While I often write about Zen and Buddhism in this blog, I have never suggested a “where to begin” book. There are a lot of reasons for this, but that’s for another time.
(For those who might be interested, a leading Buddhist publication did a survey of where its readers did get started, and the overwhelming first book was Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, pretty clearly the most popular book on Zen in English. It is also where I got started.)
A Zen Harvest: Japanese Folk Zen Sayings (1988), compiled and translated by Soiku Shigematsu, is something different and special. (His first book, A Zen Forest: Sayings of the Masters (1981), is sadly out of print, but you can find a PDF if you go fishing in the Web sea.)
Shigematsu does a lovely job of explaining the text in his excellent Introduction. I actually suggest you not read the Introduction, at least not at first. Robert Aitken Roshi (author of another popular introduction to Zen) offers an appreciative Foreword. You can initially skip that too.
Instead, just browse anywhere in this collection of nearly 800 poem-like sayings. Anywhere. Don’t think of these as Zen. Don’t even think of these as poems. Don’t care about who said it or wrote it.
I am not even going to offer a sample saying, because it would not do the collection justice. Just get it and read in it, a few seconds at a time. You may or may not learn or find out anything about yourself, your life, other people’s lives, the world, the universe, or Zen. Does that really matter?