in the near-ish future at something o’clock.

The likelihood of anyone caring is, I realize, microscopic. And therein lies my point. So here I go, on a trail ever upward but a little less steep, through a forest with a few extra resting places. I have 31 books left and a fresh pair of boots.

Happy reading to me, and to you.