Richard Bach,
(Dell, 1977)

I no longer recall when or how Illusions first came into my life.

I always have a copy lying around, and it seems like I always have. Different copies, though -- I've been known a time or two to pass mine along to someone I think needs to read it, and then I need to go find another copy somewhere. (My loaner copies never make it back to me, but I'll chalk that up as a good thing in this case.)

Richard Bach (not Richard Bachman, that's Stephen King) is best known for Jonathan Livingston Seagull and other books of a semi-spiritual nature. I've read Seagull and I've bought a few other of his books, but I've never been tempted to read them ... and yet I keep coming back to Illusions. Read it, and I think you'll know why.

Sub-titled The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, the book is written as if it were autobiographical. The protagonist, Richard, is a former writer who hates writing, and so he now makes his living flying around the Midwest in an old biplane, giving 10-minute rides from farmers' fields for $3 each. It's a lonely, but satisfying life ... and then Donald Shimoda, a former mechanic and retired messiah, comes into his life. Donald also makes his living as a flier, and the two men fly together for a while. Along the way, Donald imparts wisdom to Richard as a messiah-in-training.

The idea is that everyone can be enlightened and, thereby, can define one's world accordingly. It's a difficult concept to comprehend, much less put into practice, so Richard relies on The Messiah's Handbook: Reminders for the Advanced Soul, a gift from Donald, to help him along the way. The book is magical: open it to any page and find a pithy maxim which will, in some way, shed light on your day. Those maxims are scattered throughout the book and, collected together, could probably fill one of those teeny giftshop inspirational books. But they're much less meaningful out of context; within the framework of Richard's story, they're rife with meaning.

The easy companionship of the two pilots is a comfortable setting in which Bach sets his sometimes uncomfortable ideas. But it's impossible to read Illusions without getting a touch of inspiration, a new sense of purpose for improving one's own life, or at least one's attitude.

Pick up a copy and jumpstart your perspective. Or get two -- I suspect you'll be handing yours off to someone else to read in no time.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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