A couple weeks ago, I finally crossed a task off my to-do list that goes back half a decade and more failed attempts than I can count on one hand: I finally finished reading all of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Zen is, without a doubt, the most frustrating book I’ve ever read. It’s frustrating because the first couple chapters feel as if the book was written specifically for me. Every word that is written connects with me on some level. I love the travel story, the father and son tale, the technical aspects that are specific to wrenching on a motorcycle, and the deeper ruminations of what it means to maintain something and the role that technology plays in our lives.

Throughout the multiple attempts at reading this book, I’ve flagged or highlighted the following sentences (which you’ll note, with just one exception, are all within the first 50 pages of the book):

“You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through the car window everything you see is just more TV.” (pg 12)

“Plans are deliberately indefinite, more to travel than to arrive anywhere.” (pg 12)

“It seems natural and normal to me to make use of the small tool kits and instruction booklets supplied with each machine, and keep it tuned and adjusted myself. “ (pg 18)

“When you want to hurry something, that means you no longer care about about it and want to get on to other things.” (pg 35)

“That is impractical, but practicality isn’t the whole thing with gloves or with anything else.” (pg 49)

“Each machine has its own unique personality which probably could be defined as the intuitive sum total of everything you know and feel about it.” (pg 50)

“Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive.” (pg 119)

These, I believe, illustrative the kind of book I wanted to read. One with little quips about the nature of keeping things running, of taking care of equipment, of being a custodian. And along the way, collecting pearls of wisdom about seeing the world, living deliberately, and taking the slow path.

In the real world, I am kind of obsessed with maintenance. I experience the zen of maintenance nearly every day. Nothing brings me more pleasure than fixing something that’s broken, or performing little tasks to make things work better or last longer. I am proud of the things I own and the things I have made, and show that appreciation by tending to their care. I had hoped to find a kindred spirit here with the author. And it started out so strong!

Unfortunately, at this point in the book, the author manages to crawl up his own ass so far that the text becomes unreadable. It’s a miserable, tedious slog in which the author spends his time talking about how brilliant he is (or at least, an older version of himself before he drove himself to a mental breakdown) for coming up with a grand theory of “quality”, and how everything relates to quality. He tells of how he taught this in school, tirelessly recounts arguments and discussions he’s had about it with former students, and beats you over the head with it without actually saying anything substantive.

Every sentence he writes is trying to make you think he’s a genius. Nobody will ever be as impressed at his intelligence as much as he is. Each sentence, each chapter, grows more frustrating to read. In between these rambling bursts, you get treated to anecdotes of him being a really grumpy, awful father.

Then, out of nowhere, Chapter 26 happens. And what a lovely, glorious chapter it is. Here, the author takes a break from talking about quality and focuses on a new word: gumption. Only this time, I think he really does have some interesting things to say about gumption. What it is. Why it’s necessary. Ways to increase it. Things that can cause it to dwindle. Real, practical advice, and often wrapped around various maintenance-related concepts.

Chapter 26 is frustrating because it’s so good. This is the book I wanted to read! I wanted all 400 pages to be like this! I know this type of content is available, and within the author’s capabilities, and now more than ever I’m convinced the author is deliberating trying to torture me. What a tease!

As quickly as Chapter 26 arrives, it’s gone. Back to talking about quality. Back to trying to sound smarter than everyone else in the room. Back to referencing the greeks and debating himself over various schools of thought. It’s so tiring.

In the end, I’m glad I finally finished it. Some might argue it was a waste of time, or that it’s best not to force yourself to continue reading something if you’re not enjoying it. I do generally agree with that; life’s short. But for me, this was a personal struggle that had bested me for the better part of a decade. If nothing else, I proved something about myself. I’m a little older, a little wiser, and more determined than ever.