Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a 1970 novella by Richard Bach with photographs by Russell Munson. It’s about a seagull who shuns the social conventions of his flock to pursue his love of flying.

The book is divided into three parts, beginning with a predictable follow-your-dreams story and then moving into an Eastern-style cycle of self-perfection and reincarnation, and then there’s some business about love and forgiveness tossed in at the end.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is a short book, but even within these confines Bach does little to give the book much ambition or depth. The seagull flies this maneuver, the seagull flies that maneuver, the seagull spouts some platitude about transcending reality. There’s no sense of setting, no real insight – just flying birds and superficial philosophy. Bach’s writing is otherwise unimpressive. There’s at least one continuity issue, and it does feel rather absurd that these birds have such amazingly accurate internal speedometers (Bach rather belabors that point).

Munson’s photographs of seagulls and beachscapes help to set the mood, but the low quality in which they are reproduced in every version of the book I’ve ever seen just doesn’t do them justice.  Nevertheless, they do imbue the book with a certain charm that it badly needs.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull basically comes down to banal fable and trite spirituality. There are a innumerable better “follow your dreams” stories out there, most of which don’t get into this unlocking-the-unlimited-freedom-inside-you nonsense.