Archive for the ‘book review’ Category

Jonathan Livingston Seagull, written by Richard Bach, is a fable in novel form about a seagull learning about life and flight, and a homily about self-perfection. First published in 1970 as “Jonathan Livingston Seagull — a story”, it became a favorite throughout the United States. By the end of 1972, over a million copies were in print, Reader’s Digest had published a condensed version, and the book reached the top of the New York Times Best Seller list where it remained for 38 weeks. It is still in print as of 2008.

The book was inspired by John H. Livingstone, a leading pilot during the barnstorming days of the nineteen twenties and thirties, much admired by the author. Mr. Livingston left his wife, Wavelle, two brothers and four sisters. From 1928 through 1933, Mr. Livingston won 79 first places, 43 seconds and 15 thirds in 139 races throughout the country, many of them at Cleveland. He won first place and $13,910 in 1928 in a cross-country race from New York to Los Angeles. Des Moines, Iowa, July 2 – John H. Livingston, the man who inspired the best-selling novel “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,”died Sunday at the Pompano Beach (Fla.) Airport soon after completing his last plane ride.

This allegorical fable is about Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a seagull who unlike his comrades, is not happy yelling “Mine! Mine! Mine!” for food. He loves to soar, and fly. The first half of this book, only 127 pages long , takes us with Jonathan out across the empty sea by himself as he practices flight. All day and every day, while the others are feeding and doing the lesser things that seagulls do, Jonathan tries to force wings not made for speed or aerobatics to work for him in his obsession. Meanwhile he suffers the censure of his parents and the judgement of the flock. Jonathan knows that he is breaking every rule of his kind. There are times when he has doubts, when he tries to conform, but the passion does not leave him and he returns again to the wide sea and the skies. Here it is that Richard Bach absorbs the reader in the heady technicalities of flight as Jonathan finds out for himself, often at the very edge of violent death, how he can make his wings fly for him. We fear with him as he progresses through ever more hazardous errors (each with near disastrous consequences for the youngster), until he finds for himself that just the control of his wingtips can make the difference between success or being “blown into a million tiny shreds of seagull”. He discovers that the infinitesimal lift of a feather gives him a “wide sweeping turn at tremendous speed”. We exult with him as he reaches “terminal velocity” with amusing and far reaching results. When he expects appreciation from flock, he gets expelled from his flock. As an outcast he leads an idyllic life, and continues to lean new things about flying. One day, Jonathan is met by two gulls who take him to a “higher plane of existence” (reminiscent of the beliefs of Chinese, in that there is no heaven but a better world found through perfection of knowledge), where he meets other gulls who love to fly. Here he finds that there are no limits, that he is reaching into boundless infinity in his search for further perfection. He discovers that his sheer tenacity and desire to learn make him “a gull in a million”. Jonathan befriends the wisest gull in this new place, named Chiang, who takes him beyond his previous learning, teaching him how to move instantaneously to anywhere else in the universe. The secret, Chiang says, is to “begin by knowing that you have already arrived”. Not satisfied with his new life, Jonathan returns to Earth to find others like him, to bring them his learning and to spread his love for flight. His mission is successful, gathering around him others who have been outlawed for not conforming. Ultimately, one of his students, Fletcher Lynd Seagull, becomes a teacher in his own right and Jonathan leaves to continue his learning.

Really, the story here is that Jonathan and Fletcher were not “special” in any way. The point is made many times that they were seagulls like any others. The difference is that they chose to strive to better themselves. They were not content to merely eat and sleep. They wanted to become really good at what they could do – fly. The elders explain that for many people, this process takes many lifetimes. If you do well in a given life, you graduate to a “higher” life where you can then work with people on your next stage of progress. If you just get by in your current life, then you get reborn into that same level, to have another chance to strive.

Flight is indeed the metaphor that makes the story soar. Ultimately this is a fable about the importance of seeking a higher purpose in life, even if your flock, tribe, or neighborhood finds your ambition threatening. (At one point our beloved gull is even banished from his flock.) By not compromising his higher vision, Jonathan gets the ultimate payoff: transcendence. Ultimately, he learns the meaning of love and kindness. Love, deserved respect, and forgiveness seem to be equally important to the freedom from the pressure to obey the rules just because they are commonly accepted.

