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Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color...

A lyrical, philosophical, and often explicit exploration of personal suffering and the limitations of vision and love, as refracted through the color blue. With Bluets, Maggie Nelson has entered the pantheon of brilliant lyric essayists.

112 pages, Paperback

First published October 1, 2009

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About the author

Maggie Nelson

42 books3,511 followers
Maggie Nelson is the author of nine books of poetry and prose, many of which have become cult classics defying categorization. Her nonfiction titles include the National Book Critics Circle Award winner and New York Times bestseller The Argonauts (Graywolf Press, 2015), The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning (Norton, 2011; a New York Times Notable Book of the Year), Bluets (Wave Books, 2009; named by Bookforum as one of the top 10 best books of the past 20 years), The Red Parts (Free Press, 2007; reissued by Graywolf, 2016), and Women, the New York School, and Other True Abstractions (U of Iowa Press, 2007). Her poetry titles include Something Bright, Then Holes (Soft Skull Press, 2007) and Jane: A Murder (Soft Skull, 2005; finalist for the PEN/ Martha Albrand Art of the Memoir). In 2016 she was awarded a MacArthur “genius” Fellowship. She has also been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in Nonfiction, an NEA in Poetry, an Innovative Literature Fellowship from Creative Capital, and an Arts Writers Fellowship from the Andy Warhol Foundation. She writes frequently on art, including recent catalogue essays on Carolee Schneemann and Matthew Barney. She holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and has taught literature, writing, art, criticism and theory at the New School, Pratt Institute, and Wesleyan University. For 12 years she taught in the School of Critical Studies at CalArts; in fall 2017 she will join the faculty of USC. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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5 stars
16,333 (43%)
4 stars
12,685 (33%)
3 stars
6,353 (16%)
2 stars
1,809 (4%)
1 star
600 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,691 reviews
Profile Image for emma.
1,823 reviews48.2k followers
January 27, 2023
periodically, i have to check to see if i still dislike poetry. for character development.

unfortunately, this has had, in this case, an unforeseen side effect: THIS TIME, I DID.

i read this last month (okay, two months ago, what about it i’m terribly behind) and i felt this sneaky sinking feeling i should 5 star it. but not to worry, because i’m doing this new totally normal not at all deranged thing where if i want to give a book 5 stars, i have to reread it before i review it.

so usually i am reading said book twice in one month.

like i said - normal stuff.

so i read this again. it’s still a 5.

this is prose poetry, which in this case means a tiny little book divided into number paragraphs of stunning writing, not only doable for me but pretty ideal. generally it’s my favorite kind of book: lovely turns of phrase, filled with beautiful explorations of what it is to be human / to hurt / to feel / to love.

throw in a bunch of fun facts and interesting topics and observations about sex and i’m in love.

bottom line: i never in a million years expected to say this but…kind of a dream!
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 121 books157k followers
September 15, 2012
Exquisite, lyrical, exquisite, exquisite, exquisite.
Profile Image for Michael.
655 reviews966 followers
April 20, 2020
A lyrical essay made up of loosely connected prose-poems, Bluets examines love and loss through the lens of the color blue. For much of the book, Nelson reminisces about her relationship with a former partner, as she cares for a friend recently rendered quadriplegic. All the while, she considers what a wide range of cultural icons have had to say about melancholy, grief, and, of course, the titular color. Goethe, Stein, Emerson, Leonard Cohen, and Lucinda Williams are but a few of the many referenced. Too often, the author cites the work of these disparate figures without making their connections clear or elaborating upon her own thoughts. But Nelson's writing is beautiful and makes Bluets worth reading.
Profile Image for julieta.
1,138 reviews19.3k followers
October 13, 2021
Beautiful and lyrical celebration of the color blue. Related also to, well, feeling blue, out of loss.

Liked it even better the second time around. She revolves around the color blue, to talk of sadness, of losing love, she goes through many referencies, from Wittgenstein, to Leonard Cohen, Van Gogh, Warhol, CeZanne, Mallarme, different films, friends, etc. There is something about the way it is structured which I particularly liked, and that´s the fact that the paragraphs are numbered, as if that makes it more paused, and each paragraph an important element for the whole. I love Nelson, and I recommend starting with this book, a sort of poetic essay? Lyrical essay? I wouln´t know what to call it but it´s pretty great.
Profile Image for Anna Gabur.
182 reviews36 followers
September 1, 2016
It is not often that I come across a book I absolutely loathe - a book that makes me shake with impotent rage at its complete intellectual and aesthetic uselessness. Well, this is one of them - a book that glorifies depression and lack of social adaptability, a book whose author is apparently so in love with herself that she considers any and every piece of delirious bogus her mind produces worth publishing. Here's a quote: "I am writing all this down in blue ink, so as to remember that all words, not just some, are written in water." Sure, you can pretend this is deep, and write another book on the color blue, and post it as a cryptic Facebook status, but is there any meaning in these words? I mean real meaning, or at least some beauty? I know this book has a higher rating than most of what I've read, including Brothers Karamazov and other books strong enough to change one's life, yet I see no other reason this book even exists, except for the author to self-indulge in how special she is, in love with the color blue and too deep for the masses. This very much reminds me of the naked King - the book is so praised that pointing out its lack of substance is almost suicidal. Did I mention how much I hated it?
Profile Image for Hannah.
591 reviews1,051 followers
April 21, 2018
This is the third book by Maggie Nelson I have read and my favourite so far. I admire her craft very much and thought this book near perfect. It is a collection of short thoughts, brief paragraphs that pack a punch, all losely structured around the colour blue.

