Saturday, November 21, 2009

War, Meaning, Greasers, & Zen

When I was in seventh grade or so, I became a reader. That doesn't mean I didn't read before seventh grade, just that I didn't read for the sole pleasure of reading or to learn something I wanted to from it. Seventh grade was when I discovered The Outsiders by SE Hinton. It was one of the first books I could ever really relate to and one of the first that gave me a point of view that was different than my own but similar enough that I could identify with. From there I went on to the book's sequel, That Was Then, This Is Now, and eventually ended with My Darling My Hamburger -- not a sequel but it had some of the same characters. After completing all of Hinton's works, I moved on to other fare. (NOTE: When my youngest son was in Middle School, his English teacher made a  to study turned The Outsiders into a semester-long project.  He loved the book, but in a way, I wish he had discovered it on his own.)

Having seen many of Edgar Alan Poe's works as movies starring Vincent Price (whose voice still gives me chills), I read every short story Poe had written. It was my love of Poe's macabre works that eventually led me to read Stephen King, Saki, and others. When one of my teachers mentioned that we could not read the best of Mark Twain's works until college because of the adult content; I was inspired by puberty and curiosity to attempt to find those works at the local library, I also discovered that adult didn't necessarily mean sexual but controversial. During my search, I managed to read most of Twain's writings. Also, something called the Scholastic Book Club introduced me to books and titles I had never heard of and to a large degree don't recall now.

The point is that the reading itself formed a large part of who I am because I learned to mentally defend my own beliefs while discovering those of others and found curiosities that drove me to seek more knowledge. However, as I went on to college and a career, all the while being a citizen of the world, I found that there were many important books that I had missed. So, I've spent time seeking these books out and reading them. This includes works like The Art of War by Sun Tzu, Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, and others with each of them providing me with differing points of view and giving me things to think about.

When I started on my journey into motorcycles the searches kept including a book by Robert M. Pirsig titled Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Most of you have heard of it, but I knew of it only peripherally. Wikipedia (and later the book's foreword ) told me that the book really had nothing to do with Zen or motorcycle maintenance but was more about one man's search for meaning while traveling cross-country motorcycle with his son. So I ordered it.

I started reading the book while at Walt Disney World, but only managed read the first chapter. That was enough to convince me that the book was one that I should read, all because of one line in the first chapter: "Plans are deliberately indefinite, more to travel than to arrive anywhere." That is my idea of the perfect journey. I love to travel and discover, and I have always found that in the traveling some discoveries are more significant than reaching the destination.

At this point in my life, I am usually reading two to three books at the same time. Usually, one is of a factual or historical nature, one is light and doesn't require much concentration, and one is for entertainment something to escape into. For now, the last category is being filled by Pirsig's work.

NOTE: As I proof-read this before publishing it, it occurred to me that the actual first book I ever read was Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. Upon contemplation, I realize that I did walk away with a piece philosophy that can be found in Seuss' words. Throughout life, I have found that I do like them here or there, in fact, I like them most anywhere. Yes, Sam I Am, -- I do like green eggs and ham.


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