Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Do you ever hear about a book that’s required reading for a class, and wonder what’s the deal with it?

That’s exactly what I thought about Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, so when the chance came to snag a copy, I moved it to the top of my reading list.

The book follows the story of a man and his son, out on a motorcycle trip across the country. While you get the sense that is supposed to be a time of bonding for them, the man (who I don’t think is ever named, but we’re going told it’s a kind of biography, so I guess it’s Pirsig himself) leads the reader down a philosophical path.

He’s remembering and telling the story of Phaedrus, a young college professor he knew who went a bit insane studying philosophy and “quality.” The narrator is at the same time also trying to make sense of these ideas, using motorcycle maintenance and technology in general as lenses to look at them.

Though an interesting story, I found this book incredibly tough to read, and even harder to understand. I suppose it makes more sense if you’ve taken or are taking a philosophy class. But all I could think was, “this is a book about a man who went insane thinking about philosophy, and it’s also trying to teach me philosophy…”

I suppose maybe for most people, philosophy just isn’t something you take up as a hobby. I think for me specifically, if I wanted more, I’d take a class. I’m not sure Plato, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Machiavelli, or any of the others would make a lot of sense to me on my own. And while it is an interesting subject matter, I’m not chomping at the bit to get into more philosophy.

In short, an interesting book, but not one I’d read again on my own for fun. I’ll leave the reading to the students.

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