Sunday, 31 January 2010

Book Review: Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach (1970)


A young seagull refuses to conform to his family's traditions and insists on teaching himself to learn flying higher and faster. His skill and experience expose him to a spiritual world where time and space start to become less relevant, and where thought and intent are supreme. He returns as a teacher and mentor to other young seagulls striving for higher achievement.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull walks a tightrope between being a spiritually uplifting experience and a joke. If it strikes the right emotional chord with the reader, it may register as a life-changing experience. And if it doesn't, it becomes laughable.

Seagull is also a landmark that helped define a specific era. The tiny novella of 91 pages, about half of them photos, certainly struck the right note with the generation emerging from the turbulent 60's and wondering what else was out there. The story of reaching for something more, finding spiritual growth, and achieving beyond the ordinary, became a touchstone for maturing hippies who had turned away from the old institutions and were looking for alternatives.

From the modern perspective, Jonathan Livingston Seagull is just simplistic -- it hasn't aged well. Those who believe that the birds and the bees are a good starting point for a discussion about sexuality may find value in a seagull metaphor as a starting point for a discussion about spirituality. Younger readers will immediately cry foul because The Little Engine That Could is being ripped off.

For most others reader, Jonathan Livingston Seagull comes across as a witless and fairly useless exercise, lacking in any literary merits. It succeeds only in exaggerating the naivete of a long gone era.

91 pages.
Published in paperback by Scribner.






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