Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Bluets | Maggie Nelson

BLUETS by Maggie Nelson is one of the best nonfiction books that I have ever read. I loved it so much I painted it on a giant piece of cardboard.

There are few ways that I consume creative nonfiction on my own; usually, if I'm ever occupied with it, it's via podcasts or video interviews with authors I admire. (I've seen almost every interview with Neil Gaiman that YouTube has to offer.) This semester, however, I enrolled myself in a creative nonfiction class through my school's honors college and my instructor, Daisy Pitkin, has changed my outlook on the entire genre.

Our first book-length text was BLUETS. It's a collection of little paragraph-long vignettes revolving around the color blue. Not all of them are about the color; many are about the feeling of blue, or the memory of blue, or the reflections of blue. It's a book about Nelson's former lover, leftover feelings, and interactions with the color blue throughout the several years it took her to finish the novel. I'm utterly enthralled in this book and it's one of the few books I've ever checked out from a library that I intend to purchase sometime in the near future (others of these borrowed-turned-owned include THE SISTERS GRIMM series by Michael Buckley when I was 11 and a collection of Shakespeare books I decided I should own if I want to be an English teacher).

The vignettes in this book fall under seven categories – collected by myself and my classmates – of "themes" that inspired them. But I'm not sure that "theme" is the right word. Inspiration? Muses? General mild idea? Regardless, each vignette can be categorized as:

1. Personal Narrative
2. Science/Psychology
3. Art/Music/Poetry
4. Philosophy/Literature/Social Theory
5. Faith?Religion/The Divine
6. Outside Oracular Voice/Your personal sage friend or relative
7. Mythology/History

Even if they aren't specifically narrative, most of the vignettes are strengthened by personal anecdote. All of the vignettes that I chose to bookmark for in-class discussion were similarly quippy, didactic or matter-of-fact. I found myself attracted in particular to literary/historical references that I recognized from other schoolwork. I love boldness, pithiness, and the trope of the lecture. 

The book is, in its essence, about suffering. And we can only endure these hard things, these bluets, because we are a species unique in its ability to suffer. If we do not suffer then we are animal, more animal than we started as: say we are now 76% water and 24% animal. Without the suffering we're 76% water, 36% animal. 
(Without suffering, we overflow.)

Below are my favorite bluets. Enjoy. 

"177. Perhaps it is becoming clearer why I felt no romance when you told me that you carried my last letter with you, everywhere you went, for months on end, unopened. This may have served some purpose for you, but whatever it was, surely it bore little resemblance to mine. I never aimed to give you a talisman, an empty vessel to flood with whatever longing, dread, or sorrow happened to be the day's mood. I wrote it because I had something to say to you.

188. How often I've imagined the bubble of body and breath you and I made, even though by now I can hardly remember what you look like, I can hardly see your face.

119. My friend was a genius before her accident, and she remains a genius now. The difference is that these days it is nearly impossible to discount her pronouncements. Something about her condition has bestowed upon her the quality of an oracle, perhaps because now she generally stays in one place, and one must go unto her. Eventually you will have to give up this love, she told me one night while I made us dinner. It has a morbid heart. 

66. Yesterday I picked up a speck of blue I'd been eyeing for weeks on the ground outside my house, and found it to be a poison strip for termites. Noli me tangere, it said, as some blues do. I left it on the ground.

18. A warm afternoon in early spring, New York City. We went to the Chelsea Hotel to fuck. Afterward, from the window of our room, I watched a blue tarp on a roof across the way flap in the wind. You slept, so it was my secret. It was a smear of the quotidian, a bright blue flake amidst all the dank providence. It was the only time I came. It was essentially our lives. It was shaking. 

42. Sitting in my office before teaching a class on prosody, trying not to think about you, about my having lost you. But how can it be? How can it be? Was I too blue for you. Was I too blue. I look down at my lecture notes: Heártbréak is a spondee. Then I lay my head down on the desk and start to weep. –Why doesn't this help?"

Thursday, February 8, 2018

On Book Blogging

A lit candle placed perfectly just below the edge of the frame. Book jackets strewn to the side in a carefully-curated "careless" fashion. A cup of tea, half finished because you forgot to take the picture right away. Some interesting fabrics: a tunic shirt from American Eagle, scrunched up meticulously; a piece of fuzzy fabric that you purchased to make a Hobbes costume for Halloween (your boyfriend went as Calvin). And of course, la pièce de résistance, the open book in the center. 

These are the elements of a book blog post. Instagram is heavy with the scent of these candles, overloaded with the weight of these mugs. Creating these adorable, well-curated layouts is, after all, enjoyable. The outcome is aesthetically pleasing, but the manufacturing is just that: manufacturing. 

It's all human-made. 

No one in their right mind would actually read a book like this. Social media gurus of the book blogging world position these photos every day, somethings more than once a day, and compile feeds all within a single color palette, or all featuring the same brand of sponsored teabags, or all with natural lighting, or all with the book blogger's funky socks in the corner of the photo. It's interesting to look at and it feels like a positive community to be a part of, but the amount of work that goes into maintaining a book blogging brand is egregious. Many of these people are paid through advertisements to perpetuate their bookish personas, and that's all well and good...  

But that's not what I want to do. 

I tried that game. ReadingHannah started as an Instagram that was meant to earn me some followers who would appreciate the twenty minutes I spent searching my college apartment for good lighting, who would think it was neat that I could so nicely balance a Potter book open. I wanted advance reading copies from publishers and a deal promoting book crates or candles or anything at all, because it's nice to feel like you've got the savvy to influence readers. 

As I write this, my Instagram page is comprised of 22 posts, all sparse and random and overall not up to par with the community that it sits in. But this is not the future of ReadingHannah. My goal in maintaining this website is not to earn a following of people who like how nice my camera is or how daintily I can arrange a hardcover; instead, I hope to interest you in the content of my posts. I want to review books honestly and with the fervor (or lack thereof) that they each deserve. I also want to hold myself accountable to reading books for fun. My academic life immerses me in Shakespeare and Greek tragedy every weekday, but I have a bookshelf loaded with unread beauties that have been staring me down for months now, and it's time to give them a chance. 

You'll notice that there are some posts dating from before January 2018 (when I bought the domain and started the website). These are reviews that were posted on my Goodreads account and that I found to be of high enough quality to include on ReadingHannah. I hope to load these pages with as many reviews as I can muster, and to keep up my own veritable persona. Vibrant. Truthful. Punny.

Perhaps I'll still take some time to arrange books prettily, but overall I would rather dedicate my spare minutes to the act of reading itself. I'll also write the occasional blog post about my general literary well-being. 

If you've made it this far, thank you for reading. 

'Til next time. 

© ReadingHannah | All rights reserved.
Blog Layout Created by pipdig