Maggie Nelson, as always, unapologetically places herself in the center of her art; I adore that. This is an introspective book centered around the loss of a partner and grief and depression and the injury of a close friend and, yes, the colour blue. She talks about many things, in fragmented but poignant form. There are not many writers that I know of who can pull this disjointed form off, but Maggie Nelson can and her thoughts shine with an urgency that I could not escape.

She has a brilliant way with words. Her writing is both theoretical (drawing on Wittgenstein and Goethe and Warhol and many writers more) and visceral (her descriptions of sex are graphic and honest) in a way that I find mesmerizing and very difficult to describe. She mixes these two parts of her writing so effortlessly that it seems easy and like her sentences just flow out of her without further editing (and I am sure this is far from the truth). A near perfect book.

First sentence: "Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color."
Profile Image for Ben Loory.
Author 25 books680 followers
December 21, 2011
a lot of elegant writing on a sentence level, a lot of interesting observations, a lot of great quotes from famous writers and philosophers, and some neat facts about the color blue... but man, just so unrelentingly sad, maddeningly reticent (for a memoir), and HUMORLESS... like being trapped in a sad box for 90 pages... just you and the color blue and the word "fucking"...
Profile Image for cameron.
145 reviews703 followers
January 22, 2022
i really do not know how to rate this. i was pretty uninterested for most of it and felt like the writing was trying too hard, but the. there are a few lines that really spoke to me. i enjoyed that she used so many quotes from others but i felt they over shadowed her own writing as they tended to be the best lines. there were many of her own sentences/ paragraphs that just seemed so random and disrupted the flow . i think i also just would not like her as a person and that was distracting me lol
Profile Image for J.S.A. Lowe.
Author 2 books38 followers
April 25, 2011
If we could marry books, I'd already be known as Mrs. Bluets.
Profile Image for Lee Klein .
799 reviews851 followers
August 18, 2014
A numbered meditation on longing, love, obsession, connection at once spiritual, associative, interpersonal, and physical. Superficially about a color. Wondered what she would've written about "Blue Is the Warmest Color," but then again she's given up on the cinema. The sort of sensibility that prefers "cinema" to film or movie or, certainly, flick. Sexually explicit at regular intervals to keep you on your toes among the obligatory Goethe and Wittgenstein quotation. Acknowledges and dismisses Gass's On Being Blue, which I enjoyed more since his always alliterative language is flat-out fun. This one's borderline humorless. Few lightning bolts of insight (great Emerson quotation: "From the mountain you see the mountain"). Expected more personal revelation -- certainly more than just her past relationship with some dude she misses. Was she never a kid who opened her eyes underwater? No mention of the veins on the legs of grandparents or family dogs going blind. The product of a privileged aesthete, I thought toward the end. But being a privileged aesthete myself I admired the restraint and assemblage (hey Joseph Cornell), but did so coolly, like the color crossed with thin clouds. Read under a clear morning mid-August sky, feet upon a blue outdoor rug of a sort of woven plastic, the cinderblocks enclosing our backyard garden's greens and yellows painted a glossy royal blue. The sort of book that makes you want to write something like it, even if I only sort of liked this. I wonder if she loves the blue people of Avatar.
Profile Image for Justin Evans.
1,525 reviews796 followers
July 19, 2016
This book terrifies me, because it's so nicely written and interestingly formed and also so completely vapid. My fear comes from my absolute certainty that over the next 20 years I'm going to have to put up with dozens of books just like this, insofar as they'll be all 'experimental' (i.e., about fucking) and 'experimental' (i.e., self-obsessed), and 'experimental' (i.e., full of literary existentialism), and 'experimental' (i.e., quasi-educated), but not at all 'experimental' (i.e., interestingly formed and nicely written). Because the history of literature teaches me that authors are very quick to pick up on the content of well-formed books, without really taking the time to worry about, you know, art. It happened with Richardson and Fielding, it happened with Austen, it happened, dear f-ing God did it happen, with the modernists and their absurd/lonely/sad thing.

And now, I'm deeply afraid, it will happen with Bluets. Those in the know tell me Nelson's Argonauts is dreadful tripe, so maybe it's already happened to Nelson herself. I can only hope the virus can be contained.

Second thought: In case this isn't clear, this is a kind of fore-handed criticism review: there's nothing even remotely 'interesting' about what Nelson says about the world, or herself, but it's all said almost perfectly, leaving aside the already influential stupidity of numbering paragraphs, because, you know, Wittgenstein and shit.

