This week I’m talking about Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull, the July Book of the Month for our BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book Club
Like many avid readers, if I only ever read books that I most wanted to read, I’d never have discovered lots of great books that I’ve gone on to enjoy. For example, I never used to read historical fiction, not because of any aversion to it, but it wasn’t something I naturally gravitated towards.
Then I joined a local Historical Novel Society book group, largely because I wanted to support Lucienne Boyce, the historical novelist who was setting it up, and was quickly hooked on the genre, even though I disliked about half the books we read there. As a result, I’m now an official reviewer for the HNS, and very much enjoy being a part of it.
As Featured on BBC Radio Gloucestershire
Similarly, I’ve been glad when I’ve had to read a book or an author that I felt I ought to have read, but had never got round to doing so. July’s Book Club choice for the BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book of the Month was a case in point. I didn’t especially enjoy it, but I’m glad that I’ve now read it and now what the fuss is all about – because fuss there certainly is.
Although Jonathan Livingston Seagull was published back in the seventies, it’s still in print, and even had a fourth part added to its three-part format recently in a beautiful new edition, and there’s even an app for it, so its publisher clearly thinks it’s an evergreen book and a sound business investment.
The story is essentially a fable about being true to yourself and following the path in life that is right for you, rather than mimicking the masses – a very 1970s message. The hero prefers flying to scavenging for food, which causes him to become an outcast from his social group, but he decides he cannot compromise for the sake of conformity.
A Book to Change Young Lives?
When I asked Facebook friends who else had read it, I was overwhelmed by the flurry of passionate responses about how the book had changed their lives, empowering them to go on to become what they are today.
Personally, I don’t think it will change mine – but then I’m reading it in middle-age, when I am comfortable with my life choices and with where I am and what I’m doing now.
However, had I read it when a teenager or student or young aspiring PR executive (and mostly hating it), it might have given me the courage to step into the ejector seat sooner of what become a long career, and not waiting till a significant birthday to decide what I really wanted to be when I grew up was a novelist. (I finally published my first novel this spring – more about that at the foot of this post.)
When discussing the book on BBC Radio Gloucestershire with lunchtime presenter Dominic Cotter and fellow panelist Caroline Sanderson, associate editor of The Bookseller magazine, we agreed that it was more of a young person’s book. Of the three of us, only Dominic had read it before, as a teenager, and still loved it, whereas Caroline and I found it a bit harder to take – Caroline described it as schmaltzy, and I had trouble with my natural aversion to seagulls and to characters with unlikely names. (I know, I’m that shallow.) But we were all glad we’d read it.
(You can listen to the show on iplayer here for the next four weeks if you’d like to hear our full discussion, which starts a few minutes into Dominic’s show.)
The Ultimate Beach Read?
So although I wouldn’t say to someone “You must read this book, it’s fantastic and it will change our life”, I am most certainly saying “You must read this book, if you haven’t already, because it’s a significant piece of popular culture from the 1970s that many of my friends adore.”
It is also a very short, quick read, will be universally available from bookshops and libraries, and, like the tiny books I was recommending this time last week, it will slip easily into your hand-luggage for your summer holidays. It might also have one benefit unanticipated by the author: if you’re heading to a British seaside resort this summer, it will make you more tolerant of the inevitable plague of seagulls, and more forgiving if they do the classic seaside thing and swipe your Cornish pasty or ice-cream cone.
Happy reading, wherever you decide to read it!
PS Fancy reading one of my books this weekend? Best Murder in Show, a lighthearted modern mystery story, is the perfect summer read, set at the time of a traditional village show. Now available as an ebook for Kindle or in paperback – order from Amazon here or at your local neighbourhood bookshop quoting ISBN 978-1911223139.