Two Books- Zen and Ocean- While in Central America

Ambitious was I, on my adventure in Central America, to finish two books, I did decide. If past performance could predict future results then my NYC and New England trips would indicate that I would fail at finishing either of the two books I chose to take to Central america. In my defense, I was on track to finish the book I took with me to the East Coast, however, I ended up getting a cold while camping and that threw everything off.

Therefore, my NYC trip was not a good bell weather for Central America, well…maybe. I didn’t take into account the fact that I would be traveling with some pretty awesome delegates from around the United States, or that I would be meeting some awesome folks who had amazing thought provoking and engaging conversations. I hardly had time to reflect on the traveling and learning let alone pick up The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert Pirsig.

I chose both of these books off of my 2015 Reading List. I also chose them because i felt both of the books were wildly different then the experience I would be having in Central America. Pirsig, well I hadn’t really figured out what his book was about except that it was lauded as a life changing must read book. My inkling was that a motorcycle is a pretty straightforward piece of machinery, therefore a book discussing the value of life through the maintenance of a motorcycle was not going to be all that heavy. However, that is not the case. Pirsig was what I initially started reading, with his discussion on classical and romantic philosophy along with this bombshell of a revelation that he was on this motorcycle trip with his son after the doctors had suggested his son had a psychological problem, i had to step away. As the book turned  dark and heavy and philosophical, traveling in Central America also began to take its own toll. I switched over to Ocean in the hopes of a reprieve.

Gaimans’ novel was a short fiction and it is by far way better then American Gods, though the two really can’t be compared. Ocean is a piece of work that fits into the coming of age genre of reading, in fact, I was surprised it was an Adult fiction and not a young adult fiction genre given that it deals with this transition from childhood to adulthood, from the magical to the rational, from reverence to disgust. American Gods is a critique on social constructs, in particular, our beliefs and faith and religion as much as it about a man finding his inner soul and redeeming himself.

“Childhood memories are sometimes covered and obscured beneath the things that come later, like childhood toys forgotten at the bottom of a crammed adult closet,” Neil Gaiman writes in his fantastical, if not whimsical novel about a child’s struggle to accept whether there is truly an ocean at the end of the lane, or just a mere pond. With that I began a journey to my own childhood memories while I was journeying through Central America.

There were similarities between me and the narrator recollecting his childhood- the boy was a reader and took consolation in book, he lived his life through those books but with a degree of comfort; the boy had a relationship with his parents that drastically changed; and, like the narrator as a man, his childhood memories seem murky. While traveling I experienced a set of challenges that required me to step away, yet Ocean was stepping into a set of other challenges that I was not fully prepared to deal with.

Childhood memories to me are a difficult thing, like High School, childhood memories are things I am happy not to recollect. To that end I am able to relate to the adult narrator too because he admits to not being able to recollect things from his childhood; to be confused by what he saw and experienced. That makes it easy to accept his recollections of his childhood and not question the illogical or irrational world that Gaiman weaves, but at the same time it brings to question the idea of what makes our memories reliable.

Reading Gaiman is not an exercise in logic or rational thinking, that is better left to Pirsig; however, I do have to question some of his plot structure that leaves holes, like the reason why the Hempstocks, who witnessed the big bang, men go off and never seem to find their way back. There has to be some sort of tying up the plot line on things like this that are brought up by Gaiman, or else its just a bare thread left to let a curious cat unravel a well woven tapestry.

Regardless the shortcomings, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a wonderful short fiction that I found challenging to read on a personal level, but filled with brilliance on a literary level. I said it before, I liked Ocean far more then American Gods, Gaimans more popular and critically acclaimed book. As for the Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance, by Prisig, I am still working on finishing it up and will let you know how it goes.

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