Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Pirsig, Robert M. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1974.

Reason read: Pirsig’s birth month is in the month of September.

When you are traveling across the country on a motorcycle, you have more than enough time to analyze the world around you in ways you wouldn’t if you chose to passively ride in a car or fly by plane. Pirsig takes his love of motorcycle maintenance and equates it to examining the way we live. If you excuse the didactic moments that seem holier than thou, he even shares opinions on how to live that life a little better. These philosophical monologues are referred to as Chautauquas. Under the guise of a summer trip across America with an unknown protagonist (common knowledge it is Pirsig himself), his son, Chris, and two companions, Pirsig delves into the life of Phaedrus (his past self), meditation, and philosophy. He uses his friend, John, to illustrate the difference between the mindful exploration and ignorant bliss. While the unnamed narrator (Pirsig) constantly tunes his machine, John prefers to not know anything about how his engine runs. This equates to the two men seeing the world differently. The author learns to care deeply for anything that involves his life while John prefers to let a mechanic do all the maintenance in life. The narrator is anxious to teach John his ways and patiently waits for his motorcycle to break down so he can be the hero and enlighten him. For me, the book gets interesting when John and his wife go they separate way. The narrator and his son are left to travel the rest of the journey alone. The reasoning of temperate reason versus dark passion is fascinating.

Quotes I liked, “Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive” (p 187), “The real purpose of scientific method is to make sure Nature hasn’t misled you into thinking you know something you don’t actually know” (p 256), “The dog has a certain relationship to the wolf the shepherd may have forgotten” (p 412), and “I’m hanging onto my temper now” (p 497).

Author fact: Pirsig also wrote Lila: an Inquiry into Morals. I am not reading it for the Challenge even though it is the sequel to Zen. Zen is the only book I am reading.
Another author fact: Pirsig wrote instruction manuals for a living, but went home every night to work on Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This reminded me of Joan Didion and how she would work at Vogue during the day but come home at night to work on her own novels.

Book trivia: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a work of fictionalized autobiography.

Nancy said: Pearl called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance a classic; highly readable and indispensable.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Beckoning Road” (p 19).

Mosquito Coast

Theroux, Paul. The Mosquito Coast. New York: Avon Books, 1982.

Reason read: June 21st is Father’s Day. Ahem.

Despite this being a book read in honor of Father’s Day, Charlie Fox’s dad isn’t the ideal father figure. He could fit into the role of Jack Torrance in Stephen King’s The Shining. Allie Fox, from the town of Hadley in Massachusetts, doesn’t trust the traditional school system, doesn’t trust the government, doesn’t trust his neighbors. He believes he can teach his children (Charlie, Jerry and the twins, Clover and April) all they need to know. He doesn’t suffer fools and constantly tests his children’s courage, especially eldest son Charlie’s. He is in constant competition with other men (“How many push ups can you do?”); he is proud, defiant, and must not, absolutely cannot, be embarrassed in front of his family. Fed up with his own country, Papa Fox is easily swayed by Honduran migrant workers to pack up his family and move to the Mosquito Coast. Once there, Theroux threads a growing sense of unease throughout the pages. The first whiff of danger comes with Father jokes about throwing Mr. Haddy overboard and it is possible to believe he is mad enough to have done it. Like Kings’s Jack Torrance, Allie Fox displays an escalating sense of craziness as time goes on. Paranoia grows like mold in the jungles of Honduras. It goes without saying that things don’t end well for the Fox family; or maybe they do if you like endings like The Shining.

As an aside, it is really strange to read about the area in which I currently call “home.” I try not to over analyze Theroux’s descriptions of Northampton or Hatfield or Springfield.

Lines or phrases I liked: First the phrases – “four-o’clock-in-the-morning courage,” and “creepy-quiet.”
Here are the lines I liked – “It was the town of dead ends” (p 108), “But what can you do with people who have already been corrupted?” (p 190), and last one, ” When a person is suffering and afraid, his ailments are obvious and his injuries stick out” (p 298).

Author fact: I think it is obvious Theroux spent some time in Massachusetts.

Book trivia: Woodcuts are by David Frampton. Another piece of trivia: Mosquito Coast was made into a movie in 1986.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Mosquito Coast other than explain the plot.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Fathers and Sons” (p 85).

Adrian Mole: the Cappuccino Years

Townsend, Sue. Adrian Mole: the Cappuccino Years. New York: Soho, 1999.

Reason read: Mother’s Day is May 13th and Pearl included this in her chapter about “Mothers and Sons.”

Adrian Mole: the Cappuccino Years could be seen as a cautionary tale for men in their 30s: do not get too dependent on mama. Adrian, at this stage in his life, is divorced, lusting after a former flame while being the father (a decent one, I might add) to two boys, and yes, still living with mother. As he tells his journal, he is frequently constipated and suffers from bad breath and ill penis health.
This was a silly read. I almost gave up on it a few times, especially when it became over the top ridiculous. Case in point, Townsend seemed to be poking fun at the Food Network with the creation of “Ping with Singh,” a cooking show aimed at microwave users. The show becomes popular enough to create a stage adaptation to satisfy the masses. Adrian’s own show “Offally Good” produces a book deal (which his mother ultimately ends up ghost writing, go figure).
The best parts were the current events of the times: Tony Blair’s election, Lady Di’s love affair with Dodi and Bill Clinton’s Monica scandal. The latter got a chuckle out of me.

The one line I laughed at, “‘Your money, Mr Mole, is an abstraction wafting in the air between financial institutions, at the mercy of inflation and interest rates, dependent on the health of the global economy'” (p 151). That, sadly, is banking in a nutshell.

