Walden on Wheels (2013) by Ken Ilgunas is a charming book about the author’s quest to pay off his student debt and to get a graduate degree without going into debt. The title comes from the author’s time living in a van while getting a graduate degree at Duke.
Ilgunas starts his story as he has just graduated from The University of Buffalo. He has 32K of debt which he perceives to be a huge amount of debt. Curiously, in a way he undermines what a lot of money this is by paying it off. He does this in unconventional ways by getting jobs in Alaska. The book describes his adventures in Alaska and the South and working in places where many college graduates would not go. He describes crazy work mates, strange jobs and how marvellously odd the world can be.
The book looks at how we live our lives in a different way. Ilgunas questions the value of his degree, even though he promptly gets another one during the course of the book. He also provides a counterpoint to his unconventional life with his friend who gets an office job with a disreputable company that he hates.
The time in the van provides a wealth of cute stories and entertainment. In addition it is a portrait of someone really striving for what they want. Ilgunas makes himself into what he wants, studying hard, working hard and going to the gym. Nietzsche would be impressed.
The book is a reminder that we can do a lot to change our destiny and that we are not trapped by our circumstances. Ilgunas is a good writer with something different to say and who says it all in a fun way.