I don’t know if riding a motorcycle for the first time recently was the catalyst for reading this book, but it definitely wasn’t a deterrent. In fact, I had no clue what this book was about, but had heard it recommended so often I thought I’d give it a try.
Boy, was I clueless…
The book begins with a group of four: The narrator, his son, and another couple taking a road trip from Minnesota to the West Coast. Through the first third (or half) of the book, Pirsig seamlessly weaves the road trip across open plains and other travel experiences with brief thoughts regarding perceptions of the world around him. This is the pattern for the remainder of the book, though it becomes more muddled as the pages go on.
This Is More than a Travel Memoir
Again, I had no idea what to expect from this book before reading it. I was expecting a memoir of a journey across America, and that I got, but only to an extent.
I felt like his discussions of philosophical concepts, which at the beginning were effective, became arbitrary and out of place. One minute they’re speeding down a highway in Montana and the next he’s talking about Greek philosophy.
Pirsig is indeed a talented writer. For his first book (as far as I’m aware of), he carefully structures his sentences with delicate care, evoking many lucid thoughts.
A Lesson In Persistence
One interesting aspect of the book is how it got published, or better yet, almost didn’t. His book was rejected by 121 publishers, which set a Guinness World Record for a Bestselling book.
I can’t say I’m surprised by this, and quite frankly I’m shocked so many people loved this book—although I can see why. Pirsig evokes nostalgia of yesteryear, often yearning for a simpler time. He also expertly captured the present spirit of the time, as well as harped on what lies ahead.
I found a review on Goodreads that sums up my thoughts more eloquently than I could have put it:
Pirsig aspired to pierce the boundaries of philosophy itself, to unify the dualism blanketing modern academia. Instead of achieving this quixotic but admirable target, he ends up mostly with disjointed, turgid ramblings that veer occasionally into the territories of pseudoscience and New Agey-mysticism. The novelistic tropes sprinkled in are there simply to make his quasi-arcane discourses more palatable to the reading public.
It’s my opinion that ZAMM is well-known among pseudo-intellectuals who pretend to have discovered something profound in it. But we must be honest in recognizing that not all philosophy is profound. Some of it is deeply insightful and life-affirming, while some portion of it is poofy and, yes, low on Quality. Period piece or not, this is just bad philosophy.”
Again, I’m not an expert in philosophy, not even close. That doesn’t mean I ignore philosophy, but I know my limits. Either this book was too much for me, made no sense, or was just plain unenjoyable—perhaps a combination of all 3.
I can’t recommend this book to the average man, or even the above-average man. I like to read books that either gives me something to take away from it or provide a pleasurable reading experience. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance fulfilled the latter at times, but not enough where I can recommend it.
If you’re interested in reading the book anyway, check it out here on Amazon. If you do enjoy it, or have read it and can enlighten me, I’d like to hear from you so that I can get more out of this book than I did.
(Because I don’t recommend this book, I do not use an Amazon Affiliate link.)