The Art of Reading

I’ve finally finished reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZMM). I struggled with it for two maybe even three months, reading small chunks at a time and for the most part being confused by what was going on. It took me way too long because I didn’t have the gumption to read it. I lacked focus. What I should do from now on is dedicate three to four hour blocks of reading time more often. I did that to read the final half of the book and it got me through. Especially with tricky books, this is key to get anywhere. It wasn’t the type of novel where you could read 10 pages a day and slowly work your way in. You had to be an engaged reader, as it was almost like reading an essay for the most part. You couldn’t just read it to pass the time. You had to read it as an academic and as someone who is looking to learn things.

So my advice would be that if you’re looking for a book to read on the train to work or on a long haul flight, don’t buy ZMM. Buy something with a narrative that doesn’t jump around. Where the reader can pick up at any page and be like this makes sense, I understand where this story is at and where it’s going. I remember this character and what their goal is.

In ZMM you never get that rest. There is just so much going on and some of the ideas are very dense. There are three overriding themes, that being: the story of a motorcycle journey from Minnesota to California, a philosophical discussion on the concept of quality and an allegorical tale of a man coming to terms with the past. At the end of the book there was an afterword that summarised these themes and tried to explain why the book was so successful. It basically said that there’s something for everyone which agree with to an extent. There’s content there for academics and super smart people. Deep thinkers. There is not much there for the average layman.

However, I must say the writer does make an effort for the layman. He is trying to divide the complicated content up into digestible portions, inserting the motorcycle trip details (easy to read) in between each long philosophical rant (hard to read). This makes the book actually readable. It makes it possible to finish.

There is an afterword where the writer asks what theme or aspect (out of the main three above) do you find the most compelling and why? The story of them riding was what drew me to the book initially especially as they started their journey in Minnesota (I wonder if it was Minneapolis). And then they headed west through a bunch of the national parks which I actually visited whilst reading the book. As the narrator was describing the prairies of the Dakota’s, the pine and rolling hills of Yellowstone and the mist of Northern California I could actually picture it as I was literally there. I was literally in Yellowstone National Park as the narrator was there too. That was cool. So the motorbike story was my favourite part.

But there was also some (not much) philosophical discussion that I did enjoy and could apply. The way the author compared creativity in an analytic or romantic mode really struck a chord with me. I think I’m someone who is more on this romantic creative side but still very interested in the analytic side. I’m making an effort to have more of these analytic skills. The book argued that you should try to have both sides, and use both techniques (or mindsets?) in the art you create. I agree with this.

The book talks at length about the idea of quality and how quality is in everything we touch and do. Most of the quality philosophical talk was just mumbo jumbo but there was one or two chapters that did intrigue me because it told a believable story. The lead character Phaedrus is teaching a class at university and ponders the idea of quality in his students work. He wonders that perhaps the way students are graded, in this very rigid old fashioned manner isn’t the best for them. He comes to the conclusion that students would produce better work if they weren’t graded throughout the whole semester. That if their grades were kept secret they would be producing more quality. The way that the author narrates the students reactions to this whole process is fascinating.

In summary, I’m happy that I’ve finished the book but it really did take too long to get through. That is on me and I should be more diligent with my reading times. The biggest positives to take away from it were that the locations the characters were travelling to were also locations I was travelling to. If you are doing an east coast west coast trip (especially passing through the north) this is a good novel to have on you. And there for some great philosophical thoughts to take away albeit most of the thoughts were either too confusing to understand or too long winded.