Quick Book Review: “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values” by Robert Pirsig

I am admittedly late to the party with this book, having managed to not read it at the time when everyone I knew back in college was immersed in it.  Unfortunately, I think this is a book that really should be read when you’re young and impressionable and are forming and developing your view of the world, as with books like Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, On the Road, Siddhartha, etc.  I was strongly affected by the above books, and I’m sure ZAMM would have been pretty influential had I read it back then. At this point in my life, though, I didn’t find it very moving, just kind quirky.  I was a big fan of Kerouac’s On the Road, and this book is a road trip book, a summer motorcycle trip across the northwest United States, by the author and his young son.  That aspect of the book was definitely the most enjoyable for me.  The other story running concurrently through the book is the narrator’s mental conflict in trying to remember the past, while simultaneously trying to escape it. That part was moderately interesting. The least interesting part for me was the digressions into the philosophical studies of Hegel, Kant, Hume, and others.  Again, it might have been more illuminating when I was young and my mind was more malleable, but at this point in my life, it’s just quirky.  I was especially non-impressed with the author’s theory/philosophy about “quality”. His pursuit of Quality drove him crazy (in the book, we discover that the author was actually admitted to a mental institution after having a breakdown in his pursuit of it) and I found it exceptionally tedious.  The relationship between the author and his son was poignant and moving at times, and the extended analogy of the motorcycle as your soul, and motorcycle repair as a way to fine tune your soul to keep it running well, is brilliantly done.  The book isn’t for everyone, but I’m glad I finally got around to reading it.

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