Third thought: Any time you see a novelist or poet using Wittgenstein, please know, whatever they think he meant is precisely not what Wittgenstein meant.
Profile Image for Terry Everett.
13 reviews172 followers
April 10, 2017
I'm very moved by this book and shall reread it from time to time.
Profile Image for Nita.
253 reviews52 followers
May 4, 2014
Expectation equals disappointment. I know, I know. I should not have had expectations. What work would not break under such weight? Aside from anything written by Karl Ove Mouthguard? I was excited by the cover, whose cosmic blue seemed lifted from my sparkly blue bedroom walls. I was excited by the form, which upon scanning in the basement of the bookstore in Princeton, NJ reminded me of The Gay Science. I was excited!

I console myself with the fact that Maggie Nelson, PhD, was thirty when she started writing this. Meaning at the age when the hangover of Saturn's return is in full throttle. Meaning at the age when masturbating your victimhood status is untoward but not as untoward as if you were still doing it at forty. And, yet!

This book glistens with the coquettish purr of a woman writhing for male attention. Nelson uses language to court the male gaze and by book's end, I've almost forgiven her for it. I've almost forgiven her for it because it's clear she isn't quite that bright. She is bright enough, for sure. Perhaps even 85th percentile. But her pearl necklace of quotations (yes, consider yourself warned: she quotes Wittgenstein and Derrida and other thinkers for whom most of us relieve our hard ons before we're seniors) makes clear that not only is her intelligence derivative, it is stunted, it is still sitting in a sophomore year discussion section being amazed at her TA because so-and-so thinker has totally blown her mind.

Oh, how excruciating it is to read an entire book by someone who thinks she is smart trying to write things that are smart.

Maggie Nelson, you needn't diminish yourself by littering your work with the words of others. Maggie Nelson, you needn't diminish yourself by trying to flirt with your reader in hopes they'll want to fuck you. Maggie Nelson, your pursuit of the trophy for biggest victim not only makes you seem small, but also unoriginal (See Sophie Calle who in 2003, at the age of fifty, vomited Exquisite Pain into the world.). Maggie Nelson, I might have liked this work when I was in my twenties and still a mess, but now all I can think is, if my daughter ever likes this book, oh, please help me. Maggie Nelson, I think what I detest most about Bluets is that it seems written by a person I may have once been.

