Pages and Presents

Someone who likes traveling and reading is extremely easy to buy a present for. There are tons of great books for travelers whether they are hikers, Francophiles, adventurers, or single females. That last category is getting more and more crowded due to Elizabeth Gilbert’s commercial success.  

My brother (who would definitely NOT appreciate “Eat, Pray, Love”) is a hiker and also a writer. As his sister, I’ve decided that he should read more. So I went out and purchased Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail” as his Christmas present. Hopefully Jay won’t read this blog between now and December 25th.   

But it’s too easy to just buy someone a book, wrap it up, and call it good. So I’m giving Jay additional presents to open while reading. Naturally, each present corresponds to some section in the book. This also:            

a)      Ensures that he actually reads the book – sneaky, huh?

b)      Provides me a reason to read the book before giving it to Jay. So not only is he getting a present that I actually want for myself, but now he’s getting it secondhand. I’m a great sister.

Come Christmas, here is what my brother will receive along with his very own used copy of Bill Bryson’s book:

  • After the author decides to hike the Appalachian Trail, he spends the first 23 pages worrying about bears. He writes about past bear attacks in an increasingly panicked fashion. He particularly notes that bears like Snickers bars. When Bryson’s friend comes to join him for the hike, the friend (unbeknownst to the bear danger) brings a backpack full of Snickers bars. Jay’s first present is, of course, a Snickers bar.
  • After Jay reads the following passage on page 96, he will be rewarded with sticky rat traps. In the book, Bryson and his friend Katz find themselves spending the night in a rodent infested shelter:

I turned on my headlamp to find a packmouse on top of my sleeping bag…not six inches from my chin, sitting up on its haunches and regarding me with a gimlet eye. Reflexively, I hit the bag from inside, flipping him into a startled oblivion. 

“Got one!” cried Katz.

“Me too,” I said, rather proudly.

  • By page 144, the book has returned to Bryson’s bear phobia. It’s the middle of the night and Bryson fears that there is a bear outside. Upon conferring with Katz (who is decidedly less hysterical about possible bear proximity), it is discovered that the sharpest instrument they have to slay bears with is…toenail clippers. Naturally, this is Jay’s next present. If I was a good sister, I would have bought bear spray for my brother instead. But bear spray is $40, so I decided to pass. If my brother ever does get mauled to death by a bear, I will feel very bad. Maybe I’ll buy him bear spray for his next birthday.
  • Jay’s next present (to be opened at page 185) is a $10 donation to Earth Justice, an organization that is working to stop some types of coal mining. Check out their website, wherein you can download the donation form. I’m giving Jay the form and a ten dollar bill, so technically he can decide what to do with it. However, he will have just read Bryson’s description of the town of Centralia. This eastern Pennsylvania town had to be evacuated in the early ’80’s because of the coal fire raging just under the town’s surface.

In 1981, a twelve-year-old boy was playing in his grandmother’s backyard when a plume of smoke appeared in front of him. As he stared at it, the ground suddenly opened around him. He clung to tree roots until someone heard his calls and hauled him out. The hole was found to be eighty feet deep. Within days, similar cave-ins were appearing all over town. It was about then that people started getting serious about the fire.   

  • Crazy, huh? Jay’s last present will be a body warmer, which he will be instructed to open on page 220, after reading about Bryson’s various descriptions of hypothermia.

I decided not to get Jay a final present upon completing the entire book, but an airline ticket to Great Smoky Mountain National Park would be appropriate, as would an “America the Beautiful Pass,” which is a yearly pass guaranteeing free admission to all the National Parks he may want to visit.

Please feel free to copy my idea as you are Christmas shopping for your own brothers, family members, and friends. But even if you don’t come up with a whole slew of presents to give alongside the book, any reader on your list that even mildly likes to hike will enjoy Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods.”

Please know that this post contains affiliate links. Purchasing books or bear spray via the links in this post will earn me a bit of money – so thanks!

A Walk in the Woods, Appalachain Trail, Bill Bryson, Presents

Jenna Vandenberg

Teacher, writer, runner, mom and wife.

Comments (2)

  • Thanks! My favorite present to give girlfriends is a bottle of vodka along with Chelsea Handler’s “Are you there God? It’s me, Vodka.” I guess the idea came from that line of thinking.

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