Thursday, December 12, 2013

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M Pirsig

Zen and the Art ofMotorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert M Pirsig is a semi-autobiographical novel that was ubiquitous when I was growing up.  Originally published in 1974, it was one of those books everyone had on a shelf.  It defies direct and simple description.  It is a road trip novel in which a father and son take a motorcycle and hiking/camping trip.  It is also a philosophical novel in which the narrator describes what he believes about life, about how we learn and understand things, how technology is encroaching upon society, and more, much of it rooted in having a motorcycle and the maintenance of it. 

Thoughtfully told, Pirsig gradually reveals layers of himself and his story without the use of foreshadowing or blatant cliffhanger chapter endings.  While each chapter leads to the next, it is easy, sometimes even necessary, to stop and think about the finished chapter.  In this way, the novel is also a sort of meditation and an invitation to reflect on what is said.  The novel is clearly rooted in the Platonic ideals of Socratic thought but Pirsig is not merely reiterating Greek philosophy so much as defining one of his own. 

I can easily see why and how this novel became so influential and I regret reading it without someone else.  I think a book group would enjoy discussing this novel and its wealth of ideas.  I would have loved to discuss the philosophy with others as I was reading it.  Unfortunately, I read it alone and I know I did not delve into it to the degree it deserves.  Perhaps someday I’ll reread it with someone else because this is one of those rare novels you know you must read again if you hope to glean all of its treasures.  


  1. I had the advantage of reading it as part of a Literature of Spirituality course. Nothing like a 2 hour tute to really explore it.

    1. Definitely an advantage. I often read books I wish I were reading with another person, not because I think the book itself is brilliant but because I do like to discuss what I'm reading with others. Occasionally I read a book like this where I feel reading and discussing would make the reading experience far more profound. Oh well. I guess I should have taken a Literature of Spirituality course. ;)


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