I remember, when I was younger, that Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach was a very popular book and sold millions much in the manner of The Da Vinci Code or Fifty Shades of Grey. It is only a short book and comes with pictures and I have always been aware of it but had never read it so I have taken the opportunity of this year’s reading challenge to obtain and read a copy.
The book is a fable. It tells the story of Jonathan Livingston, a seagull who isn’t like other seagulls. Where they want to eat and stand around on the ground in groups he wants to soar. He practises flying very high and swooping very quickly and soon becomes an outcast from his flock. He then meets another seagull who brings him to a beach where lots of seagulls are doing the same as Jonathan – some are even looping the loop and other aeronautics. Jonathan then has the opportunity to return to his flock and seek out other seagulls who want to live as he does (all male – the only female seagull in the story is his mother). The book contains pictures of seagulls flying, usually shown as silhouettes against the light.
This is obviously a book about spirituality and has a message for the reader. My problem was that I couldn’t quite work out what the message was. I think that the author is trying to say that you should be your own person and stand out from the crowd and explore things for yourself. I think he was trying to tell us not to go along with the expected norms. I could even, with a bit of imagination, see this as a Christian analogy with Jonathan as a Christ figure bringing people to him who wished to live in a different way. I am not sure which of these ideas the author intended or whether he expected us each to take our own message from the book – reading the opinions of others who have read the book has shown me that it is generally liked and that people each take their own message from the story.
This is a very short read (half an hour for me) and I am going to have to admit that I was not impressed. The message, such as it is, is shallow and rather confused – in my opinion. I spent more time marvelling at the fact that seagulls were supposed to be able to fly in loops than I did thinking about what the author intended. I didn’t find the pictures particularly special but, to be fair, image reproduction has come a long way since the 1970s and at the time it was very unusual to have illustrations in adult books.
I am in the minority in my opinion of this book (it wouldn’t be the first time and won’t be the last). I am glad that I have finally read this book but it has done nothing for me and I received no great revelation from the story. It is a book that has meant a lot to people over the years and which is still in print today. In its day it had a huge impact but I am not sure if that would happen if it were newly published today.