It’s also very interesting to note how different people have interpreted this book to be a religious tome. Christians often say that Jonathan stands for Jesus. He was born “with men” – he learns his special skills, and then he returns to earth to help guide mankind to be better. There’s even a mob scene where the “normal seagulls” try to kill Jonathan for being different. On the other hand, the story clearly says there is no Heaven – that the point of life is to keep trying and trying until you figure out your own path to perfection. The reincarnation and perfection-from-within is very Buddhist. It’s not an external God that gives you this perfection. You are born with the innate ability to attain perfection – but it is up to you to find the desire and take the steps to reach it.

The dreamy seagull photographs by Russell Munson provide just the right illustrations–although the overall packaging does seem a bit dated (keep in mind that it was first published in 1970). Nonetheless, this is a spirituality classic, and an especially engaging parable for all ages.

“When a way of life has always been; when the limitations of a culture have been accepted as the norm by all the generations before, change is feared. The rare being born with the vision to see what could be possible and the faith to act on his beliefs is a heretic.” Aptly put “To the real Jonathan Seagull, who lives in within us all”


Who Moved My Cheese?

Posted: August 13, 2008 in book review, self composed

In the past, change was an event businesses had the luxury of preparing for. Today, change is the way business gets done. Based on the belief that organizations don’t change, people change – the skills to deal with change quickly and effectively are inevitable for companies that move ahead and gain a competitive advantage. It is necessary for people and teams to anticipate, recognize and understand the change, share ideas, avoid unnecessary work, and learn to do only the things that will make the biggest difference. In ‘Who Moved My Cheese?’, Dr. Spencer Johnson describes how to deal with change in our lives. He tells a parable of change, how we react to it, and the dire straits we can find ourselves in when we don’t follow the change.

He presents a rather whimsical story of life for two mice and two small people in a maze. The maze represents the environment for change with unknown futures and the accompanying fears. The four characters viz. the mice Sniff and Scurry and the little people Hem and Haw are metaphors for the different attitudes towards change. Sniff and Scurry represent a fairly straight forward reactive approach to change. As mice they’re not credited with great intelligence but when their source of cheese is moved, they react by setting off to find new cheese supplies. The little people, Hem and Haw, are credited with the intelligence of men which in several ways hinders their ability to change. When their cheese is moved their ‘intelligent’ response leads to a wide range of emotions and reactions including denial, recrimination and resentment which disables their ability to set off to seek new cheese. Gradually Haw comes to terms with the need for change. His personality is contrasted with Hem to illustrate how fear of change can be disabling and how this fear might be overcome.

The four characters provide a vocabulary that many will find useful in describing their, and their colleagues’ reactions to change. The approach taken to make that vocabulary accessible is to make the story simple so that the book can be quickly read and passed on to spread the word. Some basic points stressed throughout the book are:

“They keep moving the cheese.” i.e. change happens,
“Get ready for the cheese to move.” i.e. anticipate the change,
“Move with the cheese.” i.e. actually make the change,
“Enjoy the taste of new cheese.” i.e. enjoy the fruits of change

We find we references to these in our every day life. Overall, ‘Who Moved My Cheese’ is both an entertaining and a useful book. It elucidates the trials and tribulations we all have in life : joy, excitement, sorrow, greed, envy, stubbornness, fear etc. as well as the ways in which we can deal with them.

Kinky Friedman, the prodigal poet of country music has written a tale of murder, mayhem. The central character is Kinky Friedman, also the narrator, and a very close friend of legendary actor and movie-maker Tom Baker, who died. A documentary that Baker had made on Elvis impersonators disappeared, while the only person who had actually seen the film, Legs, had been brutally murdered. Kinky has been asked to find the missing documentary. In the course of the search, Kinky explored his own deep, dark past, namely his simultaneous affairs with two women named Judy – Uptown Judy and Downtown Judy. Prompting this review of ancient history was the sudden reappearance of Downtown Judy ready to resume their relationship, and the sudden and mysterious disappearance of Uptown Judy. That these two plots would come together, and that the Elvis film would be found, was expected. Nothing else in this novel, however, dealt with anything remotely expected. With the help of his friends (the Village Irregulars Rambam, Ratso and McGovern), all becomes clear in the end. The Downtown Judy turns out to be just a creation of Uptown Judy to get away and start a new life. But here what matters more than the plot is Kinky himself–mildly obscene and frequently very funny, and not to forget, the pet feline, Cuddles, as close to the author as a human being. Kinky’s voice is feisty, irreverent, sweltering and exceedingly entertaining.

