Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

Why did it take me over a year to finish? This is a book that requires substantial amounts of uninterrupted read time. The latter half of the book moved much more quickly for me, partially because I had more concentration and brain processing power available.

I love the discussion of rhetoric and the classics. It made me nostalgic for school and my studies and reminded me how much I love literature and the study of discourse; how the studies of history and philosophy are inexplicably (okay sometimes explainable) linked to the world of English.

I found his description of his time at the University of Chicago very surprising. I never had the experience of professors seeking to verbally spar and/or berate students in order to fulfill their own academic agenda. However, I might have been too young at the time and simply not have recognized it.

The style of writing in itself is something that you don’t run across every day. Pirsig blends the narrative of a cross country cycle trip with his inner thoughts or chautaquas concerning matters of reality, values, existence. The flashbacks to his time at University are initially a bit jarring and confusing. I found myself scrambling to put the pieces together to form the whole picture, but given one piece at a time it is hard to orient. I think part of that makes completing the book so satisfying.

I really enjoyed the afterword and the foreword. When I read the foreword before starting the book, it didn’t really make that much sense to me because I had no idea what he was referencing. I remembered him mentioning two adjustments and one had to do with Phaedrus. After finishing, I went back to read what he had to say and found a new appreciation for anniversary edition books on top of author’s notes. I am the type who used to skip the jumble in the front and dive straight into the piece. It’s curious how even the smallest of tendencies change over time and reveal a certain growth in personality and perspective.

In the afterword, Pirsig mentions that many people claim the ending to be a Hollywood ending: shocking, disconcerting. I would have to agree on the shock part. There is so little in between, no deeper dive into the dynamic between author and character, Chris, before his death. I think this section could have had more time allotted to its development to figure out what Pirsig actually wanted to say about Chris.

In the same note from the author, he talks about his book being a culture bearer and that it soared into popularity because of what society has been dealing with at the time – struggling against the idea of materialism as an indicator to success. I find this still to be the case with the rise of the millenials and the struggle this generation also has.

I would love to revisit this book again a few years down the line. There is so much I gathered from it, yet so much I missed at the same time. It’s so frustrating knowing this is the case, but not be able to point to what it is exactly.


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