This week’s book recommendation is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. Originally published in 1974, this book is both autobiographical and philosophical fiction, which means it is based on true events while delving into philosophical topics that, well, make you think about the world we live in. This may be one reason I liked it despite struggling to get through a few, small sections of the book. This book is a bit long at 540 pages.
It starts off as a simple cross-country trip and ends up as an examination of the self. The subtitle “An Inquiry into Values” refers to the philosophical topics. There is a sequel to this book titled Lila: An Inquiry into Morals that I have yet to read and was not as popular as Motorcycle Maintenance, but I may eventually pick it up. Motorcycle Maintenance was Pirsig’s first book and became hugely popular shortly after its release selling approximately five million copies worldwide.
The title has been played off of since it first became popular. You have probably seen other books or titles that start with “Zen and the Art of [whatever]” around, but this title is actually a play off of Zen and the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel that actually goes into Buddhism and facts/practices of archery. Motorcycle Maintenance states little about actual motorcycle maintenance, but does have a few tips in that area. It rather focuses on Robert himself and what some may consider a slip into madness. This “madness” is what made me consider the constructs of language and how we are shaped, imprisoned, freed, and defined by it along with other social constructs we otherwise do not see because we are accustomed to them.
The best analogy I can come up with right now to explain this is ‘air’. We do not think about air. We constantly breath and bring it inside our chests where exchanges happen that allow us to continue living. We depend upon. We cannot live independently from it. When you really start to think about it and examine what it is and how it impacts us as people/living beings, you start to realize different aspects about it that you originally didn’t care to know or never experienced. Many people probably don’t realize the actual composition of air (mostly nitrogen, but of course contains the oxygen we thrive upon, and many other elements). The closer you look at it, the more it consumes your vision. There is a lot to learn.
But it is also not necessary information, right? We don’t need to understand ‘air’ to continue living, nor can we live “better” lives by knowing more about it. It is more of a reflection on how it affects us and how it is a part of us. This is really the best way I can describe what this book does. It brings some things into focus as if they were hiding behind a thin veil of reality. A solid thought for you to juggle with.
You’ll take away from this book what you put into it. Cliché, I know, but true. It is definitely easier to read than most philosophical books, but (like other philosophical books) this one may not be an easy read for many people. However, I do think it is worth the read, which is why I’m recommending it.
Robert M. Pirsig died last year on April 27th, 2017. His words have inspired millions and will continue to do so. Maybe they will provide you with a different way of looking at the world.