Friday, August 28, 2015

All You Have to Do Is Click Your Beak Together Three Times

This week I read Jonathan Livingston Seagull. It was a true phenomenon when it came out in 1970, but I've talked to some friends about it and I'm quite surprised how few of them know the book. To me it's almost a culmination of the national attitudes in the air between 1965 and 1975, a Free to Be...You and Me nominally for grownups, but it seems to have vanished from cultural memory.

In my opinion, this is A-OK, because Jonathan Livingston Seagull is an extremely silly book. I'm being dismissive, and (without walking that opinion back) I apologize, because I'm genuinely glad that so many people found solace in it during the early 70s. But if they needed self-actualization lessons in the form of seagulls who want to fly for the pleasure of it, maybe they should have tried yoga instead. Just a thought.

The book preaches that freedom (and evidently the ability to teleport?) is within us all the time, and we don't need to go looking for it. It's also quite short. I read it in probably half an hour, and you could too, if you want to understand a bit about the pre-Watergate years in this country. I am endlessly fascinated by the way America moved and thought and danced and wept and consumed during the twentieth century, so I'm not a bit sorry I read it, but I wouldn't necessarily say it was a book to change your life if you're a resident of the twenty-first.

Apparently we got a halfway decent Neil Diamond album out of it,

I also read Cosmicomics, by Italo Calvino, which was far better. I'm two for three on Calvino now, but the ones I've liked I wish I'd written. I do not wish I'd written JLS, but I sort of wish I could capture a cultural mood like that book did, if only to enjoy building a house in Bermuda with the proceeds.

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