Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Richard Bach is one of the few authors whose works continue to stand the test of time, with his classic Jonathan Livingston Seagull still being as current as back when it was written. A tale of inspiration, it follows the titular seagull as he learns the art of flight and finds his own way through life, despite his peers’ lack of approval.
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Richard Bach Weaves a Timeless Story
Books come in all shapes and sizes, and more often than not they grow proportionally to how much their authors have to say and share with the world. There are, however, outliers such as Richard Bach‘s Jonathan Livingston Seagull, where an immense world of ideas is communicated through a very short and concise story.
While the book itself can easily be finished in a single session (a summary of Johnathan Livingston Seagull should take less than half an hour of your time), it is nevertheless recognized around the world as being one of the more unique and inspiring works of writing ever published, and has continued to have a profound effect on its readers ever since its publication decades ago.
The story, in and of itself, is a very simple one. The eponymous Jonathan Livingston is a seagull who always knew he wasn’t like the others. While his comrades spend their days looking for scraps of bread, he longs for nothing more than to learn the secrets of flight.
He tries his best to fit in with his community, but soon realizes he has his own path to follow, despite what his friends and parents might think of his senseless obsession. Leaving behind the limited world of momentary and cyclical comfort, Jonathan sets out into the wide world on his lonesome in hope of perfecting his craft and attaining greater knowledge about the world around him.
The journey leads him to make many interesting acquaintances, as well as life lessons which he could have never dreamt up in the first place. There is so much more to the world than he could have ever predicted, and what’s more, he might not be alone in his desire to find meaning beyond the temporary pleasures of an Earthly existence.
Jonathan sighed. The price of being misunderstood, he thought. They call you devil or they call you god.― Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull
The Beauty of Simplicity in Jonathan Livingston Seagull
To begin with, the short length of the novel and the simplicity of the language used should not be deterrents to anyone; I feel like Richard Bach manages to say more in a few lines than many writers can throughout multiple books. The words are all carefully chosen to be simple, concise, and loaded with the correct meaning. There is quite literally no fat to be found in this novel, with every single sentence playing an essential role in putting together a big picture. The lack of any superfluous elements is immensely refreshing in today’s literary atmosphere.
In my opinion, the prose itself is reason enough to give this short story a chance, if only to witness an example of what perfection looks like in literary form, if capturing it is indeed even possible. If modern writers could take example from him, I have the feeling many popular series would be reduced to a few pages in length.
Consequently, the story ends up feeling like it moves quite rapidly, and looking at it solely in terms of how entertaining it is, I would qualify it as simply surprising. Richard Bach reveals more about seagulls and their concept of flight than I could have possibly divined, and there is a constant interest in Jonathan and what new heights of knowledge he might reach next. There wasn’t a single moment where I felt the story being slowed down, nor were there any segments which seemed less interesting to me than others. What’s more, the level of the language used in the novel doesn’t stop the author from discussing some complex ideas and drawing some revealing metaphors.
Overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now.― Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull
The Personal Journey
Despite the story being so short and the plot relatively simple, this is the type of book where every reader will get something different out of it, largely depending on their past experiences and what stage of life they find themselves at. As a matter of fact, it can even be read as a simple fairy tale about a seagull, though I would naturally advise against adopting this viewpoint for the loss of meaning it would incur. It is a story which can be read by kids, but it’s far from being a children’s book.
For me, the story is about not being afraid of following one’s own path towards the acquisition of knowledge and the perfection of one’s craft, even if the people you’re surrounded by try to dissuade you with the reasoning we ought to stay within the confines of our limitations… especially, if they try to dissuade you. However, I already know I am bound to return to the book at some point, and what meaning I’ll extract from it then is anyone’s guess. If there ever was a story which benefited from multiple readings at different points in life, I would say it’s doubtlessly this bestseller of the 70s which managed to transcend generations.
Jonathan Livingston isn’t just a seagull, in the end, but a manifestation of the curious explorer dwelling in us all, the thirst for knowledge which made us turn away from the shadows in the cave towards the rest of the world. We all have a Jonathan Livingston in us, but for many he is dormant, and it’s simply a matter of waking him up again.
|96||Scribner||Sept. 1 1970||978-0684846842|
The Final Verdict
Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach is, in my opinion, one of the more important works of literature in recent memory, sharing ideas pertinent to mankind at large, and inspiring many to travel their own paths of discovery. While generally I try to think about what kind of person would enjoy the book I’m reviewing, in this case, I believe anyone who hasn’t read it yet ought to read it, end of discussion. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience (and extremely cheap, for what it gives) I haven’t seen anyone regret yet.
Richard Bach is an American writer best-known for authoring a few of the biggest bestsellers of the 70s, his most prominent works being Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Illusions: Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah. Some of his other works include Stranger to the Ground, Nothing by Chance and The Ferret Chronicles.