Monday, October 8, 2018

Bluets | Maggie Nelson (Take 2)

(Tattoo: "I wrote it because I had something to say to you.")

"But Hannah, haven't you already read this book like, eight times?"
"How are you going to make your freshmen interested in a book that's basically poetry?"
"You have over 60 books sitting in your apartment. Pick one of those up instead."

(...says my inner voice, who is currently being ignored because c'mon guys, I can totally get freshmen interested in a poetic nonfiction book that I read over and over and quote all the time and got a line printed on a temporary tattoo that I stuck to my collarbone for two weeks until it peeled off.)

Behold, BLUETS by Maggie Nelson. I've reviewed this book before, sampled my favorite little quotes, and talked about it to anyone who would listen. Originally, I read BLUETS for my Honors 222 nonfiction writing course that I took with Daisy Pitkin last spring. It's about personal suffering and leftover love and taking the time to just exist wherever you are and notice the things around you, like the little blue tarp wavering over a building, or a blue strip on the ground that you realize, somehow jarringly, is a poisonous trap for termites. So how would this book, so small and so lovely and so floridly stoic, be successfully translated into a book fit for a cohort of Honors freshmen who may never have read any creative nonfiction before?

Readability ★★★★★

This book is tiny. I mean, teeny tiny. Teeny, teeny, teeny tiny. So tiny that you might miss it. BLUETS clocks in at just 98 pages. It's available in hardback and soft cover, and I doubt that ordering a couple hundred copies would set the Honors College back too far financially. On Goodreads, it's been rated over 11,000 times and reviewed about 1,100. While Maggie Nelson is quite a big deal (as the youths put it), I think she's vastly more accessible than some of the other authors I've reviewed, and thus there's a complete chance that she would be interested in coming in. According to her Goodreads profile, she currently lives in Los Angeles and teaches at USC. 

The language of the book isn't too formal/"literary" and I think any high school graduate - especially those with the academic interest in the Honors College - would be able to read it without a problem. Its length will make it attractive to people who may shy away from large books, as well. 

There are a few "explicit" vignettes. (One says the word "fuck" and "came" but to be fair, we are all adults, and chances are the people reading those words will have heard them before.) Nothing about this book is vulgar, though, and if anything, the overarching storyline benefits from the moments of raw emotion/truth apparent in the vignettes that may be NSFW. I don't think any parents will call in to complain that their child had never before had the sex talk and how DARE the Honors College suggest that procreation happen in any way other than a stork setting down a baby on the doorstep of sinless people! Who knows. Maybe it'll be a field day for those interesting in reproductive studies. 

Applicability ★★★★★

BLUETS, perhaps most obviously, is a collection of vignettes all somehow related to the color blue, each falling under the category of:

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*

*(as per my last review.) These different strings can be broadly applied to pretty much any major at the University, and it's worth saying that when my class read it last spring, every student was able to locate their favorite genre of vignette. To address points of interest specifically:

1. Personal Narrative - English, Creative Writing
2. Science/Psychology - Psychology, Neuroscience, Anthropology
3. Art/Music/Poetry - Music, Creative Writing, Art History, broader humanities
4. Philosophy/Literature/Social Theory - Political Science, English, language studies, PPEL
5. Faith/Religion/The Divine - Religious studies, Human Development
6. Outside Oracular Voice/Your personal sage friend or relative - any major
7. Mythology/History - History, cultural studies

Transformation ★★★★☆

One exciting (for me, at least) update about the Honors Read is that we're no longer within the confines of books that absolutely have to do with some semblance of transformation. But let's be real: I wasn't staying wholly attached to this theme anyway, and any moments of transformation for my characters so far have been internal or plot-related. 

I can say the same about BLUETS. While this is nonfiction (and Maggie Nelson is a real person, not a character), we can treat the narrator of the text as some type of persona because she is, effectively, the Maggie Nelson of when she wrote this, not the Maggie Nelson she necessarily is now. If we need a strong connection to the theme of transformation, we can very easily track the genres of vignette that I've listed above and see how their dynamics shift/their stories unwind throughout the book, attacking analysis from a pathway that Nelson has already provided for us. 

There's not much more I can say on this front. BLUETS is nearly perfect for the Honors Read, and I have a feeling that I'll be carrying this one on through to the final round of elimination. 

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