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Perfect Vehicle [Paperback]

Melissa Holbrook Pierson
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
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Product Description

From Amazon

"From my mother I learned to write prompt thank-you notes for a variety of occasions," Melissa Holbrook Pierson writes. "From Mrs. King's ballroom dancing school I learned a proper curtsy and, believe it or not, what to do if presented with nine eating utensils at the same place setting.... From motorcycles I learned practically everything else." Pierson, an intellectual New Yorker, is open to her own contradictions--she is bold and fearful, a motorcycle-crazed poet with a Ph.D., and these seeming incompatibilities are what make this book so good. She can write equally well about the visceral pleasures of riding and about the pains of heartbreak or her own displeasure with her fears.

This is the motorcycle memoir for those who are sick of memoirs--or motorcycles. It is a book for people who don't know what the big deal is about riding, or why the Guggenheim Museum in New York, in a swirl of controversy, would exhibit motorcycles as works of modern art. "Riding on a motorcycle can make you feel joyous, powerful, peaceful, frightened, vulnerable, and back out to happy again," Pierson writes, "perhaps in the same ten miles. It is life compressed, its own answer to the question, 'Why?'" --Maria Dolan

From Booklist

It's too bad that people with little interest in motorcycles will generally not be the ones picking up this book to read. Although motorcycle diehards will find their convictions confirmed here, motorcycle know-nothings perhaps could benefit the most from its unabashed pages, gaining the inspiration to try their hand at motorcycling down the open road. The author's 10-year love affair with motorcycles informs this extended homage to the thrills and chills of this exciting vehicle. Only 7 million Americans ride, Pierson cites; but they are a dedicated few, who seek no greater pleasure than being ensconced on a motorcycle, head down, wind roaring in their ears, "the road, constantly turning, constantly offer[ing] up the possibility of something unexpected around the bend." The author appreciates its dangers, but she hopes her reader appreciates the feeling of freedom that time spent on a motorcycle can provide. Discussions of motorcycle history and racing round out this buoyant book. Brad Hooper --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

An entertaining vade mecum for the aspiring Dennis Hopper, Evel Knievel, or Malcolm Forbes of the family. Magazine journalist Pierson sets out to explore the motorcycle mystique, her account ranging from peeks at by now tired icons like the Marlon Brando of The Wild Ones to fresher elements like the nascent French biker culture. (The French, of course, have an elaborate classification system to distinguish true bikers from les sportifs, the sham articles.) She calls the fixation with bikes ``motolust,'' and she admits to being a victim herself, one of the growing number of women who reject the phallic-substitute imagery long associated with ``chicks on bikes'' for what is, all in all, a fun ride in the open air. Pierson takes the reader on wild spins, hitting cross-country races and motocross tournaments up and down the East coast, cataloging the thrills and, especially, the manifold dangers that await, all the little things that can quickly send a biker to the grave: ``wet leaves, gravel, sand, decreasing-radius turns, painted lines, tar patches liquefying in the sun, antifreeze, oil deposits at gas stations or toll booths, metal plates and manhole covers made deadly by rain . . .'' Pierson is often funny, frequently deep, occasionally sharp-edged, and almost always right on the money. She is also fully aware of her minority status within a minority culture--as she notes, only 7 million Americans ride motorcycles, as against 20 million who call themselves bird-watchers--and she does her best to convey the spirit of motorcycling to the countless uninitiated. You don't have to be a two-wheel devotee to appreciate Pierson's work, but it probably helps. Still, even if you don't much care for motorcycles--or your mother wouldn't let you ride one--this engaging treatise (part of which appeared in Harper's) is worth a look. (photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


The Perfect Vehicle uses motorcycles as a lens for examining risk, freedom, and most surprisingly, relationships between men and women. . . . Pierson comes through brilliantly, crafting her sentences with precision and a sure ear. (Ann Marlowe, Village Voice) REVIEW" As Pierson tells us why she loves riding, many who share her passion will often feel themselves nodding, saying, 'Yeah, she caught it.' -- Andy Solomon, Chicago Tribune

This book, a polished, winding meditation on the theory and fractiousness of motorcycles, celebrates both their eccentric history and the wary pleasures of touring. -- The New Yorker

This is an exceptionally sensitive and intelligent book. -- Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

About the Author

Melissa Pierson lives in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Vogue, Entertainment Weekly, and Rider.
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