Audiobook: The Sun is a Compass

by Caroline Van Hemert
Read by Xe Sands
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There’s some swearing, including several f-bombs. It’s in the creative non-fiction section of the bookstore.

I picked this one out of my audiobook stash primarily because I’m a sucker for travel books, and this one — in which Caroline and her husband Patrick traverse from Bellingham, Washington to the Arctic Circle entirely on foot and boat over the course of six months –seemed to fit the bill.

A biologist by trade, Van Hemert also grew up in Alaska, and has had a need for adventure — or to at least be in the outdoors — her whole life. And she found a kindred spirit in Patrick, who (if I remember right) built his own cabin in Alaska (though he grew up on the East Coast) and lived in it for a year between high school and college. They are the sort of people to decide to spend six months trekking 4000 miles and then write a book about it.

I don’t mean to sound bitter (if I do); they are amazing people. And I’m glad that there are people like them out there. I’m not sure this one worked entirely in audio; while I was transfixed with the story, I was a bit frustrated I didn’t have a map. The places she was talking about (aside from Bellingham; I know where that is) were foreign to me. Sure, I could have stopped the book and Googled it, but I listen while I drive, and it wasn’t practical. That said, I did enjoy her story, the ups and downs of six months of backwoods hiking, and the reminder that the world is a big, wild place that has been here (and will be here) a lot longer than we humans.

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A Walk in the Woods

by Bill Bryson
First sentence: “Not long after I moved with my family to a small town in New Hampshire I happened upon a path that vanished into a wood on the edge of town.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s a lot of swearing including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the Creative Non Fiction section of the bookstore.

I read this, I think, when it first came out. Or soon thereafter. I don’t remember. I do remember liking it, quite a bit. But, something prompted me to pull it off the shelf and give it a re-read. Just to see if it held up.

In 1996, soon after Bryson moved back to the US from the UK (for a bit; he’s moved back across the pond again), he stumbled upon the Appalachian Trail, and decided (kind of on a whim) that what he really needed to do was hike the length of it. His high school friend, Stephen Katz, volunteered to go with him, and with some preparation (of sorts), they were off. It’s very much a “we’re out of our depth” book — neither Katz nor Bryson are experienced hikers, and the AT isn’t just a stroll in the woods. But, Bryson makes it thoroughly entertaining. Interspersed with the history of the AT as well as general observations (some are obviously outdated) about the state of nature in America, this one is definitely quintessential Bill Bryson. (In fact, if you’ve not read his books, this is a good place to start.)

Which means: it’s thoughtful, entertaining, funny, and interesting. And I’m happy to say that it’s held up these past 20 years and is as good as I remembered.