Some books get turned down 126 times, only to turn into an instant classic when finally published. Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance did just that, and became a classic book about philosophy as well as human psychology.
Combine philosophy, psychology, technical maintenance, and an elaborate travel-story with a crazy narrator and you get Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. You also seem to get an classic with a high amount of quality.
If you are carsick, however, you might want to refrain from this title.
The start is promising, but soon the book takes as many turns as the motorcycle that the narrator travels on does. Some are true hairpin turns, and some are very easy going and smooth curves. There is at least one cloverleaf interchange going on there, and from experience I can say those are only fun if you can take them at a decent speed otherwise you will not enjoy going in or out one. Getting stuck behind another vehicle is also not very enjoyable, and that’s what happens often in the first part of Zen. Every time the story picks up pace, the narrator hits the breaks to explain minor details and lose himself in menial labour either regarding the motorcycle and otherwise the equally complicated human brain. Both need tuning every now and then, and in the case of the author it’s more often “now” than “then”.
To understand the eternal focus on maintenance, one has to understand the main character. Aside from the influence of ancient Greek philosophy and the more modern psychology in Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance a huge part of the book is filled with a biographical-like story. While Pirsig never elaborated whether or not the first-person narrative was truly autobiographical – and the book focuses on philosophical discussions and on the construct of scientific research mostly – it’s the personal story that really drags you in. That makes you want to understand the mindset of the writer when he was writing this work, and through that the whole book starts to make a whole lot more sense. Pirsig likes to make you think, but to get you to do so he will confuse you by bringing up motorcycle parts in about every aspect of life in the first two parts of the book. The title gave that away, of course, but it might also be what puts off a lot of people: simply too technical.
Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance became an almost instant classic – when it finally got published – and with good reason. It digs deep into the basic human psychology and roots around till it reaches philosophy which it takes apart till everything is understandable. However, as much as any book about deeper philosophical subjects, it becomes a journey into the soul that might be very entangling. And in this entanglement, it shows when the reader is devoted to the subject that he/she is willing to weed his/her way through the sheer quantity to reach the actual heart of the book and draw in the great quality of Pirsig’s ancient Greek mind.
Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
A story of love and fear – of growth, discovery and acceptance – that becomes a profound personal and philosophical odyssey into life’s fundamental questions. This uniquely exhilarating modern classic is both touching and transcendent, resonant with the myriad confusions of existence and the small, essential triumphs that propel us forward.
Robert M. Pirsig. Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance / Vintage Books