Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

On On Being Blue

All week, I have awaited a package, a slim volume purchased without photo or much in the way of description from an unknown Amazon Marketplace seller, something I stumbled across while looking for something else, a thin treatise by William Gass from 1975, On Being Blue. I now see that the volume remains available here and there, but at Amazon there was only the one instance, at one rare book seller, and armed with only a two-sentence description I was moved to action by the threat implicit in there being only one copy in the entire Amazon community, the volume seemingly out of print.

Since last week, I have waited anxiously -- either for the package to arrive or for the dreaded email that sometimes follows Marketplace orders, indicating that the item is not in stock after all, so sorry. I waited as though for a distant great uncle on his deathbed to pass, a great uncle by marriage, a great uncle I haven't seen in twenty-five years, but one I love in the strong unquestioning way of family, as a good man who once guided me around his several dozen acres in rural Maine, an undersized boy of seven in bright yellow shirt and burgundy trucker's hat emblazoned with the name of my father's then employer.

The uncle passed this weekend in the rural Maine redoubt he discovered with his family like an unmapped Pacific atoll, rest his soul, at ninety-two years old. Still, though, no book.

Then today it came. Ever so gingerly, I opened the battered manila envelope, stiffened by boards inside, my heart racing. Hardcovered and dustjacketed, two slight tears at the top of the front jacket and the cover otherwise remarkably simple, the paper thick and creamy and textured, like a woven variation on a grocery bag, the endpapers similarly rough, copyright information but no date, no indication whether this is a first edition (although it simply must be), the cover page adorned by a perfectly lovely indigo impress: "On Being Blue." On the last page, however, I learn that this was a limited edition -- 3,000 copies of the trade edition, and only 225 of the "de luxe" edition. A perusal of copyright information and bookjacket identified, by ISBN, my edition as one of the 3,000 trade editions. A limited edition, thirty years old, in fair condition -- for a song.

Inside, under a Roman I on the first page, I found these words:

Blue pencils, blue noses, blue movies, laws, blue legs and stockings, the language of birds, bees, and flowers as sung by longshoremen, that lead-like look the skin has when affected by cold, contusion, sickness, fear; the rotten rum or gin they call blue ruin and the blue devils of its delirium; Russian cats and oysters, a withheld or imprisoned breath, the blue they say that diamonds have, deep holes in the ocean and the blazers which English athletes earn that gentlemen may wear; afflictions of the spirit -- dumps, mopes, Mondays -- all that's dismal -- low-down gloomy music, Nova Scotians, cyanosis, hair rinse, bluing, bleach; the rare blue dahlia like that blue moon shrewd things happen only once in, or the call for trumps in whist (but who remembers whist or what the death of unplayed games is like?), and correspondingly the flag, Blue Peter, which is our signal for getting under way; a swift pitch, Confederate money, the shaded slopes of clouds and mountains, and so the constantly increasing absentness of Heaven (ins Blaue hinein, the Germans say), consequently the color of everything that's empty; blue bottles, bank accounts, and compliments, for instance, or, when the sky's turned turtle, the blue-green bleat of ocean (both the same), and, when in Hell, its neatly landscaped rows of concrete huts and gas-blue flames; social registers, examination booklets, blue bloods, balls, and bonnets, beards, coats, collars, chips and cheese . . . the pedantic, indecent and censorious . . . watered twilight, sour sea: through a scrambling of accidents, blue has become their color, just as it's stood for fidelity.

There's more, of course, and I am grateful for it. But I'll stop there, because that, ladies and gentlement, that is what I call a sentence.

An impulse buy in search of inspiration. I don't imagine Gass will start disappointing me now, after all these years.

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Blogger James said...

majestic writing.... just beautiful.

9:08 PM  
Anonymous binky said...

Have I got a bookstore for you. It's in between us, internet only but if you catch him in he will let you browse, impossible to give directions to, and chock full of wonder.

3:45 PM  
Blogger Spirit of Piano Practice said...

well well, I find your blog in response to my research on this book in researching BROWN, THE LAST DISCOVERY OF AMERICA by Richard Roderiguez. I didn't realise the book was so rare! Thank you for that. For the BROWN version of ON BEING BLUE, I recommend "In the Brown Study", the second essay in the Roderiquez volume. I count 28 color references in half as many pages and somewhat the same style, though the sentences are not as long.

10:26 PM  

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