Author fact: Townsend wrote a whole series of Adrian Mole books. I felt a little lost jumping in when Adrian is thirty years old. I imagine it’s like coming in late to a really wild party. Everyone is too drunk to talk to you and you can’t get drunk fast enough to catch up.

Book trivia: The entire story is Adrian’s journal.

Nancy said: Nothing. It is listed as a “Mothers and Sons” book.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Mothers and Sons” (p 160).

Death in the Family

Agee, James. A Death in the Family. Read by Mark Hammer. New York: Recorded Books, 2000.

Agee, James. A Death in the Family. New York: Penguin Classics, 2008.

Reason read: Father’s Day is in June. This is in honor of what the loss of a father can do to a family. Believe me, I know.

This is the autobiographical story of what happens when the anchor of a family dies unexpectedly. Set in 1915.
The language of Death in the Family is lyrical and breathtaking. Three scenes worth mentioning: Father Jay sets out to visit his dying father after receiving a middle-of-the-night call from his alcoholic brother. His father has suffered another heart attack and this time it’s bad. Jay’s wife, Mary, lovingly makes him a huge breakfast before his trip despite the early hour. He in return remakes the bed for her. Their exchanged goodbyes are tenderhearted and endearing. In a flashback, when their son experiences a nightmare, Agee describes these night visions in words that are nothing short of enthralling. But, the best part is when Jay comes in to console his son, Rufus. This last scene is heartbreaking. Via a telephone call, Mary has been told there has been a serious accident involving her husband and “a man” needs to come. She isn’t told anything more than that. Mary and her aunt wait up, agonizing over every little word exchanged during the short phone call. Mary’s worry bleeds from the pages.

Quote I really liked, “Talking to that fool is like trying to put socks on an octopus” (p 167). I think I will use that one day.

As an aside, Agee quotes a limerick, “Fat Man From Bombay” in A Death in the Family but he doesn’t give credit to Edward Lear. The limerick is from Lear’s Book of Nonsense.

Author fact: Agee died before this could be published. Oddly enough, this was autobiographical and there has been controversy over what Agee was and wasn’t planning to publish.

Book trivia: Agee was awarded a Pulitzer for Death in the Family. I can see why.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade by Decade: 1950s” (p 177).


Roth, Philip. Novels and Other Narratives 1986 – 1991. Patrimony: A True Story. New York: Library of America, 2008.

I will admit this was hard to read. For starters it is about the relationship Roth had with his father and the illness that finally took that relationship away. Any story about a father tugs at my heart strings because mine is no longer with me. Secondly, Roth’s father died of a brain tumor. My aunt had a brain tumor and while it isn’t the same kind her life has been changed forever because of it. I grieve for the person she used to be.

Philip Roth delivers a touching tribute to his father. With eloquence,  humor and the utmost respect he shares his father’s illness leading up to his final days. Herman Roth wakes up one morning to a strange paralysis, drooping eyelid, slack cheek and slurred speech, on one side of his face. Thinking he has had a stroke Philip takes his father to see a doctor. The news is worse. Herman has a brain tumor at the base of his skull that has been growing for ten years. What follows is a journey of father and son, navigating medical treatments and traversing the rough road of relationships. The result is a touching memoir of discovery for both father and son. If you have never read anything by Roth, read this.

Line that stopped me dead, “You clean up your father’s shit because it has to be cleaned up, but in the aftermath of cleaning it up, everything that’s there to feel is felt as it never was before” (p689). Wow.

Reason read: Father’s Day is June 16th this year. I am reading Patrimony in honor of the father I lost on September 21, 1992.

Author fact: An interesting website for Roth is here.

Book trivia: In 1992 Roth received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Patrimony: a True Story.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Me, Me, Me: Autobiographies and Memoirs” (p 163).

Duke of Deception

Wolff, Geoffrey. The Duke of Deception: Memories of My Father. New York: Random House, 1979.

June is the month for celebrating fathers. I don’t think celebrating is what Wolff had in mind when he wrote the Duke of Deception. Instead I think the writing was cathartic for him and a way to exorcize demons that have haunted him since childhood. If it possible to have the perfect balance of a love/hate relationship with a family member Wolff accomplished it. Throughout the entire tale Wolff is matter of fact to the point of being downright cold and yet, you can tell he loved and worshiped his father. He just didn’t completely understand him. Geoffrey Wolff is a son who couldn’t wait to be far enough away but was never close enough. Probably the most astounding aspect of “Duke” Wolf was his ability to exploit and swindle people at every chance he got. Lying, cheating, stealing became second nature to him. My mind reeled every time Duke Wolff uprooted his family to dodge a debt.

Author fact: According to Random House, Wolff lives in Bath, Maine. My only connection to Bath is a night at a B&B. Sad to say since I’m a Mainer.

Book Trivia: Geoffrey’s story in only half of the big picture. His brother Tobias wrote the other side in This Boy’s Life (review is here).

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “All in the Family: Writer Dynasties” (p 5).

“House of Blue Light”

Kirby, David. “The House of Blue Light.” The House of Blue Light. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998. pp 26-29.

“The House of Blue Light” reads like a short story. We’re talking really, really short, but a story with characters and a plot all the same. It starts off with dad at the gym. I’m guessing he’s in his 40s, maybe early 50s. He’s watching Little Richard on tv. Inexplicably he gets emotional about the music he hears. I say inexplicably because personally, I cannot understand Little Richard for the life of me. Anyway, when describing the incident to his wife she tells him, “your just emotional because your son is going off to college.” His emotions make him think about other situations where he has broken down and lost his compusure. He imagines a house of blue light where good times are had. A place where all his memories are kept.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Kitchen Sink Poetry” (p 138).