[ Also at: http://librarienne.com/maggie-nelson-... ]
Profile Image for megan.
34 reviews
May 19, 2015
this morning i saw a beautiful sunrise like lava bursting through rock and my friend sent me a picture of some blood at a crime scene on a london pavement she nearly stepped in and i read 'bluets'. none of these are connected but of course they're all related, much like the propositions in the book. one on its own is a tree, a star, but together they all make up a vast landscape that encompasses every possible facet of the human experience. reading 'bluets' was like breaking into a swimming pool at midnight, very aware that this is someone else's water you're submerged in. is this writing? having a feeling and struggling for the words to describe it, instead of attempting to craft a feeling with words pre-loaded with emotion? reading 'bluets' was like slipping into the swimming pool, being engulfed in nelson's pain and not-pain, feeling it on the nape of your neck, the backs of your knees, pressing on your eyelids- reading 'bluets' was like quietly sliding into the water, the words- not welcoming you but not pushing you away- an indifference rather than an apathy, allowing you to quietly join nelson without intruding, letting her narrative drift to the bottom of the pool. the water of her novel is pain and not-pain, emotion and not-emotion- it was like standing underwater, forgetting the presence of the water save for a slight coolness when still, but the moment a hand is moved a slight yet alien pressure reminds you that this is not your world. it wouldn't be quite accurate to describe her writing as raw- the wounds are there but there's a distance, a layer of skin to cover it up, the thinnest and most translucent protection there is- or rather, not protecting- existing. if i try to describe 'bluets' to someone i'll end up making it sound bleak and hopeless but i don't think that's it at all- i can imagine her writing it late at night and early in the morning, watching the skies circling from light blue to dark, over and over, calm- or rather, neutral- meditative with no goal of enlightenment in mind, sat in front of a shrine to blue, eyes closed and pen moving. nelson's state of being doesn't seem to be one of sadness or the absence of sadness- it is the presence of something else. 'bluets' is there. it exists. it's unlike anything i've ever read before and i need some peace and quiet and alone time to sit and think about it.
Profile Image for Adam Dalva.
Author 8 books1,552 followers
March 1, 2022
I've noticed in reviews of this personal essay that opinions are at least partially influenced by whether or not the reviewer had already read THE ARGONAUTS. The strengths of BLUETS - the mingling of private sexual detail with academic research; Nelson's keen eye and unique rendering of anxiety - are shared with ARGONAUTS, but this lacks the encompassing mingling of art and life that made that later book so special. I imagine BLUETS would have felt less primordial if it was my introduction to Nelson - but there is a luminosity here that I adore.
Profile Image for Jimmy.
512 reviews711 followers
May 2, 2011
It’s kind of cliche to say that you don’t choose the people you love. But I’ve been thinking about this recently, maybe because Maggie Nelson starts off the book with this point, that she didn’t choose to fall in love with blue (yes the color). The book continually repeats cliches like this without shame, but then takes it in a slightly odd direction (like being in love with a color) that ends up (because of its strangeness and forthrightness) being oddly effective in terms of getting us to reevaluate those statements.
"Truth. To surround it with figures and colors, so that it can be seen," wrote Joubert calmly professing a heresy.
More specifically, I’ve been thinking about family, and how most of the dreams that I can remember involve my parents. It’s a no brainer that one must love one’s parents, but why? Is it because we are stuck with them? I started thinking whether I loved my parents and of course I do. I’m 33 years old, and still most of my dreams are about them, but it is not a simple love, it is wrapped up in conflicts and tension and knowledge. Love isn’t equated with knowledge often, perhaps because the latter is seen as cold hard facts, but an intimate knowledge is one sign of love, like the native plant specialist who can not only name the different plants on our walk this weekend, but also talk about each one’s temperaments and characteristics. Knowledge becomes internalized. Through it, the people we love live inside of us, and it is no longer a question of choice.
This is a simple story, but it spooks me, insofar as it reminds me that the eye is simply a recorder, with or without our will. Perhaps the same could be said of the heart.
That you don’t choose your family is a cliche, but also that there are fewer and fewer things that we don’t choose. I made a list: our families (including the decisions they make for us when we are still children), our bodies (including our genes, our gender/race, our talents, our predispositions), our generations (we can’t choose to be peers with Shakespeare for example). That’s about it. We're no longer stuck in our hometowns; we can move anywhere we want. Marriages aren't arranged anymore. The concept of a 'family business' is quickly becoming antiquated. And religion is also mostly a choice, unless you're in a scary cult. Even our characteristics, our qualities, if you borrow Musil’s phrasing, often seem interchangeable depending on the need, so that anyone can be anyone at any time.
Do not be overly troubled by this fact.
But I wonder if all the choices have crippled our ability to love, if indeed to love is to be surrounded by choicelessness, by a color even, to be bathed in it without choice but only acceptance of the dark along with the light shades. For instance, she talks about her friend who was recovering from an accident that left her disabled:
She says, if anyone knows this pain besides me, it is you (and J, her lover). This is generous, for to be close to her pain has always felt like a privilege to me, even though pain could be defined as that which we typically aim to avoid. Perhaps this is because she remains so generous within hers, and because she has never held any hierarchy of grief, either before her accident or after, which seems to me nothing less than a form of enlightenment.
I really enjoyed these parts about the disabled friend, but the parts about getting over a breakup with a lover were less moving to me, even though she was sometimes able to move beyond the cliche of the broken heart--while reading it, I always felt the particular effort she put in navigating this dangerous territory. You can really see her awareness of this when she talks about the lyrics to Joni Mitchell's song "River":
I’m so hard to handle, I’m selfish and I’m sad. Progress! I thought. Then came the song’s next line: Now I’ve gone and lost the best baby that I ever had.
But maybe precisely because she is unafraid to go there, and to be that heartbroken woman (and to be un-progressive) despite knowing of its dangers, that makes this book interesting. But also, I felt like her awareness made her overcompensate at times, like the sections on fucking, which seemed to be about empowering herself so that she is not the object of the male who’s rejected her. At the same time, I wonder why in a book about heartbreak, it seems the only tangible image of this relationship that she allows herself to write about is this fucking.

What I most enjoyed about this book was the interweaving of these personal narratives (with all its strengths and flaws) and the poetic ambiguity of blue (what is a color anyway, if not pure ambiguity?) with the collage of anecdotes and thoughts that make up an aimless wandering pattern of mind.
despite what the poets and philosophers and theologians have said, I think beauty neither obscures the truth nor reveals it. Likewise, it leads neither toward justice nor away from it. It is pharmakon. It radiates.
Profile Image for Alan.
419 reviews180 followers
February 20, 2023
I quote whole chunks from the book. There isn’t really anything to “spoil”, per se, but if you want to go in completely blind, you have been warned.

I picked this up because it was on quite a few poetry lists, hailed as a modern classic. It is a modern classic, in my opinion, but I’m only saying that because I enjoyed the hell out of it. It isn’t, however, entirely “poetry”. It’s poetic, for sure. It’s poetic musings and gatherings of things, philosophy, art, science, readings. Such a beautiful collection of blue to deal with feeling blue, in the general sense. Not that Maggie Nelson would necessarily equate feeling blue with the emptiness and sadness that the general sense connotes. I’ll still file it under poetry. Who cares, there are no rules.

Below? Les Bluets by Joan Mitchell (1973). It inspired the name for Nelson’s 240 “pieces” in this book. If you own Lydia Davis’ Essays One, you can flip to this picture and read her essay on it. I didn’t! But if you want to, it’s also online, right here. You can let me know how it is if you do.

