Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
This book is a tour-de-force. It is about the author and his son’s journey on a motorcycle across America, along with a couple of his friends. The book starts off with a philosophical take on why a motorcycle journey is better than a car as you feel immersed in the experience and do not witness the world from a third person POV through a window. The author touches upon various philosophical debates and ideas throughout the book, including the brilliant debate between Kant and Hume on how we perceive the world and the way he introduces the reader to it is nothing short of literary brilliance. Not sure about others, but for me a continuous reading of 40-50 pages of this book gave me a head-ache as the information and ideas were hard to process in one go, but you cherish that head-ache as you feel a couple of creases are being added to the grey blob siting comfortable in your cranium.
Man’s Search for Meaning
Man’s search for meaning is, as the name suggests, the author’s search for meaning in a world which rips us apart of all hope and desires and wants us to be a cog in the wheel. The author talks about his time at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp during the second World War. He mentions how he finds hope and love which allows him to seek meaning and purpose in an environment where if you stop seeking them you become a number and not a name, losing your humanity and your life in the end. It is a book dealing with existential philosophy, but not in a dilemmatic sense but in a purposeful one. The author’s worsening situation at the camp and positivity during it, forces us to philosophically delve into our lives and think of bitter experiences as a test to our attitude and the will to value our mere existence and not the human constructs with which we all so dearly choose to define ourselves.
Siddhartha is one of the simplest and beautifully light books to read. There’s a pleasant feeling the breeze, through lucidity in the book provides to the reader. Hesse tries to question not only the meaning of our lives but the institutions which we hold dear. Written in third person, the protagonist in the book is a seeker of truth. He meets Buddha early on in the book but rejects his teaching as he believes truth and wisdom have to earned and cannot be taught. He goes through his life, immersed in hedonistic pleasure as well as saintly detachment, and realizes life is ‘the’ truth one seeks. Truth is not an abstraction but an understanding of ourselves through the experiences we subject ourselves to; a transient entity and not a stage.
I was confused between Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged or Love and Capital by Mary Gabriel (Karl and Jenny Marx’s biography) to introduce the debate of Communism v. Capitalism through good literature, but then Orwell came into my mind. 1984 is a cult classic and a critique on not communism per se but communist governments which Orwell witnessed during his time in Burma. Unlike Rand, he does not dismiss the ideology per se and goes on a narrative rant about it but he chooses to portray a picture of what happens when human nature (which we have cultivated over many a millennia) is equipped with communist ideas. Written in third person, it is about a dystopian world where our protagonist, Winston Smith, questions the authority of the State and is forcibly brainwashed into near lunacy. The book, besides, touching upon the aspect of human desire for love, emotions and curiosity in a political sense, also criticizes both communist desires mashed into a communitarian society. What makes this book even brilliant is the appendix to it, where we get the hint that the authoritarian Big Brother was finally defeated as the State was not able to subvert human thought by limiting human language into a few syllables and words. Animal Farm, if one chooses to read it additionally, further talks about authority and communism but in a rather playful and Aesop-ic manner and has some additional layers to it, different from 1984. A follow up reading on Socialism, Marxism will get you perfectly equipped for a philosophical debate.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The most well written book among the ones a part of this list, Oscar Wilde simply enthralls you with his ideas and critique of the English Society during the Victorian Era. The book, when originally published, received scathing remarks from British Book reviewers that it offended public morality in Britain. Ironically, that was the best compliment Wilde received for his book. The protagonist Dorian Gray, gets his picture painted by a prominent artist, but mysteriously, the picture starts aging instead of Gray, keeping his handsome face and beauty intact. The protagonist is highly influenced by Lord Henry Wotton, who is a hedonist. The Picture of Dorian Gray is a scathing critique of hedonistic philosophy, famously propounded by people’s dear philosopher Jeremy Bentham, further supported by J.S. Mill in his book ‘On Utilitarianism’, which not only the English Society but also the government had adopted. How our want to seek the idea of beauty entraps us in a conundrum where we do not appreciate the decay so natural to nature around us and within us ourselves, is the basic premise of the book. Unbeknownst to many of us, most of the common law countries have a root of their laws in this philosophy and their systemic failures can then be seen through the prism of Oscar Wilde’s philosophy which he so beautifully imparts to us in this book. A reading of this book makes you question a lot of societal constructs which we so often take for granted and also makes you aware of the inherently hypocritical ideas which we unknowingly are so proud of.