Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is about a seagull named Jonathan Livingston Seagull. It is also full-length feature film, and an accompanying soundtrack by Neil Diamond (no joke). It took me all of 30 minutes to read, and I almost feel bad counting it, but, hey, it looks like a book, it quacks like a book, and I need to catch up.
He was alive, trembling ever so slightly with delight, proud that his fear was under control. Then without ceremony he hugged in his forewings, extended his short, angled wingtips, and plunged directly into the sea. By the time he passed four thousand feet he had reached terminal velocity, the wind was a solid bleating wall of sound against which he could move no faster. He was flying now straight down, at two hundred fourteen miles per hour. He swallowed, knowing that if his wings unfolded at that speed he'd be blown into a million tiny shreds of seagull. But the speed was power, and the speed was joy, and the speed was pure beauty.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull decides that he wants more out of life than eating and fighting for food scraps. He devotes all of his time to mastering the art of flying, so much that he's cast out of The Flock. He spends his entire life perfecting every element of flying just for the joy of it, then dies, only to find that his devotion in life to a higher calling earned him a place in the next world, full of its own challenges to be conquered. Ultimately, he realizes that his true place is helping others out of their trapped mindsets in The Flock, and becomes a sort of seagull messiah, leading other seagulls (like Fletcher Lynd Seagull, Henry Calvin Seagull, and William Martin Seagull) from ignorance into light.

In case you can't tell, this is a seagull-themed self-help book. It has some great sentiments, but they can all really just be boiled down to "be true to yourself." This book bothered me for the same reason that Ishmael bothered me. Daniel Quinn and Richard Bach both came up with a semi-philosophical treatise, and instead of publishing it outright, they drape it in some unnecessary anthropomorphic animal story, which is borderline patronizing. Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a more inventive character, and a fuller one, than Ishmael, whose explanation of how he came to be able to communicate telepathically was "I can't recall, but let me tell you about some hunter-gatherers." I think Quinn did it because his premise is completely impractical and impossible and smells a bit like eugenics. Bach probably needed a seagull because his self-help goes from warm and obvious to just plain silly. Here's his plan as told through Jonathan Livingston: do what you love most (yeah), ignore your limitations (got it), pass on to the next world and master teleportation and time travel (wait, what).

I know a lot of people love this book, so if you think I got it wrong you should just take the 20 minutes to read it. Seriously, this thing is the size of a postcard, has two inch margins, huge font, and pictures of seagulls every two pages. Still, hard to hate a book full of pictures of seagulls, lovable scamps.

8 comments:

Padfoot and Prongs - Good Books Inc. said...

Wrote a review about this one a bit back. Yea it basically was philosophy disguised by some feathers, but I am pretty sure Bach has put out some non-fiction basically saying the same thing. I could be wrong but I just assume this is like 'philosophy for dummies-in the form of birds'.

Nathan said...

Ha! I'd say that's a fair summary.

Nihil Novum said...

Nathan, this review was hilarious. Now, convince me I should read On the Road.

Christopher said...

This book is twice as long and four times as rewarding as this book.




FOUR

Carlton Farmer said...

Nice review, Nathan. Made me laugh.
But somehow, I come away kind of wanting to read this book.

Nathan said...

You should read On the Road because I thought it was AWESOME when I was 17.

Nihil Novum said...

Well, I'm sold on it.

Christopher said...

*This review