If you read this post regularly you know that I try to read a wide variety of books. I love history but obviously read books on theology and Christian living regularly. This week I forced myself to read something on philosophy. I turned to an older book, mostly because it was on sale, and began reading Robert Pirzig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. A book on philosophy is not for everyone. I enjoyed it but it was intimidating at times. I am hesitant to give an opinion on a book above my intellectual pay grade but I found it to be, in general, pretentious.
The book is not really about Zen or motorcycle maintenance. It is a book about philosophy and the concept of quality although many people have probably put the book into the new age category due to the mystical nature of some of the musings. If I understood the book, he is attempting to define quality as something real in opposition to conventional thinking on the matter. It also seems that he is in pursuit of reconciling eastern and western thought and blames Aristotle for separating them.
It is written in the first person as a story of a father and son on a long motorcycle trip. During this trip, and the interactions with a variety of people, the narrator contemplates many philosophical discussions in his head. Occasionally these discussions engage other people but this just leads to frustration for all involved. The story slowly interweaves into a previous life of the narrator, where he describes himself as Phaedrus, a man who taught English at a small college. You discover that Phaedrus’ philosophical pursuits became obsessive, eventually driving him insane. Resulting shock treatment created the new personality who is the narrator of the story. As the book, and the motorcycle trip, comes to an end the narrator discovers the previous personality of Phaedrus is emerging. These increasing connections with his memories from his previous person seem to reconcile him with his past and also with his son.
This book is the twenty-fifth anniversary edition so the Foreward includes some thoughts from Pirzig. He describes some basic misinterpretations and errors in the book and attempts to clear them up. In the Afterward the author notes that 121 publishers turned his book down before one, reluctantly, finally agreed to publish it. As they say, the rest is history and the book became a New York Times bestseller. According to the Guinness Book of World Records it is the most turned down book to become a best seller. It is a good post script reminder of the importance of persevering in something that you believe in.