One of several books about Zen which I read before actually experiencing Zen meditation, this book stands out as one of the best in communicating the stops, starts, mistakes and rewards of a spiritual quest. The author begins as a secular Jew whose father was a spiritual seeker and who constantly exposed the family to new gurus during the mid-20th Century -- often to comical effect. Eventually the author decides to give Zen Buddhism the old college try, and his experiences are funny, insightful as he gives a fair picture of studying with several different teachers. After he develops a friendship with one teacher in Greenwich Vilage, the author relates many conversations in which the Zen master, with humor and equanimity, tries to untangle his student's anxieties and delusions.
Once I actually began practicing Zen meditation, I felt this book, more than most others, provided a well-balanaced picture of what it's really like to approach and try to practice Zen.
Ambivalent Zen starts slow and goes slower. It took two attempts to get through it. All the Zen masters in the book have feet of clay. Shainberg struggles for the entire three hundred pages and so did I. If you are looking for a book about Zen this saga is not what you are looking for.