"Walden on Wheels" by Ken Ilguna awhile back when it was a Kindle Daily Deal because I'm a sucker for a Thoreau reference, and because the concept of living in a van to avoid student debt is exactly the sort of romantic idea I'm drawn to in theory even though I've learned I'm way too allergic to hardship to impose it on myself unnecessarily in real life. That's one of the many things I love about books, you can 'experience' an alternative life while still enjoying your flushable toilet and piped in hot water.
What resonated with me
Rants against the unconscionable practice of saddling students of all stripes and abilities with huge amounts of debt to get that all important college education which may or may not actually land them a job afterwards; ideas about living simply, how we don't need as much 'stuff' as we think, ideas about following your passions rather than chasing the almighty dollar.
What didn't resonate with me
His extreme self-centeredness. Yes, when you're young life is all about you, and it seems like keeping yourself free of entanglements is smart, but he hasn't lived long enough to discover that forming bonds with other human beings can do more than tie you down, that those relationships can elevate you and not just be a millstone around your neck, that finding your soulmate and creating an entirely new human being together can be an amazing adventure. I can't hold it against him, though, some things you don't know until you know.
What made me flinch
Occasional foul language, references to masturbation and other sexual activity, his utter horror when his girlfriend announces she's pregnant (it was a joke), and the casual way he drops her when he's ready to move on to the next phase of his life.
What changed my life
I knew all about "it would be nice". I saw it everywhere. A middle-class family might think it would be nice to have an in-ground swimming pool. A millionaire might think it would be nice to have a yacht. A billionaire, a private jet. The desires never stop.After reading this, I find myself automatically turning around self-pitying thoughts. I think, "It would be nice to have a deeper bathtub, where my whole body could be under water at once," and right behind that thought comes this one, "It's nice to have hot water. And a tub. And a private bathroom. And time to take a bath." Or I think, "It would be nice if our budget weren't so tight,", then my brain fills in with, "It's nice to have an income, and a comfortable home, and plenty of food to eat and clothes to wear and cars to drive and really are you going to complain? Because your standard of living is higher than most people who have ever lived in the history of the world." The examples go on and on. This is a great tool for practicing gratitude. I am grateful to have read this book, in spite of its flaws. I won't be packing our family of five into the minivan for a life on the road anytime soon, but it was a needed reminder that the stuff is just stuff, and we need to stay the master of it, not the other way around.
I knew that there were people living in real poverty- people who could really use an opportunity to move up. Someone, somewhere, might think it would be nice to have food to feed her family. Someone, somewhere might think it would be nice to be enrolled in college. Someone, somewhere might think it would be nice to have potable water to drink, a job to work at, and a roof over his head. Someone, somewhere- I was sure- might think it would be nice to be in my situation. What if I thought it would be nice to be me?