Recommended Reading: Maggie Nelson – Bluets

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock (or just not reading this blog – how dare you!) for the past several months, the next installment of Ball of Wax Audio Quarterly is going to be the culmination of the Songs about Books project. Ryan Barrett (The Pica Beats), Alex Guy (Led to Sea), Johanna Kunin (Bright Archer), Joshua Morrison, and I have all been assigned books by Paul Constant, and we’ve each written five and recorded three songs inspired by our book. Ball of Wax 25 will feature the 15 recorded songs, and we will perform all 25 songs on August 19th at the Fremont Abbey (tickets here).

Now that I’m done writing and recording my own songs, I’m going to try to plow through the other four books in the project, in order to gain a better perspective on everyone’s songs. If you’re looking for something to read, I recommend you do the same. I guarantee that the show and CD will be enjoyable whether you’ve read the books or not, but having read them will certainly add to your appreciation. I’m currently reading Matt Ruff’s Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls (as assigned to Johanna), and I’ll report back on that next week. I figured I’d start with my own book, Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, as it’s the one I’m most intimately familiar with (it’s also, at about 90 pages, the quickest read).

Bluets is a difficult book to describe. It’s published by a poetry house, but it’s not poetry. It’s non-fiction, but it’s not quite a memoir. It’s a series of very short, very lyrical chunks of language, generally around the theme of the author’s obsession with (or love of) the color blue. Some passages are very raw and personal, and some are more academic, discussing the color blue in history, literature, song, and more. (If you’ve read David Shields’s Reality Hunger, Bluets is perhaps an example of the kind of literature Shields so strongly advocates for and, in my opinion, fails to produce with that book.) I’ve read the book three times, and I really feel as though I could (and maybe should) read it every day, and it would never lose its luster, or stop revealing new depths. Bluets covers some well-trod literary territory – sex, love, longing, loneliness – in a compelling and naturalistic way. It really feels as though you’ve been allowed inside this woman’s brain for a few hours, and the experience is as touching, disturbing, and intimate as it should be.

This book is the only one of the five that’s not available at the wonderful Seattle Public Library (dear SPL: what the hell?), but I’m sure you can find a copy for cheap, and I highly recommend it. If nothing else, it will help my songs make sense – it’s a weird batch, I don’t mind telling you.

Next up: Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls, by Matt Ruff (which is available at the Library).

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