Les Bluets

I’ll spruce up the review with some quotes at the end, all from the book. For now, we’ll start with what Nelson starts with, right before she gets into the book, a snippet from Pascal’s Pensées:

“And were it true, we do not think all philosophy is worth one hour of pain.”

The tribal side of me (easily activated during each and every single one of the 38 Premier League games that Arsenal play) despises blue. Red is where it should be. Reactionary, angry, sexy, seductive, alluring. The cognitive side of me (often on vacation) rests inside blue when it can. I think of music, the deep emotional crags inside of my brain, filled to the brim with blue. Indigo. Cyan. Azure. Navy. Sky. Turquoise. I think of those albums that were blue, and the blue affected everything about how they affected me. So not so cognitive, eh? Emotional. Deeply emotional. Maybe this one, John Mayer.

Heavier Things

Or this one, Jay Z.

The Blueprint

This one for SURE, Drake.

Nothing Was the Same

The Beatles have to be there, despite this not being a studio album.




A music list for Alan is pointless without some Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Stadium Arcadium

This one too.

By The Way

An abundance of blue. It’s an important colour. Maybe the musical draw from the colour drew me to pick the book up. But it landed something fierce. I’m not currently in the state of mind that Nelson would have been in when she wrote the book, or parts of it. She was reeling from the dissolution of a romantic relationship. That’s a lazy explanation for the feeling though, as we all know it’s not a one-to-one linear relationship. The amount of her “sadness”, if you can call it that, did not make her delve even deeper into the colour.

Fuck it, I won’t wait for the end to toss everything in. Here are some of the quotes I liked:

27. But why bother with diagnoses at all, if a diagnosis is but a restatement of the problem?

45. This pains me enormously. She presses me to say why; I can’t answer. Instead I say something about how clinical psychology forces everything we call love into the pathological or the delusional or the biologically explicable, that if what I was feeling wasn’t love then I am forced to admit that I don’t know what love is, or, more simply, that I loved a bad man. How all of these formulations drain the blue right out of love and leave an ugly, pigmentless fish flapping on a cutting board on a kitchen counter.

71. I have been trying, for some time now, to find dignity in my loneliness. I have been finding this hard to do.

72. It is easier, of course, to find dignity in one’s solitude. Loneliness is solitude with a problem. Can blue solve the problem, or can it at least keep me company within it?—No, not exactly. It cannot love me that way; it has no arms. But sometimes I do feel its presence to be a sort of wink—Here you are again, it says, and so am I.

I adore how she puts these across. She does a bit of the music soul searching too - that’s what inspired my closer look into the musical influence on the colour (the cover art?) - she goes with Joni Mitchell’s Blue.

Joni Mitchell

She also works with Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat. We Canadians know our blue, that’s for damn sure.

Rant coming up. Skip it if you want - look for the next bolded letters.

As a side note, I wanted to listen to Joni Mitchell’s Blue while reading this book, as the album was salient again due to constant mentions. I go to Spotify, I search it up, and I remember that both her and Neil Young took their discographies off of Spotify due to… what exactly? Sharing a platform with Joe Rogan? Due to ideas that he was spreading COVID misinformation? I’m no Rogan apologist (I think he’s brilliant at maintaining that many conversations with that many differing personalities, but he can be a massive idiot at times), but had they listened to a single episode of his work or was it just the classic out of context clips that go around of him being an oaf that talks about elk, BJJ, and ivermectin? Look: now millions and millions of people are a) deprived of your music and b) deprived of the chance to become acquainted with your work. Do you know the amount of inspiration and influence you are taking away from upcoming artists? Not to mention the selfish lens of the fact that your influence/legacy will be nil to ongoing generations. Spotify (unfortunately) is that big. It is that ubiquitous.

A pattern I notice with ageing: your experience grows. Of course, as experience accumulates, you may mistake this accumulation with wisdom. That would be stupid. You don’t have a god-given talent to identify patterns within this experience properly. You are welcome to speak out on it, of course. Yes, stick it to the man. I get it, trust me. Stick it to the system. Monopolies are bad. I have a sarcastic tone, but I do genuinely agree. I just think it’s a damn shame to be that old, have that much experience, have seen that much of the world, and still be unable to come back to a situation and potentially admit that your pride may have gotten the better of you.

Listen, I’m sorry, I CANNOT believe that Joni Mitchell had even heard of this podcast prior to… seeing clips of it? Being told about it? Does Joni Mitchell even listen to any podcasts? Come now. Do I think this was an orchestrated attempt by other music streaming services at Spotify’s stocks and chokehold on the market? Heyyyyyy now. We can talk over some coffee.

“It’s a dangerous thing to mistake speaking without thought for speaking the truth, don’t you think?” says Benoit Blanc. I love that quote. Let’s not forget that quote before taking sensationalist stances. Fucking hell, Joni Mitchell, look what you’ve made me type out in my review. As for your music… shit, I’m not going out of my way to buy it. Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone?

