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Review of Jonathan Livingston Seagull

This was the second book of my first 52 books challenge. I would probably be less charitable if I reviewed it today...

Originally posted in two parts on February 1-2, 2004:

Entry 1:

Author: Richard Bach
Photographs: Russell Munson
Published: 1970
Where got: charity shop

This week's book is short and should make for a quick, easy read - a good thing considering that I'm swamped with school work. I've read it before, when I was a teenager, in an Icelandic translation and can remember nearly nothing about it except it took me less than an hour to read (I expect it will take a bit longer this time). I also saw the film some years ago and all I remember of that is music, pictures of soaring seagulls and a voice telling the story. This books seems to be a great favourite among New Agers and other sorts of spiritually inclined people, like religious groups, none of whom seem to interpret it in the same way. It will be interesting to see what my own impressions will be.

Entry 2:

Joyce it isn't. The language of the story is simple, so simple that young children and semi-advanced learners of English as a second language can understand nearly every word. Some of the flying terms might cause a bit of confusion to some, but they are not that important to the story. It's a quick read - I estimate that it took me less than 30 minutes to read it, sitting on the bus on the way to and from school.

The story is, narratively speaking, a very straightforward parable about a person who happens to be a seagull and who is cast out of his social group/flock for daring to be different and thinking more about flying than food. So far I can relate, having myself experienced very nearly the same thing. Then part 1 ends and the story gets spiritual, even religious. Jonathan transcends his mortal existence, enters another plane of existence where he meets others even more advanced in flight than himself, and perfects his art. He becomes some kind of heavenly gull who returns to the flock to teach others what he has learned about the pursuit of perfection through flight.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull could almost be taken as a model for how to write uplifting and spiritual texts. The language is ethereal, soothing and gentle and the story is very simple and yet vague enough that it can be taken to be an allegory for a hundred different things, which is probably a contributing factor in its popularity.
Personally, I think it's harmless enough, but I really can't understand what all the fuss is about.

Rating: A misunderstood children's book that you will either love or detest. 2 stars (out of 5)


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