Our Reading Lives

Right Book, Right Time: Zen and the Art of Airbnb

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Alison Peters

Staff Writer

Alison Peters surrounds herself with books, green things, animals and love. A Creative Writing M.F.A. holder with a day job that shall not be named, Alison is also working on a Masters in Library and Information Science. Currently cohabitating with her partner in the Northernmost outpost of San Francisco’s East Bay, she spends her spare time exercising her big dog so he won’t get annoyed with her, reading everything she can get her hands on, and then writing about it all. If you’re ever interested in discussing Harry Potter, Alison re-reads the series at least once a year, so drop her a line.

I’m a firm believer in the right book at the right time. Just because everyone’s reading The It Book right now, doesn’t mean it’s the right time for me to read, and enjoy, and really have that great reader experience with it. That’s the goal with each book I read. Falling in love, laughing, recommending it to friends, sharing my reading experience with the world.

On a recent Airbnb escape to Santa Cruz, I experienced the fun of discovering an old book when the time was right for me.

Hopping in my 14 year old, well traveled and much beloved Jeep, me, my wife and the dog drove Highway 1 down the coast from San Francisco, stopping at each beach and roadside farm-fresh market along the way. We arrived that evening at the house, nestled high in the redwoods, and slipped into our room.

It was a book-lover’s dream.

One side of the room was entirely covered in bookshelves, housing the most amazing assortment of fantasy, sci-fi, nature, new-age, and self-help books. (The other wall of the bedroom was stacked with records-actual records, hundreds of them, which was quite awesome too.)

While my wife and the dog napped I toured the bookshelves, happily noting the titles I had in common with our unseen host, making a mental note of books to remember for later. And then I saw it: a book I’d seen around for years but completely ignored: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

I don’t have any honorable reason for ignoring a book that had been Right Book Right Time: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsigplaced in my path for so long. The list includes: I’m not a motorcycle person; I didn’t really get (or want to get) the connection with the Buddhist Zen practice; and frankly, I’d seen the book on the shelves of innumerable friend’s stodgy parents, and just didn’t think it would speak to me.

But my curiosity got the better of me and I picked it up with the intention of just reading a few paragraphs to see what the general tone of the book was like. Several pages in I started to have feelings about this book. Deep, guttural, happy feelings.

See, the story starts out much like my own adventure from that very day: a group sets out to explore America by way of roads less traveled, taking in the sun and air and letting adventure find them. They happen to be on motorcycles, and as they go the narrator (a pretty smug guy who reminds me a lot of a Zen, bizarro Draco Malfoy, if Malfoy had a heart and was even remotely cool) lectures about his firm belief that if you’re going to be a motorcycle person, BE a motorcycle person. Don’t just ride the bike: know the bike, love it, understand it, and when at all possible, attend to its needs.

Here’s where I started to feel a little tingling of unease. I know my Jeep and love her, but fix her I cannot – I leave that to my mechani-capable wife and good old triple-A. But I brushed that thought aside as I continued to ride along with the group, truly feeling zen and happy with my new, old book friend.


Two days later, it’s Monday, I’m back at my nine-to-five driving the Jeep to the used bookstore at lunchtime to pick up my own copy of Zen. What I’d really wanted to do was ‘borrow’ the copy I was reading from my Airbnb host, fully intending to mail it back when I was done…but common sense and my wife dissuaded me from that and, because I’d only got about a third of the way through during our stay, I needed my own copy.

At the bookstore I breezed in, went straight to the zen section (I did mention I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, yes?) found the book, and raced back out to the car, completely beside myself with joy at my find.

Funny thing though: suddenly my Jeep, my stalwart 14 year old, with 250K California miles on her, wouldn’t start. Not after a cooling off period, not after trying a thousand more times-just, nothing. As I called my wife for her troubleshooting expertise, I looked uneasily at the book lying next to me, innocently reminding me that I should really know how to do these things on my own, for my own vehicle.

As I sat in the tow truck, my Jeep now strapped to the back and headed back home, the book kept looking at me.

And when the mechanic told me it was the engine, which would cost more to replace than the car was worth, I wanted to cry at the loss of my old, beloved, trusted friend and the end of our adventures. I had to put the book down for a while.


I went back to and continue reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I’m taking my time, going page by page, really reflecting on the words and their meaning and learning to appreciate the irony of me learning to appreciate how to take care of your vehicle, now that mine is gone.

There’s this famous librarian guy, S. R. Ranganathan, whose Five Laws of Library Science, developed in India in the early 1930s, remains the code of honor that librarians live, and practice, by.

The laws are simple, and thoughtful, and still completely relevant to library practice almost 100 years after Ranganathan first wrote them. But there is one that stands out to me today: Every book its reader.

To me that means that each and every book, no matter how old, obscure or non relevant the subject matter, will have one person who loves it, appreciates it, and needs it. It means finding that book, the right one for you, at the right time.

Zen is about much more than a guy and his bike. Subtitled, “An Inquiry into Values,” it’s about family and friends and exploring the depths of your relationships. It’s about being open to your surroundings, finding peace in the present moment, and yes, it’s about finding yourself.

I found Zen right when I needed a lesson in humility, in patience, in learning to understand and appreciate the things in my life. I found it while on my own journey and it made me appreciate even more the wonders of open road, the kindness of Airbnb strangers, and our shared love of good books.

And a good, working car.