Rant done. I needed to get that out.

I’m rambling - I don’t have a coherent point. I just want to say that “this was good”. I also want to say that because it was good, “I liked it”. That’s it, really, isn’t it? Here are the rest of the sections I liked.

121. “Clearness is so eminently one of the characteristics of truth, that often it even passes for truth itself,” wrote Joseph Joubert, the French “man of letters” who recorded countless such fragments in notebooks for forty years in preparation for a monumental work of philosophy that he never wrote. I know all about this passing for truth. At times I think it quite possible that it lies, as if a sleight of hand, at the heart of all my writing.

134. It calms me to think of blue as the color of death. I have long imagined death’s approach as the swell of a wave—a towering wall of blue. You will drown, the world tells me, has always told me. You will descend into a blue underworld, blue with hungry ghosts, Krishna blue, the blue faces of the ones you loved. They all drowned, too. To take a breath of water: does the thought panic or excite you? If you are in love with red then you slit or shoot. If you are in love with blue you fill your pouch with stones good for sucking and head down to the river. Any river will do.

135. Of course one can have “the blues” and stay alive, at least for a time. “Productive,” even (the perennial consolation!). See, for example, “Lady Sings the Blues”: “She’s got them bad / She feels so sad / Wants the world to know / Just what her blues is all about.” Nonetheless, as Billie Holiday knew, it remains the case that to see blue in deeper and deeper saturation is eventually to move toward darkness.

184. Writing is, in fact, an astonishing equalizer. I could have written half of these propositions drunk or high, for instance, and half sober; I could have written half in agonized tears, and half in a state of clinical detachment. But now that they have been shuffled around countless times—now that they have been made to appear, at long last, running forward as one river—how could either of us tell the difference?

198. In a 1994 interview, about twenty years after he wrote “Famous Blue Raincoat,” Cohen admitted that he could no longer remember the specifics of the love triangle that the song describes. “I always felt that there was an invisible male seducing the woman I was with, now whether this one was incarnate or merely imaginary I don’t remember.” I find this forgetting quite heartening and quite tragic, in turns.

203. I remember, in the eighties, when crack first hit the scene, hearing all kinds of horror stories about how if you smoked it even once, the memory of its unbelievable high would live on in your system forever, and you would thus never again be able to be content without it. I have no idea if this is true, but I will admit that it scared me off the drug. In the years since, I have sometimes found myself wondering if the same principle applies in other realms—if seeing a particularly astonishing shade of blue, for example, or letting a particularly potent person inside you, could alter you irrevocably, just to have seen or felt it. In which case, how does one know when, or how, to refuse? How to recover?

233. That the future is unknowable is, for some, God’s means of suturing us in, or to, the present moment. For others, it is the mark of a malevolence, a sure sign that our entire existence here is best understood as a sort of joke or mistake.

234. For me, it is neither. It is simply the way that it is. Whether this accident be a happy or unhappy one is probably more a matter of mood than anything else; the difficulty is that “our moods do not believe in each other” (Emerson). One can wander about the landscape looking for clues, amassing evidence, but even the highest pile never seems to decide the case.
Profile Image for Anna.
758 reviews510 followers
March 19, 2018
Using the author’s own words, here’s how to best describe this book:

226. As I collected blues for this project—in folders, in boxes, in notebooks, in memory—I imagined creating a blue tome, an encyclopedic compendium of blue observations, thoughts, and facts. But as I lay out my collection now, what strikes me most is its anemia—an anemia that seems to stand in direct proportion to my zeal. I thought I had collected enough blue to build a mountain, albeit one of detritus. But it seems to me now as if I have stumbled upon a pile of thin blue gels scattered on the stage long after the show has come and gone; the set, striked.

Sadly, I was rather underwhelmed by Bluets , nothing in it managed to move me or shock me, not even her bluntness about sex, obsessively using words like “fucking” and “pussy.” Her more personal meditations in these 240 micro-essays were more insightful and at times quite intriguing, so perhaps she should have given up those lengthy quotes completely, since – let’s face it – they resemble a randomized inventory list of library search results on “blue.”

As far as I’m concerned, Nelson’s take on “blue” in art, literature, and philosophy barely scratches the surface, and some of her observations on Wittgenstein, Goethe, Marguerite Duras or John Berger often transpire as superficial, self-indulgent and, ultimately, colourless.
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,397 followers
May 20, 2016
Bluets is like no other book I’ve read—it’s comprised of a number of extremely short essays, some so short they may actually qualify as poems instead. The book purports to be a meditation on the color blue, but after reading for a while you understand what it’s really about—or perhaps what it’s also about, besides the blue. Bluets is brief enough that multiple readings are feasible, and lovely enough that they’re also desirable.
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.3k followers
September 20, 2016
I like Bluets a lot. The book is a collection of lyrical essays that I think could also be called prose poems, but they are a range of things: inquiry into other color works, mundane observations, about blue things, peppered with sex memories. Blue is about blue, the color, and the various emotional states we associate it with, but it is also about grief, the loss of a relationship, an analogical way of expressing that obsession and that amputated passion.

