Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: an Inquiry into Values by Robert M Pirsig (first published by William Morrow & Sons, 1974)

Introduced by Sam Obigbesan

#BlindBookworms series

Cover of the first edition

Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself …To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountains which sustain life, not the top.

I can be the kind of person that takes ages to follow up on someone’s suggestion even if indeed they are absolutely sure that I’ll enjoy it. Even when I think that I’ll probably enjoy it too.

A few years after Sam, a good friend of mine, suggested to me to read Zen And the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance I finally got around to it. And my oh my, what a ride it was. (Pun, fully intended.)

Philosophy was always something I was interested in – I did grow up in Greece after all- but I never really studied it much.

This book gave me the chance to think.

The story is told in the first-person point of view and it chronicles describes the journey of a father and son via motorcycle through the United States.

And on that journey the narrator talks about such things as values, technology, the classical western thought and philosophy.

You’d probably think that made it quite the tedious read, but my experience with this book was far from that. The writer took me on a journey similar to the one he and his son underwent. I read the book in more than a few sittings as I occasionally had to go back and re-read a chapter or two or even a phrase. And that’s not easy to do on an audiobook I tell you.

The best way to describe my experience with this book is from some of the quotes that resonated with me.

“This condemnation of technology is ingratitude, that’s what it is. Blind alley, though. If someone’s ungrateful and you tell him he’s ungrateful, okay, you’ve called him a name. You haven’t solved anything.”

At the start of the novel the unnamed narrator and Chris, his son, are travelling with John and Sylvia Sutherland. And as they travel the narrator delivers a set of lectures in his head as well as to us readers, referring to them as Chautauqua.

“Of the value traps, the most widespread and pernicious is value rigidity. This is an inability to revalue what one sees because of commitment to previous values. In motorcycle maintenance, you MUST rediscover what you do as you go. Rigid values makes this impossible.”

This is a book I know that I’ll read again and that is a good thing. I didn’t feel at any point that the information presented in this novel had to be devoured in one sitting or that I would understand every concept on my first read.

The underlining idea of classical values and views versus romantic, took me a few goes to get into my head, but that’s mostly because I am not a motorcycle expert.

“A classical understanding sees the world primarily as underlying form itself. A romantic understanding sees it primarily in terms of immediate appearance.”

Finishing the book, I felt somehow hollowed out, a bit like the peppers before you stuffed them with cheese or rice.

There is so much more, but I shall leave that to the reader. I honestly think that it would take me an age to cover it all.

Also, Michael Kramer, the narrator for the audiobook, did a fantastic job. He captured the conversational tone I’m guessing the author intended. He somehow made the characters believable and enhancing the first-person narrative to the fifth power.

I really liked it, this was four stars for me without a doubt. And I know it will be five stars when I have read it again. And I shall leave off with another quote.

“Care and quality are internal and external aspects of the same thing. A person who sees quality and feels it as he works is a person who cares. A person who cares about what he sees and does is a person who’s bound to have some characteristic of quality.”

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