by Ken Ilgunas

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Review

Ken Ilgunas's memoir, Walden on Wheels, presents the all too common experience of the debt-ridden liberal studies college graduate with few prospects for gainful or meaningful employment. At the age of 18, the author unwittingly takes out about $35,000 in loans for his undergraduate education. He vows to pay off his undergraduate debt as quickly as possible, moving to Alaska to work as a low-paid, low-skill seasonal worker in the tourism industry when he is rejected for 30 journalism internships. By saving nearly every penny for a few years while in Alaska, Ilgunas manages to pay off his debt and even save some money for his next adventure: a liberal studies master's degree at Duke University. He vows he will not go into debt for this degree, and decides to save money by living in a van on campus. Ilgunas has a humorous and witty writing style, and I appreciate the way he explains his desire to live differently than most of the people around him. I really enjoyed his descriptions of living in Alaska.

That said, it was mildly irritating/unsettling to see how obsessive Ilgunas became about his goal to never spend any money and his fear of debt. At times he let it take over his life at the expense of other meaningful opportunities, and especially the ability to have relationships with other people. His description of being lonely and going days without talking to anyone while living in his van were somewhat heartbreaking. Eventually, he seems to realize that as much as he is gaining from this experiment, this way of living is also costing him something.

This memoir works on a personal level, but I wish that Ilgunas would have given more attention (and detail) to the fact that his personal situation is the result of an unfair, capitalistic educational system that penalizes everyone except the wealthy. I guess he did make passing mention of this fact, and I can't criticize him too much for not going into more detail since this was a personal memoir. Perhaps this book will serve as a jumping-off point for starting a conversation about student loan reform in the United States.

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