Zen and Now: Book Review

On the trail of Robert Pirsig and the art of motorcycle maintenance

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Nearly every motorcyclist I have had the good fortune of meeting suffers from the same condition, albeit with varying levels of severity. This condition, which mystifies and frustrates our families, and unites us as brothers, is the inexplicable, often all-encompassing wanderlust. For some, it can be treated with a weekly Sunday afternoon ride, while others can never truly get it out of their system no matter how far or how often they ride. For those who long for meaning and significance in their lives, they forever dream that the call of the highway will provide them with the much needed answers to their existence they crave.

Journalist Mark Richardson embarked on a journey, both physical and spiritual as he followed the route chronicled by Robert Pirsig in his famous story, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values. The trek, which begins in Minneapolis, MN and ends in San Francisco, CA was the backdrop for a novel that went much deeper than your average roadtrip tales.  In addition to inspiring generations of motorcyclists with his book, Pirsig is responsible for writing the most widely read book on philosophy, ever. The 1974 novel, which was originally rejected by 121 publishers eventually found a widespread audience and has sold over four million copies in 27 countries.

Richardson explores and builds on that journey in his recent book, Zen and Now: On the Trail of Robert Pirsig and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Like many ‘Pirsig Pilgrams,’ as they are known, Richardson decided to follow the same route, curious as to how his adventure would compare or differ 40 years after Pirsig made his historical trek. Often referring back to the original text like a road map, Richardson paints lyrical pictures to his readers that are so graphic that at times you can almost smell the freshly cut grass floating across the wind under your nostrils. He also explores the notions of inner struggle and personal philosophy which were the focus of Pirsig’s novel.

As Richardson explores the American landscape, his readers learn more about Pirsig’s teachings of metaphysics as well as his fascinating and tragic life. While Richardson admits to initially finding Pirsig’s novel dense and complex, Zen and Now is as thought provoking and engaging as it is accessible.

Not only does Zen and Now enrich the original book and offer a modern context for it to be understood and experienced 40 years after the fact, it tells a captivating and emotional tale of a journey to find answers in a world that often defies meaning.

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  • Aaron

    Read this in the fall which then led me to read Pirsig’s book. It is much more “accessible” than Pirsig’s read and a lot easier on the head. If you enjoy this, do consider Riding with Rilke by Ted Bishop, and of course Pirsig’s original masterpiece.