The past two years I’ve kept a running list of the books I’m reading to give other people ideas for what to read next.

With my new site (the one you’re reading), and my inherent commitment to write 500 or more words per day, I’m taking the opportunity to expand and comment on the books I’m reading.

These aren’t reviews in the traditional sense, because my concern when reading isn’t to uncover if the book is good or bad. My goal is simply to take what’s valuable and applicable from the book and extract it into my life.

Book #1 – Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom by Ken Ilgunas

Alaska. Hitchhiking. College campuses. Relationships. Adventure. If you like any of those things, you’re likely to love this book.

It’s a memoir of sorts documenting the author’s commitment to pay off his undergraduate debt as fast as he could, and going to great lengths to do so. From living rent-free in Alaska, to literally voyaging in an archaic boat across the waterways of Canada, to hitchhiking from Alaska to the East coast of the United States, to living in his van during his graduate studies at Duke University, the author tells an entertaining saga of taking back his own personal freedom that so many 20-somethings have stolen from them by the weight of student debt.

A few of my favorite Kindle highlights from the book:

When your life is all toil and hardship, the things that matter and the bullshit that doesn’t become easy to separate.

The author is ruminating on the day to day grueling work of his boat voyage across Canada, and how much clearer you can see the world when all that’s in front of you is the work that needs to be done.

This line resonated with me because I think we all have those moments – even if they are few and far between – where we’re engaged in something so deeply that nothing else matters. That was the way of daily life for most of human history. You focused on the next task at hand – an animal to hunt, a structure to build, a journey to make. We’re deeply wired to have these moments, but they seem hard to come by in our overly connected modern world, where notifications, mundane job duties, and toil-free work distract us.

Envy is a bitter fruit, but one that only grows when we water it with the nourishment of society. Remove society, and it will wither on the vine.

Within a few pages of the book, you realize that the author is not just a travel or adventure writer. His liberal arts pedigree isn’t discreet, and the result is numerous passages that make you think and sit on the words for a bit longer. This line is no different.

At this point in the book, the author is living in his van while getting a master’s degree from Duke, and he’s reflecting on how envy falls away when you aren’t wrapped up in the patterns of a capitalist society. While certainly not a new thought, it’s rare to see it actually executed in a real life – no less while being surrounded by the workings of the system he purports to push away. Expanding on the line above,

These are society’s definitions of poverty and wealth: To be poor is to have less and to be rich is to have more. Under these definitions, we are always poor, always covetous, always dissatisfied, no matter the size of our salary, or how comfortable we are, or if our needs are in fact fulfilled.

This is an elegant way of saying the grass is always greener. And it’s true. When any extrinsic reward is our chief aim, we will surely never reach it as it will simply be replaced by the next extrinsic reward.

I hope you enjoyed this short dive into what I’m reading. Subscribe below to get my essays in your inbox every Monday morning. 

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