Monday, May 10

There's a certain kind of book that people will tell you, over and over again, that you ought to read. You specifically, because it really reminds them of you. Accordingly, you give it a shot, and promptly discover that you really don't like the book all that much, and then you begin to wonder what exactly it means that everyone thinks you should. For years after this pattern starts, you'll feel a vague, pre-emptory irritation every time some new acquaintance starts a sentence like "say, have you ever read..."

For me, that book is Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I'd tell you what exactly it is that I don't like about Pirsig's work, but I've never managed to get far enough with it to feel entitled to an opinion.

A while ago, Brent told me I ought to read1 Shop Class as Soulcraft, by Matthew B. Crawford. Crawford's hook is that he's a PhD who runs a motorcycle repair shop.2 Even if the book didn't explicitly reference Zen, it wouldn't be surprising that pretty much every reviewer has made the connection.

So, ok, I took my time getting to this one, but I accidentally started reading a copy in the bookstore the other day and wound up buying it. It turns out to be pretty good. The writing strays here and there into many-claused academic repetition, and you could talk for a while about its situation in a masculine understanding of work, but mostly it's an intelligent and well-articulated essay. Not without its irritations, a little narrower than it would be ideally, but well worth the time spent.

1 Actually, I think his exact words were along the lines of "are you sure you didn't write this?"

2 It's a pretty good hook. Add in a parallel to one of those free-floating Classics of the Counterculture that somebody you know probably gives away in paperback (I suspect that Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance operates culturally just like Letters to a Young Poet, minus the girls giving it to boys they won't sleep with and boys giving it to girls they want to sleep with dynamics) and the sales pitch pretty much writes itself.