I just read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for the first time in more than a decade. I confess to some amount of trepidation: I used to really like the book, and I was afraid it hadn’t aged well.

In fact, the book continues to be awesome. Most novels could not pull off extended expositions/meditations on philosophy or aesthetics; no problem here. Not so much Zen in the book (at least not overtly; I will have to think about how much is there covertly, but I’m not convinced there’s much covert Zen, either), but that’s okay: there are lots of (relatively) popular books touching on Zen out there, but not so many delving into, say, sophists. And the use of motorcycle maintenance is well done. (Not that I know anything about motorcycle maintenance, but I did at least do a fair amount of bike maintenance when I was in high school.)

I’d completely forgotten the “grades are bad” theme from the book. That is an idea that has been embedded into my brain for quite some time now; I’d assumed I’d gotten it from Alfie Kohn (reinforced, of course, by John Holt, but I read him later), but it’s here in all of its glory.

The initial discussions of Quality reminded me of Christopher Alexander on Life, but they developed rather differently. Honestly, Alexander’s idea of Life seems rather more productive than Phaedrus’s idea of Quality, but that’s okay: that’s only one of the many strands that makes up the book, and the strength of the book in no way depends on our agreement with Phaedrus on particulars of philosophy.

I suppose I should read Lila next. I don’t have high hopes for that one: I didn’t like it when it came out, and it seems unlikely that my feeling will have changed in the interim. Still, it deserves one more shot before I give away my copy.

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