Jonathan Livingston Seagull Author Richard Bach's New Book

Spirituality & Health Magazine
reviewed by Michelle Schingler

Over forty years ago, Richard Bach introduced us to Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a precocious young bird determined to rise above what was expected of him. Those who loved Bach’s seminal parable of transcendence will discover similar delights in his new book, Travels with Puff: A Gentle Game of Life and Death. It chronicles his relationship with a small SeaRey Amphibious Seaplane, including the transcontinental series of flights that brought her home. 

Bach’s voice is at once exuberant and meditative, infusing these pages with vitality. The first half follows him as he develops a rapport with Puff, a plane advertised “to a good home” and which speaks to him immediately. He goes from Seattle to Florida to retrieve her, connecting with those who know SeaReys best along the way. Dan, tapped to teach him the particularities of SeaRey piloting, even decides to accompany him back to Seattle in his own bird. Dan’s photographs run throughout, bringing to life the unfamiliar quiet places the pilots happen upon, and his scientific interests lead to expeditions in parts of the country that the more cautious Bach might have been content to avoid.

Caution, though, is not the name of this game. Adventure and self-discovery are. Daily revelations direct Bach’s reflections, and there is a pervading sense that the hand of destiny nudges him on the way. Readers will be alternately charmed and amused by the meaning Bach finds in small things, from a feather that floats onto Puff’s windshield after a gruesome storm to the same symbol appearing on cycler’s seats and restaurant walls at key junctures. The captivating descriptions of places infrequently seen by Americans, however, are the stars of the book. They are a thrilling reminder that “there are an indefinite number of [places], sanctuaries, physical or not, a three-dimensional sea of them,” which await those prepared to commit themselves to travel beyond the everyday. 

Bach’s explorations with Puff are a fresh and welcome contribution to the canon of great American travel literature. The central relationship between Bach and Puff, both jocular and tender, affords new flavor to a genre which often features solitary narrators, and focuses on the depth of meaning which can come with relinquishing control. Their unique symbiosis is a compelling metaphor for trust—in oneself, in the universe, in some overarching force—with all the pull of Bach’s signature book. A piquant, contemplative offering from a writer who once again reminds readers that there’s a wide and exciting world beyond the ordinary, one that’s laden with possibility. 

Michelle Anne Schingler holds degrees in theology and religion from Harvard Divinity School and the University of Georgia. She works in the libraries and maintains a lectionary blog for the Massachusetts Bible Society.


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