Never mind the Quality, feel the width

I finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance last week, just fifteen years after I’d first started it and five months since I lugged it from Brooklyn to Bangkok. I have finally earned my backpacker stripes.

It’s somewhat embarrassing to be caught with that battered purple cover at 30, but nevertheless I enjoyed it. I like people who think before they speak, who make things, who care about elegant solutions, though I have none of these characteristics myself. That’s why I’ve always sought the company of engineers, to the point of finagling a career in software despite being academically qualified only to parse medieval Spanish poetry.

When I tried to trade my Zen, the Tam Tam Caf&eacute stood in my way. ‘One for one, same or better quality’ said the notice explaining their book exchange policy. I wanted a Rick Moody, which was in better shape, so I offered a Stendhal as well. No, said the woman at the desk. She held up the Rick Moody.

    ‘We only trade one for one. And have to be same size. This book is more big than your book.’ She showed me that neither of my books was as tall or as thick as hers.
    ‘But I want give you two books in exchange! And mine are in good condition.’
She was adamant. ‘No. Have to be one book, same-same size of big.’

Dammit, Pirsig was right. Nobody understands Quality.

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