Sense and Sensibilty, Jane Austen’s first novel, the revised version of “Elinor and Marriane”, the book centers around the story of Dashwood sisters, their constraints and pursuits of love in a class-concious Regency England. Its publication in 1811 marked Austen as a huge literary talent, and its significance reverberates even today as one can re-discover Austen’s works so adept at uncovering the foibles of nineteenth century aristocracy.

The main characters are the two Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne. Elinor, the eldest one, embraces practicality and restraint while Marianne gives her whole heart to every endeavor. When the Dashwoods – mother Mrs. Dashwood, Elinor, Marianne, and youngest sister Margaret – are sent, almost impoverished, to a small cottage in Devonshire after the death of Mr. Dashwood and the machinations of their brother’s wife, they accept their new circumstances with as much cheer as they can muster even though their brother John and his wife have taken over the family estate and fortune. Their characters, albeit wildly different in their approaches to life, are impeccably honest and intelligent – and their suitors take notice. Elinor falls in love with the shy, awkward Edward, while Marianne’s affections are lavished on the dashing hunter Willoughby. As in all Austen’s books, love and marriage don’t come easily, as affections aren’t always returned and social jockeying sometimes takes precedence to true love. Edward turns out to be engaged to another girl, Lucy Steele and Willoughby plans to marry Miss Grey, a rich debutante. When Elinor learns of the marriage of Lucy Steele to Mr. Ferrars, she feels miserable to think of her Edward united with a lesser woman. At the same time, Marianne goes through a period of depression and falls seriously ill.Marianne renews her enthusiasm for life and starts realizing the worth of Colonel Brandon. Colonel Brandon is the unassuming, unlikely hero who falls in love with Marianne and saves her from death. Elinor is relieved when Edward reveals the truth to her and then proposes. Marianne marries Colonel Brandon and Elinor settles down with Edward Ferrars.

This novel adopts a generally serious tone. Parody is largely limited to the gossipy Mrs. Jenkins, who jumps to wild conclusions about situations she knows nothing about. Except for the first page or two where the circumstances of the Dashwoods are set up through a series of deaths and relations, possibly causing some confusion, this novel is exceedingly easy to follow for contemporary readers.
In an interestingly twist, the end of this novel brings into question which sister represents which part of the title.

In sum, this is a delightful and an excellent novel and well worth reading.

“The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari” is an inspiring tale that describes a step-by-step approach to living with greater courage, balance, abundance, and joy. It is a kind of handbook for personal fulfillment in the present hectic age.

Robin Sharma is one of North America’s top keynote speakers on personal leadership and life management. He runs an institute that, conducts leadership and life-enrichment programmes and has authored several books on related subjects.

It is an extraordinary story of Julian Mantle, a successful and an overworked lawyer, forced to confront the spiritual crisis of his out-of-balance life.
It starts off dramatically with a powerful scene where the protagonist experiences a heart attack in a court battle. He soon realizes that his pace as a lawyer is creating stress that may contribute to his early death if he doesn’t change his direction in life. This wake up call takes him on a spiritual journey to India where he meets three teachers who each impart an important lesson to him. He goes to the Sages of Sivana where he drinks from the fountain of higher knowledge and unlocks the secret of youthful vitality. He soon realizes the meaning of life outside his materialistic goals. On a life-changing odyssey to an ancient culture, he discovers powerful, wise, and practical lessons that teach us to: Develop Joyful Thoughts, Follow Our Life’s Mission and Calling, Cultivate Self-Discipline and Act courageously, Value Time as Our Most Important Commodity, Nourish Our Relationships, and Live Fully, One Day at a Time.

Julian, the Monk, imaginatively reiterates the ancient truths of Sivanan philosophy in a very forceful manner and effectively expresses ancient truths in a modern idiom.
Sample a few messages from this book: “There are no mistakes, only lessons”, or “Life pretty much gives you what you ask from it. It is always listening”, or again, “Stop spending so much time chasing life’s big pleasures while you neglect the little ones”, and so on.

The book has innumerable interesting fables and anecdotes. It describes all the wisdoms with remarkable simplicity. Also symbols attached to them, making them easy to remember and assimilate. This is one book that perhaps the corporate-variety or the workaholics would do well to read. Julian Mantle could well be their alter-ego.
In short, the book is a stimulating read.