One book that I didn't list here but bought at the airport before leaving for Atlanta on Thursday was Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. I've almost bought this book countless times and I'm glad that I finally did. In the best spirit of my favorite American author, Mark Twain, Bryson tells the story of his adventures on the Appalachian Trail (AT), accompanied by his trusty sidekick Stephen Katz. Undoubtedly the two most unlikely hikers on the AT, the adventures and hi-jinks had me chuckling all the way to Atlanta (to the annoyance, I'm sure, of my seatmate). Interspersed with the stories were historical tid-bits about the AT, environmental reflections on the regions the trail transversed, and well-aimed shots at the federal government's mismanagement of the park system. Perhaps the best praise for the book which I could offer was that it made me wish that I could hike parts of the Trail.
There were also a few poignant moments, especially when it was revealed that Katz, a recovering alcoholic, "fell off the wagon" and began drinking again. When confronted, Katz confessed:
"I never had more than three, I swear to God. I know what you're going to say--believe me, everybody's said it already. I know I can't drink. I know I can't have a couple of beers like a normal person, that pretty soon the number will creep up and up and spin out of control. I know that. But--" He stopped there again, shaking his head. "But I love to drink. I can't help it. I mean, I love it, Bryson--love the taste, love that buzz you get when you've had a couple, love the smell and feel of taverns..." (p. 258).
To me, this was so similar to what I've heard others say, to what I've said myself: people can't give up their addiction to sin because they love it far more than any alternative. For Katz, if the choice was lonely nights eating TV dinners by himself while sober or destructive nights drinking beer, wine, and booze with friends, it wasn't much of a choice. I kept wishing that someone could pop into the story with the Gospel, to tell Katz and Bryson that there was a deeply satisfying alternative: the steadfast love of God (Psalms 16:11; 63:1-3; and 90:14). This divine love has "explusive power" (as Thomas Chalmers would say); all broken and defective loves are driven out and all legitimate yet lesser loves are satisfied by God's own gracious love.
In the end, aside from a few crudities, I found this a very enjoyable read, a travel narrative that informed as well as teaching larger (and perhaps unintended) lessons. For summer reading, for what more could you ask?