As a meditation about blue, she also somehow draws on (she says) “principal correspondents” (who might be friends she has written to?), and her reading of “principal suppliers,” (the philosopher Wittgenstein and the poet Goethe), music, movies, nature.

In other words, let’s think about blue instead of who left. Fill up that loss with blue. But that’s too simple, because, yes, blue has supplanted the lover, but is really the same thing. There’s a bunch of sometimes graphic sex in this experimental break-up piece to break up the philosophy, just in case you begin to think she is getting too much into aesthetic theory. The body and its loss of connection with another body (okay, the lust for the person who left) is never far from this collection of meditations, just to wake you up and remind you that for Nelson, sex and blue may just be the same thing, in some poetic/lyrical sense.

Experimental form. Lyrical essays.

Things I like that she mentions: Warhol’s Blue movie. Joni Mitchell’s Blue.

William Gass’s On Being Blue. (this one is central)

Joseph Cornell, Leonard Cohen.

It’s in some ways like Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red!

Some excerpts:

For blue has no mind. It is not wise, nor does it promise any wisdom. It is beautiful, and despite what the poets and philosophers and theologians have said, I think beauty neither obscures truth nor reveals it. Likewise, it leads neither toward justice nor away from it. It is pharmakon. It radiates.

Do not, however, make the mistake of thinking that all desire is yearning. “We love to contemplate blue, not because it advances to us, but because it draws us after it,” wrote Goethe, and perhaps he is right. But I am not interested in longing to live in a world in which I already live. I don't want to yearn for blue things, and God forbid for any “blueness.” Above all, I want to stop missing you.

For to wish to forget how much you loved someone--and then, to actually forget--can feel, at times, like the slaughter of a beautiful bird who chose, by nothing short of grace, to make a habitat of your heart. I have heard that this pain can be converted, as it were, by accepting “the fundamental impermanence of all things.” This acceptance bewilders me: sometimes it seems an act of will; at others, of surrender. Often I feel myself to be rocking between them (seasickness).

I want you to know, if you ever read this, there was a time when I would rather have had you by my side than any one of these words; I would rather have had you by my side than all the blue in the world.

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: Heartbreak is a spondee. Then I lay my head down on the desk and start to weep. --Why doesn't this help?

So, I sometimes liked it, I loved it, I was sometimes bored by it’s scholarly feel at times, I was sometimes fascinated by all the facts about blue, I was moved by it, and I want to write Greenets right now. Sometimes I think that can be the best thing about a book, that it makes you want to write, and read more, and do your own set of inquiries and passionate meditations.
Profile Image for Vartika.
374 reviews607 followers
July 29, 2022
Maggie Nelson's writing, reputed for defying categorisation, had been on my list for so long that the author became to me an almost mythical figure. Close to mythical lies the word mythic, and the colour blue is a bit of both—it has seeped into our understanding of the divine and otherworldly; and there's something larger-than-life about it, something about it being endless and layered and rare and dangerous all at the same time that fascinates.

In 2009, when Bluets was written, blue had already begun assuming the additional, discomfiting film of ubiquity bestowed on it by the marketing strategists of several popular social media apps. Nelson, however, writes almost as if to restore it to a realm of wonder, as a site of heartfelt contemplation.
52. Fifteen days after we are born, we begin to discriminate between colors. For the rest of our lives, barring blunted or blinded sight, we find ourselves face-to-face with all these phenomena at once, and we call the whole shimmering mess “color.” You might even say that it is the business of the eye to make colored forms out of what is essentially shimmering. This is how we “get around” in the world. Some might also call it the source of our suffering.
Granted, she isn't contemplating blue itself, but using it as a lens through which she explores and projects on heartbreak, grief, sex, art, philosophy, and living. Many, like Goethe and Gass, have done the same before her, for the idea of colour offers one the space to think and emote. After all,
53. "We mainly suppose the experiential quality to be an intrinsic quality of the physical object”—this is the so-called systematic illusion of color. Perhaps it is also that of love. But I am not willing to go there—not just yet.
Bluets is illuminating and passionate, with an epigrammatic, experimental, fragmentary sense of urgency. Whereas the title of this book suggests the flowering prosody of the lyric essay(s) within, nothing truly prepares one for the way Nelson weaves common clichés into wholly original and captivating lace.

