I just finished a really terrific new book: Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom by Ken Ilgunas (a young man I suspect we’ll be hearing more of over the years).
I had heard somewhere that it was the memoir of a kid who got freaked out by his student debt and went debt-free by living in a van.
Sounded interesting enough. But it turns out that’s only about 1/10th what this book is about. It’s about a young, coddled, clueless suburban slacker who decides to grow himself up. It’s about the insanity of starting adult life so burdened with debt that you feel too constrained to make interesting choices. It’s about self discovery and hopeful possibilities in the “Screwed Generation.” It’s a bit of social commentary ala Thoreau with a large bit of self-deprecating humor thrown in.
Ilgunas writes well and colorfully and never hesitates to lay out his own youthful delusions of grandeur, juvenile habits, screwups, and lack of motivation. But as the best Amazon reviewer points out, this bored young slacker works harder and accomplishes more than a lot of workaholics.
The book is about how Ilgunas worked his way through his student debt (“only” $32,000, but a sum he saw as crushing, especially because he stumbled his way through school with no goals and came out with no career skills), then made it through a prestigious grad school on cash alone. That’s where the van finally comes in.
But before that, he tells a story of working in Alaska, hitchhiking across two countries, and trying to do good in a government program in the Deep South — all the while going from child to man.
Ilgunas self-identifies as a liberal and an environmentalist. But I perceive a young man on the freedomista road. Many of his observations hardly toe the PC line. And though he sometimes mocks the redneck views of his backwoods neighbors, he also admires many of them fiercely and learns eagerly from them. And when given a chance to try out some serious firepower, he doesn’t hesitate for a second (though his mention of the price of the gun made me wonder whether he was really shooting full-auto or just an UBR with a Hellfire trigger or some such.)
He does go “full Walden” in some of the latter parts of the book, giving social commentary that seems a mite pretentious for one so young. On the other hand, if any 20-something has earned the right to comment so sweepingly on life, society, and the hopes and troubles of his generation, Ilgunas is the guy.
Loved this book — and was both entertained and encouraged — from page one to the very end.
Walden on Wheels: On The Open Road from Debt to Freedom
By Ken Ilgunas
New Harvest paperback, May 14, 2013
Just $9.57 paperback and $3.99 for Kindle.