Thursday, April 19, 2018
Books

Review: 'Walden on Wheels' channels a hitchhiking Thoreau

When Henry David Thoreau published Walden in 1854, he fueled a centuries-long debate about the relationship between man and nature and the shackles that we wear when we participate in urban civilization. The romantic image of Thoreau in his cabin is central to Walden on Wheels, a remarkable memoir that manages to stay light on its feet while saying a great deal about the state of modern American society.

When Walden on Wheels begins, Ken Ilgunas is in a bad place: working at a Home Depot, deeply in debt for a useless undergraduate education and unable to find meaningful work.

What begins as a confrontation with his $32,000 college loan becomes a much larger conversation involving the author, his parents and his even more indebted friend Josh. The real heart of Walden on Wheels is the servitude that most Americans willingly enter to buy houses, wardrobes, vacations, educations and cars that do little more than keep them competitive with the Joneses.

Ilgunas documents his travels to Coldfoot, Alaska, where he earns money doing manual labor under sometimes brutal conditions. He also hitchhikes back to New York, helps with the post-Katrina cleanup on the Gulf Coast, and sleeps in a van while attending graduate school at Duke University. All the while, he lives by his wits, learns from his numerous and candidly documented mistakes, and catalogs the costs and benefits of opting out of a conventional consumer existence.

In less skilled hands, this could become a journey into thinly veiled martyrdom, but Ilgunas has an acute sense of humor that keeps the tone earnest and self-deprecating. His use of expense and income amounts (like those Thoreau shared in Walden) grounds his more abstract story of struggling to escape from the grasp of modern consumer society.

Ilgunas is a rare and wonderful travel companion. Along the way, he describes natural phenomena so skillfully that you might be compelled to flee your desk and head for the hills, walking stick in hand.

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Review: Richard Powers’ ‘Overstory’ an ever-branching story of humans and trees

Review: Richard Powers’ ‘Overstory’ an ever-branching story of humans and trees

Henry David Thoreau once heaved a big stone against the trunk of a chestnut tree to bring down a shower of nuts. He loved their sweet meat, but the meal filled him with guilt. "It is worse than boorish, it is criminal, to inflict an unnecessary injur...
Published: 04/18/18
Florida historian Jack E. Davis wins Pulitzer Prize for ‘The Gulf’’

Florida historian Jack E. Davis wins Pulitzer Prize for ‘The Gulf’’

Florida got a shoutout from the Pulitzer Prizes on Monday: The 2018 literary prize for history was awarded to University of Florida professor Jack E. Davis for his book The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea.Davis, who grew up in Pinellas County and...
Published: 04/16/18
Notable: Lose yourself in books that reimagine tales and legends

Notable: Lose yourself in books that reimagine tales and legends

NotableLegends 2.0Three new books offer striking reimaginings of the tales and legends of different cultures. Children of Blood and Bone (Henry Holt and Co.) by Tomi Adeyemi is a debut YA novel of epic magical adventure with characters based on the O...
Published: 04/13/18
Hey, book lovers: SunLit Festival continues with events aplenty

Hey, book lovers: SunLit Festival continues with events aplenty

Lots of things to do for literary-minded folks in Tampa Bay, and most of them are free.
Published: 04/12/18
Review: In ‘God Save Texas,’ Lawrence Wright finds the state of the nation’s future

Review: In ‘God Save Texas,’ Lawrence Wright finds the state of the nation’s future

Lawrence Wright has taken on plenty of complex and controversial topics.The New Yorker staff writer and author of nine previous books won a Pulitzer Prize for The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 and was a finalist for the National Book A...
Published: 04/12/18
Review: Adaptation is the key to Aminatta Forna’s ‘Happiness’

Review: Adaptation is the key to Aminatta Forna’s ‘Happiness’

Wildness is always with us, whether we know it or not, whether we want it or not.In Aminatta Forna’s splendid new novel Happiness, the tension between wildness — animal and human — and control is a central issue for the two main characters.Attila Asa...
Published: 04/11/18
Amazon’s ‘Bosch’ Season 4 taps into the headlines for tension

Amazon’s ‘Bosch’ Season 4 taps into the headlines for tension

In the new season of Bosch, Amazon’s bingeworthy series based on Michael Connelly’s crime novels, LAPD Detective Harry Bosch’s daughter asks him, "Were you here for the riots?" Maddie is talking about the 1992 Los Angeles riots, six days of mayhem to...
Published: 04/06/18
Diplomat Vicki Huddleston talks books and U.S. relations with Cuba

Diplomat Vicki Huddleston talks books and U.S. relations with Cuba

NightstandVicki HuddlestonHuddleston, 75, is the former chief of the United States Interests Section in Havana, and her report for the Brookings Institution about normalizing relations with Cuba was a blueprint for President Barack Obama’s diplomatic...
Published: 04/06/18
Review: Hiaasen’s ‘Assume the Worst’ the graduation speech everyone needs to hear

Review: Hiaasen’s ‘Assume the Worst’ the graduation speech everyone needs to hear

Remember the big speech at your high school graduation?Yeah, me neither. But if it had been the speech in Carl Hiaasen’s new book, Assume the Worst: The Graduation Speech You’ll Never Hear, it would have made an impression.Hiaasen couldn’t have given...
Published: 04/06/18
Peter Thomas, bookmaker, is artfully rolling into town for the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair

Peter Thomas, bookmaker, is artfully rolling into town for the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair

NightstandPeter ThomasThomas, 64, has been making fine press and artist books for more than 40 years. He graduated with an aesthetic studies degree from the University of California Santa Cruz. With his wife, Donna, a graduate in expressive arts from...
Published: 04/05/18
Updated: 04/11/18