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Jonathan Livingston Seagull A Novel
Richard Bach
Published by Avon Books/NY in 1970

A Book Review by Bobby Matherne ©2000


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First, let me say that I am not a fan of this book. In my pre-teens I read a book by Robert Lawson entitled, The Fabulous Flight, as I recall the title, about a young boy and a seagull that he befriended. He was able to shrink himself at will to a size that allowed him to ride Gus the seagull as one might ride a flying horse. I was entranced by Gus and the boy's adventures. Later Larson went on to write a story about a mouse who befriended Ben Franklin and helped him create his inventions, such as the bifocals. You may remember seeing a cartoon version of that story. But none of Larson's later works enthralled me the way the adventures of Gus and his companion did. I saw myself as the boy riding on Gus's back as we flew over the seacoast and towns.

When I first heard about this book about another seagull, I was excited, until I began to read it and found instead some gull who was interested in flying high and at very high speeds. I didn't like the book and struggled to read it. Even now I can't say if I've read the whole thing or not. I can understand Bach's enthusiasm for the story, since he is a pilot himself. Here's one quote about speed that makes good sense to me:

[page 64] "You will begin to touch heaven, Jonathan, in the moment that you touch perfect speed. And that isn't flying a thousand miles an hour, or a million, of flying at the speed of light. Because any number is a limit, and perfection doesn't have limits. Perfect speed, my son, is being there."

How many people do you know who can just "be there"? Peter Sellers made a wonderful movie about just such a human being, who could just be there. The movie was entitled Being There and the story line was about how folks in a hurry, with an axe to grind, were quickly filling in the spaces that Chancy created in their interaction by just being there. We had the sense that Chancy was traveling at the perfect speed.

Being free is just being there. That is the perfect speed.

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