As we all start a new year with new resolutions that we may or may not have already broken, I got to thinking about books I've read in the past that have inspired me to change or at least attempt change. I've never read any books that are specifically classified as "self-help", but I've been inspired by characters in some of my favourite novels. Whether it's Yossarian escaping from the absurdity of the army by attempting to float home on a rubber raft in the end of Catch-22 or Josef Kavalier jumping off of the Empire state building in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, I'm always impressed when characters take bold risks and buck the system.
Some non-fiction titles have also helped make sense of the world around me and provide clarity on subjects I was unfamiliar with. All of Malcolm Gladwell's books have been incredibly informative and uplifting in their directness. (It also helps to know that I can master anything with 10 000 hours of practice.) Freakanomics showed me that applying some economic principles to things outside of their general usage, can lead to some wonderful and enlightening results.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was first published in 1974 and it tells the story of a middle aged man travelling by motorcycle with his son Chris and some friends from Minnesota to California. The story starts off like a travelogue, with the main character musing about the joys of travelling by motorcycle and how important it is to appreciate your natural surroundings. It's no surprise that the main character brings a copy of Walden with him on his trip. At first glance it appears as if Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance will simply talk on and on about returning to a simpler time and how we're merely slaves to our go go lifestyle, but Pirsig has a lot more to say. Eventually, the main character starts to have some mechanical problems and he's forced to do some work on his bike. Based on his work on the motorcycle, the author puts forth a philosophy for better living based on his definition of "quality". According to Pirsig, a thoughtful and methodical approach to the work you do can result in a greater sense of ownership and accomplishment. This idea doesn't only apply to mechanical work but all work we take the time to do well.
Some critics have referred to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as being hokey and slightly dated but to me it has never felt more timely. We all strive to find meaning in our jobs and this can be especially difficult if your current career doesn't have any visible results at the end of each day. So if you're looking for a deeper read this new year, you should pick up a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.