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Book Review: Zen and Now

Book Review: Zen and Now


If you like motorcycles, chances are you've heard of the little pink book by Robert Pirsig: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintentance - An Inquiry into Values. I tried to read it a few years back and must admit that I found it challenging. I didn't research the true subject of the book - I just knew it was a bestseller and well, it had the word motorcycle in it's title so I thought it was worth a shot. 


It's not really a book about motorcycles, it's a book about the metaphisics of quality, a fathers relationship with his child, and whole lot more that I don't understand! It just so happens that the story is told with a cross county trip shared by father and son, on a 1964 Honda Superhawk CB77 motorcycle. Zen and the Art is described as "the most widely read philosophy book, ever."  Originally rejected by 121 publishers, it went on to sell millions of copies. It also insipred countless people to retrace the route, so many there's a name given to them - Pirsig Pilgrims.  In Zen and Now Mark Richardson becomes a Pirsig Pilgrim and learns a little bit about himself in the process.


Zen and Now - On the Trail of Robert Pirsig is an insightful chronicle about a journalists connection with the American classic, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Not only that though, it's a journey of personal discovery for the author that coincides with the 40th anniversay of the original trip. Richardson retraces the route taken by Robert Pirsig in 1968 with his eleven-year-old-son from Minneapolis to San Francisco. Richardson doesn't do it on a 305 cc, 1964 Honda Superhawk though, instead he uses his own, very well used, 1987 Suzuki DR600. Not exactly the bike many would choose for such a long distance journey but it adds adventure and character to the trip. It's not about the destination, it's about the journey rings true in this case. The bike has enough character to have a name even; Jackie New. The reasons for which become clear in the book.


What makes What makes Mark different from just any Pirsig Pilgrim you may ask? Well, he's a Toronto writer and journalist. He's 46 and married with two young sons, ais the editor of the Wheels section of the Toronto Star newspaper and member of the automotive journalist association of Canada. Sounds like he knows about cars right? Yes, he does, but he also knows quite a bit about motorcycles too and not just because he writes about them - he's a long time rider. How many motorcyclists do you know who've taken a year off to go riding? Well, in 1985 Richardson quit his job at the time to ride around North America for a year. 


Richardson's job at Wheels isn't always writing about four wheeled vehicles either. For the first four years, Mark wrote a column about motorcycles, which was so popular that he twice won the national motorcycle industry‚Äôs MAX award for Motorcycle Writer of the Year, and was once named Motorcyclist of the Year. For the last five years, Mark has been the editor of the entire Wheels section.


So, what about the book? What about Zen and Now?


I found it an easy reading book that flows nicely from start to finish. I enjoyed it each time I picked it up and found it hard to put it down. There were several nights when I heard a familar voice saying. "How much longer are you staying up? Can you turn that light out"  To which I'd say, "I'll just finish this page" and maybe read a coupel more before turning the lights out for the night.


There are little elements interwoven throughout the book (watch for the eagle) and I can emphatically say that it's much easier to read then Zen and the Art. This is a good thing for you non-philosophical folks. You'll read none of the heavy philosophy, which at times for me was quite an effective sleeping aid. What Zen and Now does include some surprisingly honest writing from the author about his thoughts on being a husband and father. It too is not just a book about motorcycles.  


When you read Zen and Now, one things becomes clear - Richardson did his homework. Known for his research skills, this effort does not fall short. He contacted the notoriously reclusive Robert Pirsig and exchanged several letters with him. It took four years to write though, which seemed to win some favor with Pirsig who also took four years to write Zen and the Art. I won't spoil it but there's a few others from Pirsig's book that Richardson gets a chance to talk to as well. He meets several new interesting characters along the way while trying to carefully retrace the route.


If you've read Zen and the Art or you're thinking about reading it you should pick up a copy of Mark's book. Zen and Now will certainly help you understand Zen and the Art and give you additional insight into the lives and personalities of the people in Pirsig's classic. Zen and the Art isn't entirely non-fiction, and some people were a little upset about how they felt they were portrayed. Pirsig did take some creative liberties. If you're planning to read Zen and the Art you'll certainly understand it better having read Zen and Now first. Even if you haven't read Zen and the Art and have no plans to, Richardson's book provides a very entertaining story and it centers on a motorcycle journey. Any well written book with a motorcycle theme deserves a spot on my bookshelf. This is a welcome addition to the collection.


Mark's book might just give some of you out there that extra push you needed to dust off the old pink book and take another shot at it. Time to head to the bookshelf I think!




Zen and Now: On the Trail of Robert Pirsig and Motorcycle Maintenance is published by Knopf Canada. It's on sale now for $29.95. You can also get a copy at a deep discount through the Canadian Motorcycle Rider bookstore, page 29.