MISFIT DOC: Maggie Nelson’s Bluets: Some Points

(Wave Books, 2009.)


  • This book has been on my reading list for a long time and I knew before I read it that I’d probably adore it. For starters: Maggie Nelson – who basically everyone has recommended to me, although this is the first book of hers I’ve read. For seconders, I’m fascinated with color. Sometimes I just stare at paint swatches in hardware stores, and color combinations on Adobe, and color names on Wikipedia; here is orange for example. Papaya Whip? Bittersweet shimmer? All that.


  • Bluets proceeds in numbered blocks, all of them one paragraph/block (240 paragraphs/blocks in total). I like books that are in blocks and numbered, e.g. Wayne Koestenbaum’s Humiliation (which I also read recently) comes to mind.


  • After I finished it I got the feeling that I had read the notes for a potential book, but in a good way. Potential is a quality contained in the color blue. Because oceans and skies. The first line of the book is: “Suppose I were to begin by saying I had fallen in love with a color. …” and it keeps that feeling of contingency throughout.


  • There is quite a bit in the book about writing – and not writing.

E.g. (# 14): “I have enjoyed telling people that I am writing a book about blue without actually doing it. Mostly what happens in such cases is that people give you stories or leads or gifts, and then you can play with these things instead of words.”


  • It turns out it’s (also) a book “about” a break-up, which was disappointing to me when I realized it. I started thinking things like “she has the blues,” etc., and these thought processes seemed to diminish the book a bit. This is probably or definitely my fault as a reader – I feel a general exhaustion with break-up stories (especially my own but also other people’s), which is affecting my reading of even well-told ones.


  •  Acyanoblepsia means the non-perception of blue.


  • I enjoyed the bits about academia, especially the expert on guppy menopause who makes several appearances. As a person who isn’t in academia, this community of people with quirky, minutely specialized interests is fascinating to me, that nose-pressed-against-a-window-onto-a-world-that-isn’t-mine pleasure.


Aquarium window: orange guppy against a blue background


  • # 36: “Goethe describes blue as a lively color, but one devoid of gladness. … And what kind of madness is it anyway, to be in love with something constitutionally incapable of loving you back?”


I read Bluets as an e-book, and my Kindle app let me know that 137 or some such other e-book readers had highlighted that second sentence. I am an enthusiastic highlighter but sometimes I get the urge not to highlight when I see that a lot of other people have done so. But then I ask myself if I genuinely want to or not. I ended up highlighting it, in yellow. Even though blue is available as a highlight color on my Kindle app, I rarely use it. I use yellow the most, then orange, then pink, then blue (last).


  • I feel as though orange is a color capable of loving you back.


  • Bluets” means cornflowers in French (maybe spelled “bleuet” also) (I don’t speak French). It’s the title of the narrator’s favorite painting (and maybe Maggie Nelson’s as well since I feel as though she and the narrator are the same person really, but I could be wrong about that), by Joan Mitchell. I didn’t know it, so I googled it. Turns out the painting is important to Lydia Davis too.


Joan Mitchells’s “Les Bluets” (1973).


This painting makes me want to elope with someone, definitely to France, probably to a field, and everyone is wearing gingham.


  • Bluets is not pronounced “Blue-ettes” although Nelson says she pronounces it this way, so I think it’s okay that I’ve been pronouncing it that way too (“correct” pronunciation here – sort of like blue + the letter A & dying on your mouth). In an interview Nelson talks about seeing the paragraphs as a series of diminutives, like you could also have a book of orange-ettes, etc. (it just wouldn’t sound as good).


  • Moments of: this writer has been inside my head/is my head, for example:

“Admit that you have stood in front of powdered ultramarine pigment in a glass cup at a museum and felt a stinging desire. But to do what? Liberate it? Purchase it? Ingest it? …. (# 7)

I admit it! I have felt this. It was at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas in 2015. Although I never thought of purchasing it. But I would have liked to have liberated it, yes, ingested it, yes (even though, as Nelson goes on to say, the color blue in nature tends to be turn up on foods that should be avoided, e.g. “mold, poisonous berries”) – scooping it off my skin after smearing it over my body, lying in an exhausted happy puddle, flying to the (blue) moon.

Ultramarine pigment.
Rose Hunter’s book of poetry, glass, was published by Five Islands Press (Australia, 2017). Born in Australia, she lived in Canada for ten years and currently divides her time between Brisbane, Australia, and Mexico. More information about her can be found at rosehunterwriting.com, and she tweets @BentWindowBooks, a chapbook press she founded.

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