Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: Robert Pirsig

Book style: Non-fiction/philosophy

Beer style: Coconut stout

I recently bought my first motorcycle. A 1980 Honda cm200t Twinstar. It’s little, like me, and not too powerful, perfect for scooting around town. I’d heard about this book years ago from a friend who was an avid motorcycle rider, so I decided to check it out.

The book is a philosophical book based around Robert’s thoughts as he embarks on a motorcycle trip with his young son. He delves into ideas such as the true meaning of quality, or what technology has done to us. These all sound well and good, but I found Pirsig’s trains of thought to be so out in left field, that I had a hard time following his thought processes.

For example, in the beginning of the book, he is joined by a couple with whom he’s known for years, who join him and his son on the motorcycle ride for the first couple of days of the ride. Pirsig is the type of person who likes to fix and tinker on his motorcycle himself. The couple that came with him are not. They would rather bring the bike into a shop and have a mechanic work on it. For some reason, this line of thinking for Pirsig is almost impossible to understand. He feels that there must be a reason for them not wanting to understand the intricacies of a motorcycle. Because this couple doesn’t like to do the maintenance themselves, he comes to the conclusion that they are anti-technologists, people who are in some ways opposed to the ways of technology. WHAT? 

Here’s an excerpt from this subject/thought:

“That attitude is not hard to come to. You go through a huge industrial area of a large city and there it all is, the technology. In front of it are high barbed-wire fences, locked gates, signs saying No Trespassing and beyond, through sooty air, you see ugly strange shapes of metal and brick whose purpose is unknown, and whose masters you will never see. What it’s for you don’t know and why its there, there’s no one to tell, and so all you can feel is alienated, estranged, as though you didn’t belong there.”

To me, this doesn’t make sense, as much as I try to bring out the philosophical side of me. I just don’t get it.

This type of philosophical thought is littered through most of the book.

Pirsig also talks about the journey itself, from Minnesota to San Francisco with his son, and he hints along the way that there is something wrong with both him and himself. Throughout the book, he references a character named Phaedrus, who seems to have a direct connection to him, and his son, who seems to have some sort of mood disorder/ possible phantom pains. Throughout the journey, his son Chris complains of stomach problems, then complains about hating the trip, then looks like he is enjoying his time. You can feel the tensions between them rise and the trip moves on.

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I thought a more interesting combination of a beer would fit this book so I had a Coconut Stout by Zipline, a local brewery out of Lincoln. It’s a rich stout with light but noticeable coconut flavor. Very good and comforting.

Oh! And kind of a weird thing happened to me while I was reading this book. To preface, I do a lot of reading and walking. There’s a loop around my work, around 1.5 miles, that I take during mid-day to wake me up and get me some exercise. I was crossing the street by a school, when I saw something in the road. I walked over to pick it up and it happened to be a wrench! How fitting that I would find a wrench in the middle of the road while reading a book with a wrench on the cover. I’m sure Pirsig would have some sort of long drawn out explanation for this, but for me, it was a happy coincident.

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This is one of those books I really wanted to like. But unfortunately, it just didn’t jive for me. I’ve taken philosophy classes, I’ve discussed the deep down meaning of seemingly simple words, but this book just didn’t capture my attention like I thought it would. From looking at Goodreads reviews, it seems like this book definitely has a lot of mixed reviews. I too, feel mixed about it. I actually found myself more interested in finding out information about Pirsig himself, as well as his son, than of the teachings in his book.


Overall rating. 5/10


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