Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Book Review

A book that changes your life either strongly reaffirms your own beliefs or causes you to change your beliefs entirely and see the world in a different light.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance did neither.

I did not feel like a new person after reading this, nor did I feel like I had been living my life the entirely wrong way. But I am glad that I read it because it did have some key concepts and ideas that I think are pretty important for people to know about.

My favorite concept from the book is one of the last ones given. It’s a Greek idea that switches our concept of past and future completely around, that we watch the past recede from us as the future comes from our backs, instead of walking toward future and leaving the past behind us.

After thinking about it for a while, it completely made sense to me! We don’t know what the future is going to bring, so how can we look into it? It is the unknown, and therefore we can’t see it until it comes forward. This also got me thinking that the Greeks must have had a completely different philosophy towards life because of this minute difference in viewing time. They must not have had any sayings about running away from one’s past or about chasing one’s future, and they probably had a slower life style, unlike our society, which is always concerned about what the future will hold.

Granted, I could be wrong, and if any of you think differently, please let me know. It just made me think how important our sayings and phrases are, because they describe how us, as a society, thinks and feels.

Secondly, while I was a bit thrown off about all of Phaedrus’ talk of quality (which takes up most to the book) because it is hard to understand something that, if you try to define, is ruined. Though I’m still not sure about everything he was trying to say (if anyone would care to explain, please do so!) I do like the idea that Quality, or the Good in life, is a combination of the classical (analytical) and the romantic (artistic) sides of life. To live a full life, one must be both classical and romantic.

But what I truly enjoyed was the idea that it is the trip, and not the arrival that is the most important. This was also mentioned in The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (SO GOOD btw), and I have to say that I have always believed in this, even before reading these two books.

Though this book did not completely make me reinvent my life, it did cause me to take some time to analyze the book and my life, and because of this, I am now trying to find the quality in everything I do, which includes running up and down the block, pushing a 6 year old in a wagon as she screams “FASTER! FASTER!” (that’s right, I babysat today). I suppose in that sense, it did cause me to change my life, but definitely not as dramatically as my friends and family said it would.

This book does deserve to be read, for the simple reason that it makes you think long and hard about your life and about the values that you have. Don’t read it for the story; read it to learn about philosophy, to force yourself to think about things you never would have, and to simply enjoy. There are some great thoughts in the book that are hidden away, and even though a large portion of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance can seem dense and unimportant, I promise you that you’ll keep on reading just to get to those gems.

Rating: 5/5

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4 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Book Review

  1. An excellent review! I am not sure I agree with your opening premise that “A book that changes your life either strongly reaffirms your own beliefs or causes you to change your beliefs entirely and see the world in a different light.” To me if a book actually reaffirms my own beliefs then that book cannot change my life – since it is already agreeing with what I think. I will have to ponder that some more. I also wanted to comment to note my own encounter with Zen and the Art… here is a post that I wrote earlier this year: http://merlinspielen.com/2012/04/06/good-friday/

    • That’s true. I was mostly thinking of something akin to The Bible, in which in changes people’s lives because they believe in it so strongly. I really should have made that clearer 🙂
      Oh great! I’ll check your post out right now

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