I first picked up Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as a teenager and really struggled to get into it and put in down. I discovered it again at a work charity bookshelf and thought now was the time to pick it up again. The book tells the story of Pirsig and his son’s journey on their motorcycle across America whilst also discussing at length Pirsig’s view of philosophy and his elusive search for what ‘Quality’ means in the context of life.
As I was reading I folded down the corners of a few pages that seem to stand out for me. These quotes include:
‘What really counts in the end is peace of mind, nothing else. .. you can almost feel yourself grow toward that inner peace of mind that reveals all..’
‘Slow down deliberately and go over ground that you’ve been over before to see if the things that you thought were important, really are important’..
‘In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming’.
Some of the detailed discussion of philosophy was a little over my head and too in depth at times, but what I got out of it on this second read, seems enough for now. Perhaps if I go back and read it again in future, I will understand more of the book- this is a book I will keep coming back to.
Whist I liked the philosophical discussions, the most enjoyable parts of the book for me were the dialogue between Pirsig and his son Chris and also the dynamics between Pirsig, Chris and a couple who travelled some of the journey with them, the Sutherland’s. I liked the simple things that Pirsig describes such as the taste of a good cup of coffee after being out on the road or hiking, or the pleasure of being the first up in the morning and seeing the crispness of nature.
I liked the world that the book created whilst reading it and I didn’t want the book to end. Pirsig comes across as a likeable person that refuses to settle for the black or white approaches of conventional society, he, like many of us, feels like there is something more, and he goes to very great lengths (including a stay in a mental hospital with some now outlawed treatment practices) to achieve this.
Overall, a beautiful book about one man’s search to understand what life is about (in Pirsig’s world this is ‘Quality’ as well as a understated travelogue through America.