Many seem to find this book too brief, too experimental, too abstract to be of substance, but I politely disagree. These numbered meditations felt bold and enriching, and I also believe that delight is an entity of its own, especially with poetry—and Nelson makes a fair case for it.
164. [...]blue has no mind. It is not wise, nor does it promise any wisdom. It is beautiful, and despite what the poets and philosophers and theologians have said, I think beauty neither obscures truth nor reveals it. Likewise, it leads neither towards justice nor away from it. It is pharmakon. It radiates.
Profile Image for Prerna.
222 reviews1,322 followers
November 18, 2022
I specifically bought a blue highlighter for this book, even though I stopped using blue inked pens ages ago because I thought of blue ink as basic. One could wonder what an entire book on a single color would be like, I did. But then again, I could probably write a thesis on red and black, though not as good. It's not like I could associate it with just sullen things and pleasant skies, I can only write about blood, gore and rage. Would that make any sense to others? I can't write things like flannel pink and verdant green. That's the thing about writing a book (even if it's really short) on a single colour, it's not very likely that it will make sense to others. Unless you tap into some sort of collective subconscious and then it makes sense to everyone.

This book not only made sense, it made perfect sense and I don't seem to have liked it (In the same way I'm not liking The Book of Disquiet as much as I thought I would.)

The most I want to do is show you the end of my index finger. Its muteness.

Do I even want to show you anything? Or do I want to show everything? Has Maggie Nelson shown everything or nothing? I wish I knew. Or am I just trying to force her love into something pathological? She's just seeking oblivion. Maybe. What do I know?
Material conditions my brain screams.

At least most of my book is highlighted in blue, I think that's good enough.
Profile Image for simran.
16 reviews64 followers
November 7, 2021
”she thinks we sometimes weep in front of a mirror not to inflame self-pity, but because we want to feel witnessed in our despair.”

Profile Image for paula.
31 reviews10 followers
July 21, 2022
An exquisite, lyrical, and a bewitchingly soul-stirring book. Arguably one of the most beautiful prose poetry / lyric esay ever written that I have read so far. I think if words can be expensive for its rare beauty and candid transparency then, this is a whole precious collection of it in this very masterpiece.

Bluets is a gem. A tour de force. A brilliant collection, a woeful memoir, of Maggie Nelson's heartbreaks, experiences, and her search for meaning in color. Both possessing elegance and candor in her words, it is an honor to have read this and to have travlled alongside her personal and philosophical exploration of what the dear color blue has done to Nelson. Although I did not quite relate to her, her series of experiences and her style of writing are undoubtedly exhilerating and unnerving, never to be missed out.

A favorite excerpt of mine (the opening line of Bluets):

"Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a color. Suppose I were to speak this as though it were a confession; suppose I shredded my napkin as we spoke. It began slowly. An appreciation, an affinity. Then, one day, it became more serious. Then (looking into an empty teacup, its bottom stained with thin brown excrement coiled into the shape of a sea horse) it became somehow personal."
Profile Image for Olivia (Stories For Coffee).
593 reviews5,607 followers
January 26, 2020
Beautiful prose, beautiful insights that I highlighted to put into my commonplace book, but a majority of the collection I wasn’t completely invested in.
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books781 followers
January 5, 2019
I’ve been meaning to read Maggie Nelson for a while now, and thanks to this gift from a dear friend I finally did. Nelson’s writings, by reputation, defy categorization: that’s certainly true here, the easiest label to give it being “creative nonfiction." Her numbered ‘entries’ are not poems and don’t add up to equal a story, though there are stories within. Her musings and meditations become mini-essays. Taken altogether, it is controlled, precise writing.

Her inspirations are not only her obsessive love of the color blue; but her obsessive love for a former lover; and her love and care of a friend who became paraplegic due to a horrific accident. I didn’t relate to all she had to say—I didn’t need to—but there were moments, especially with her busting of clichés, that struck me as truth, or at least ‘my’ truth. I also learned some new words, such as the title with its multiple meanings.
Profile Image for Sentimental Surrealist.
294 reviews48 followers
April 24, 2018
I think it's safe to say the most famous study of color-as-reflection-of-individual-as-reflection-of-society-as-reflection-of-color study was Gass' On Being Blue, which Nelson cites here and seems to have a mixed-to-negative relationship with. For me, On Being Blue is a beautiful little book. Gass' eloquence can't be denied, nor can his intelligence and personable voice that doesn't always come through in his fiction. But it's no Bluets. This is everything good about the Gass study plus more; here, Nelson is honest, impressionistic but not vague, and makes a ton of fragmented and associative leaps which might not make logical sense to anyone but her yet are so evocative I don't care. She proposes she fell in love with blue, probes it through art, sex, disability, death, nostalgia and a dozen other things, and comes to no definitive answers but instead does something much better - transfers her experience over to us happy readers, invites us to take our own crazy and half-mad and but so, so rewarding journeys of inquiry. There's so much life here the pages can't contain it all.
Profile Image for Lotte.
546 reviews1,106 followers
August 23, 2020
I do really like Nelson's writing a lot of the time, but I feel like I only understood ~60% of what she was trying to say in this. And if I'm being totally honest, I don't think that's because I'm just not smart enough (even though there's definitely still a chance that that's the case lol), but it's more due to the fact that she sometimes likes to express sentiments or ideas that actually aren't that earth-shattering and original in overly complicated and academic ways in order to make you think that they are. Controversial opinion maybe? Like I said, there's still a chance that I just didn't fully ~get it.
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