Anyone who spends enough time outdoors will have a some funny stories, maybe about the time you accidentally brought the two-person tent on the four-person camping trip, or when a bear climbed into your sleeping bag by mistake. But it takes talent and skill to be funny in writing (the preceding bad joke is case in point). It can be hard to find genuinely funny books about the outdoors, but there are definitely a few standouts. Below, I’ve reviewed my favorites.
A Walk In the Woods by Bill Bryson
This book is Bryson’s most popular, and best. It is his autobiographical retelling of his (simultaneously heroic and overly ambitious) attempt to hike the length of the Appalachain Trail, which runs 2,180 miles from Georgia to Maine. He is accompanied by his friend Stephen Katz, a hilarious and complicated figure who reads like he was painted with Christopher Guest’s finest comedic brush strokes. Bryson explores not only the wilderness, but also his checkered history as an American, his renewed passion for conservation and his deeply funny relationship with Katz. Bryson tends to wax histrionic, but in this, his masterpiece, his sardonic wit is perfectly matched to the material.
A Fine and Pleasant Misery by Patrick F. McManus
Patrick McManus, the celebrated humorist-in-residence at Field & Stream and Outdoor Life magazines, is a prolific author. Although he also writes mysteries, he is best known for his semi-autobiographical anecdotes about life as an outdoorsman. I once flipped open a copy of A Fine and Pleasant Misery out of morbid curiosity, assuming from the gaudy cover that it would be pulp, and proceeded to read the entire thing in one sitting. A collection of vignettes celebrating the slings and arrows of life in nature, the writing is so sharp that the obvious embellishments don’t detract at all from the enjoyment of reading. It is occasionally funny enough to make your eyes water.
Into Hot Air by Chris Elliott
Best known for his starring roles in the cult show Get a Life and the movie Cabin Boy, Chris Elliott is also a talented writer. In this, his second novel, Elliot parodies the oftentimes self-serious adventure narrative genre. More farce than hard satire, the book is a quick, enjoyable read that stays amusing the whole way through, with a few exceptional highs. It will elicit some weighty laughs from anyone who’s read Krakauer, or who simply enjoys literary slapstick.
How to Fish Good by Milford “Stanley” Poltroon
This forgotten treasure is, thankfully, still available from a few online used book vendors. Written in a hyper-self-aware tone that prefigured John Hodgman and The Onion by over thirty years, this book about fishing could really be about anything. The text is accompanied on almost every page by illustrations that recall Monty Python, with beautiful design and typesetting that looks entirely contemporary. Most importantly, it is painfully funny. From the chapter entitled How to Identify Fish Good: “One of the first steps in learning how to fish good is that of recognizing different kinds of trout. The fact that not all trout are the same has led to the scientific conclusion that they are different.”
This book could be republished without modification today and find space on the shelves of everyone from the hip to the hip-wadered. Grab the first copy (or two or three) you can find.
Have any other book recommendations? Know of any funny outdoor blogs? We invite you to leave your suggestions in a comment below.