Jonathan Livingston Seagull (Sunday morning meditation and publishing spark plug all in one!)
The new age message and Neil Diamond music seem pretty smarmy now. Edgy is in. Hope is out. Cynical is the new tie-dye. But back in the '70s, I read Jonathan Livingston Seagull, lying on the floor in the living room at my parents' home in Onalaska, Wisconsin, listening to Neil Diamond's musical adaptation at top volume -- and it worked. I cried. I thought lofty thoughts and dreamed big dreams.
Years later, when I was trying to break into publishing, I heard about Richard Bach's personal and professional journey as a writer -- including an apocryphal tale about how he received the acceptance letter for JLS as he was watching the repo man tow his car away. This book was, by any sensible standards, unpublishable and Bach had a stack of rejection letters to prove it. I would assume Bach got his car back (and probably traded up) after the book sold its first two million copies. I just ordered a fresh paperback to replace the one I gave away in my post-hurricane guerrilla bookmobile last year. It's about to celebrate its 40th year in print.
Ray Bradbury blessed JLS with this generous blurb: "Richard Bach with this book does two things. He gives me Flight. He makes me Young. For both I am deeply grateful."
Jonathan Livingston Seagull is about striving for something higher. And about falling to earth. Aging hippie that I am, it still works for me. Bach hated the film with the Neil Diamond music so much that he sued the production company, and critics hated it even worse, but in my head, I can't separate the two, and in a weird way, that part of the saga sort of goes with the message of the book:
Most gulls don't bother to learn more than the simplest facts of flight--how to get from shore to food and back again. For most gulls it is not flying that matters, but eating. For this gull, though, it was not eating that mattered, but flight...
What he had once hoped for the Flock, he now gained for himself alone; he learned to fly, and was not sorry for the price that he had paid.