Today is the birthday of Robert M. Pirsig, the author of the philosophical novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. He was born in Minneapolis in 1928.
From 1958 to 1960 he taught English at Montana State College and the University of Illinois, but in 1961 to 1963 he battled mental illness, spending time in mental institutions in Chicago and Minneapolis and undergoing Electro-Convulsive Shock Therapy (1).
In July 1968 Pirsig took a motorcycle trip from Minnesota to San Francisco with his 11-year-old son Chris. It's this trip that forms that basis of the novel's plot. From the very beginning of the novel the philosophical voice of the unnamed narrator captivates the reader:
I can see by my watch, without taking my hand from the left grip of the cycle, that it is eight-thirty in the morning. The wind, even at sixty miles an hour, is warm and humid. When it's this hot and muggy at eight-thirty, I'm wondering what it's going to be like in the afternoon.
In the wind are pungent odors from the marshes by the road. We are in an area of the Central Plains filled with thousands of duck hunting sloughs, heading northwest from Minneapolis toward the Dakotas. This highway is an old concrete two-laner that hasn't had much traffic since a four-laner went in parallel to it several years ago. When we pass a marsh the air suddenly becomes cooler. Then, when we are past, it suddenly warms up again.
I'm happy to be riding back into this country. It is a kind of nowhere, famous for nothing at all and has an appeal because of just that. Tensions disappear along old roads like this. We bump along the beat-up concrete between the cattails and stretches of meadow and then more cattails and marsh grass. Here and there is a stretch of open water and if you look closely you can see wild ducks at the edge of the cattails. And turtles. -- There's a red-winged blackbird.
I whack Chris's knee and point to it.
"What!" he hollers.
He says something I don't hear."What?" I holler back.
He grabs the back of my helmet and hollers up, "I've seen lots of those, Dad!"
"Oh!" I holler back. Then I nod. At age eleven you don't get very impressed with red-winged blackbirds . . . .
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 that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.
Pirsing wrote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in 1968 but it was not published until 1974. In fact, he holds the world's record for rejections: 121 publishing houses rejected the book before William Morrow and Company agreed to publish it. Since its publication, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance has achieved cult status and sold more than 4 million copies.
Here are some other examples of authors who did not let publisher rejections discourage them:
-Richard Bach's book Jonathan Livingston Seagull was rejected by 26 publishers before it was finally accepted. It sold 30 million copies worldwide.
-J.K. Rowling received 14 rejections for her first Harry Potter book.
-Stephen King received more than 30 rejections for his first novel Carrie.
-Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time received over 30 rejections.
Today's Challenge: Authors' Last Laughs
The book titles and authors below all received rejection slips along with uncomplimentary words about their writing. See if you can match up the rejection with the author/title.
Carrie by Stephen King
The Diary of Anne Frank
Catch – 22 by Joseph Heller
Crash by J G Ballard
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Lust for Life by Irving Stone
1. ‘The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help.'
2. ‘The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the “curiosity” level.’
3. ‘ A long, dull novel about an artist.’
4. 'We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.'
5. ‘I haven’t really the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say… Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level … From your long publishing experience you will know that it is less disastrous to turn down a work of genius than to turn down talented mediocrities.’
6. ‘It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.’
1. Crash by J G Ballard
2. The Diary of Anne Frank
3. Lust for Life by Irving Stone
4. Carrie by Stephen King
5. Catch – 22 by Joseph Heller
6. Animal Farm by George Orwell
Quote of the Day: Metaphysics is a restaurant where they give you a thirty thousand page menu, and no food. --Robert Pirsig
1- This Day in History - September 1 - Literary - The History Channel
2 - Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Online version
3- Rotten Rejections