Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the RainGarth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain isn’t at all my usual kind of book being a family-drama oriented contemplative contemporary, but I do adore dogs and I was oddly in the mood for something deep. Besides, doesn’t Enzo look so cute on the cover?

Enzo isn’t your average dog – self-educated by watching television while his human Denny Swift is at work, he considers himself to be a philosopher and an insightful observer of the human condition albeit with a slight obsession with opposable thumbs. As death comes for him and he yearns to be reincarnated as a human, Enzo muses on his life with up-and-coming race car driver Denny, who has taught him so much about family, love, loyalty, and racing in the rain.

You’ll be glad of those opposable thumbs when you’re reaching for the Kleenex! This book manages to be both sharply perceptive and casually moving. You would think it’s weird being in the head of a dog, but Enzo comes across as relatably human-like while still possessing the loveable dog-like qualities. He can go from musing about reincarnation to playing fetch in the turn of a page.

As for his best friend, I wasn’t sure I liked Denny at first – having lived in Daytona Beach has turned me off of Nascar and I couldn’t fathom his and Enzo’s enthusiasm for the sport or enjoy the endless discussion of racing. But he is sincerely a good man trying to make the best life he could for his family, and I sympathized with him because of his bravery and perseverance despite all he endured. Thankfully after much devastation, the ending was feel-good and satisfying, with happiness found for both Denny and Enzo.

All in all, a beautifully-written, original work that reminded me of Where the Red Fern Grows and Homeward Bound.

4 Stars

Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainence

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into ValuesForgive me, y’all. I’ve been struggling through Robert M. Pirsig’s seminal philosophical “inquiry into values” Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance but this is going to be a crappy review because it was quite the endeavor.

One of my managers has been commending this book to me for the two years we’ve worked together so I thought it might be time to give it a shot. The basic premise is that a man is taking a cross-country road trip with his adolescent son and a married couple that he is friends with. Along the way, he philosophizes about life, often through analogies about motorcycles as he rides one and argues with his friend about its upkeep, seeing attitudes about self- versus external hired maintenance as parallels to personal mindsets.

This is a looooong trip in someone else’s brain. Think of the most painfully boring and meandering car ride you’ve taken, say on your way to a dreaded family occasion, when you have a pounding headache and need to pee but are trapped in traffic – this book is arguably more difficult. Hands down one of the hardest things I’ve had to plow through, maybe in my entire life.

It’s not that the philosophy doesn’t make some intelligent points. Pirsig discusses the disconnect between artistry and technology in relevant and meaningful ways for today’s societal experience. And I can see how Quality is a key concern for both that may bind them together from their current positions at opposite ends of the spectrum. But the conceit of an unreliable, questionably insane narrator almost drove me nuts myself, even before I realized that it’s semi-autobiographical and Pirsig wrote it after enduring electroshock therapy and being released from an asylum himself.

Um what?! Now I’m definitely toeing the line between genius (not to go that far) and insanity and it only proves my point that philosophy is the reserve of raving lunatics and rambling self-aggrandizers (I may be somewhat biased here based on Saturdays of my unfortunate youth wasted in philosophy classes and the jerks I knew who were philosophy majors in college).

There were a few quotes I liked (apologies for lack of page number citations but I forgot to bookmark them as I read):

“Is it hard?’
‘Not if you have the right attitudes. Its having the right attitudes thats hard.”

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

“We’re in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it’s all gone. ”

Nevertheless, in spite of these grains among the chaff, I barely got through this one. I freely admit to skimming parts just to finish this century. Those readers who enjoy philosophical discussions or spiritual examinations may enjoy this, but it was even less for me than I anticipated.

2 Stars