Book Review

On Being Blue by William H. Gass

great little essay i read while distracted by shitty work

I’ve been told many times, by many men (and only men) to read William H. Gass. He’s a writer whose name I have casually looked out for in second hand bookstores for a few years now, and – finally – I located one of his books on my birthday this year, when I went mad with the power of a very big voucher for a very very big secondhand bookstore. That was when, how and why I acquired On Being Blue.

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I’m typing these notes on a fucking packed bus on a Saturday afternoon where – unexpectedly- Toronto seems to be having a bonus extra day of mid-September Summer.

Unfortunately, though, this extra summer day is a day on which I am working 14 hours.

I have one hour free, here, in the middle of the day, where rather than peaceful relaxation, dog walking, reading, watching True Blood on a cross trainer or any of the other activities I’ve been doing recreationally during this way-too-long few weeks of mental health necessitated sobriety (I’m pretty depressed atm lol and rather than sinking into an alcoholic mess I’ve taken some time away from the bottle: am I less depressed? No, but sobriety helps with impulse control (so no physical self harming or worse), but what this really means is that I’m still depressed but rather than being depressed and drunk I’m depressed and bored, which is arguably inferior.)

In my hour “off” I have to travel over 50 minutes to get to where I will be working for the next six hours. I am travelling with an El Salvadorian man who I’m too self-conscious of having had nine achingly Anglophone months to speak to in Spanish. We’re in this hot, sweaty, bus on our way to another gig where we will be cheap migrant labour together for the affluent party people of the Toronto “suburbs”1.

Anyway, none of this is relevant to literature, and I’m aware this blog is becoming far more concerned with my pisspoor professional situation than it ever has before, which is strange. The work I’m doing now isn’t eventful or important, it is sometimes so simple it is harrowingly boring, but often it is physically draining and too many times – though only ever due to other people in the catering industry and never because of the clients who have the excuse of being high-end clients buying a service sold as high-end – psychologically unpleasant.

I think that on the occasions when this happens the bad behaviour comes from bitterness and jealousy, from people who have more senior positions than I do in the catering industry who have bumped more personally against the affluent for too long without ever being even faux treated as an “equal”. These grumpy Gen Xers are unable to lash out at their generational peers with massive houses for the inequities of capitalist society instead lash out at the precariously-employed migrant labourers (like me and my El Salvadorian bus buddy) who are their professional (and usually generational) “inferiors”.

There was a man I recently encountered whose behaviour mismanaging a team of serving staff was so inappropriate that – once I’ve received  payment for the work I did for him (lol) – I might have to do online posting using the name of the individual and the company he worked for. This is unlike me, but that guy was an absolute fucking arsehole.

Anyway, I need to go and work now, I’ll continue later and try to mention On Being Blue when I do lololol.

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There’s a fucking oil painting portrait of Woody Allen in this house and unless it was a gift from Woody Allen and he is like RELATED TO THESE PEOPLE AND HE IS VISITING TODAY AND VERY SAD AND HE GAVE IT TO THEM AS A GIFT, THAT’S COMPLETELY FUCKING UNACCEPTABLE NOW, RIGHT???

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Woody Allen didn’t turn up at that party, which is definitely a good thing.

I haven’t encountered anyone in real life who’s been cancelled and I don’t know how one would be expected to behave.

If we meet people who have been cancelled should we ignore them, as we would on social media? What’s the real life equivalent of blocking? Is there one? I don’t know if there is.

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It’s happened again: a week has passed since I actually read this book and I don’t have very much, if anything, to say about it.

It’s all about blue, but more about the word than the colour, about its symbolic and sonic useage within society slash culture.

It’s a very horny book, a bit male gazy tbh but I think there’s something a tad facile in criticising a man writing about sexuality from a male perspective for having a male perspective. Maybe it is fair, I dunno. The book’s from the 1970s and we all know the different mores of that era (see Woody Allen), so maybe in some ways it is progressive.

Gass writes about writing about sex, and what he does that I found surprising slash disappointing is rail against sexual slang, quite aggressively.

He dismisses the use of “fuck” and “dick” and “cunt” as vulgar, as simple and unbeautiful words, but I fundamentally disagree with him because it is the very simplicity of these words that makes them fucking gorgeous.

Sex is not a dirty, sinful, thing, so the word most commonly used casually to describe it – fuck – needn’t be. Though Gass does raise some (imo valid) criticism towards euphemistic, violent slang terms (nail, screw, etc) and how they deaden sexuality to a dull, laborious, task, his decision to wrap important, old, evocative elements of English up with that dismissal felt, to me, a bit fuddy duddy.

Despite this, I really enjoyed this short essay: it’s engaging and about all sorts of writing and all sorts of visual art and applies what is clearly a playful and articulate intellect towards this topic: a word, its metaphorical meanings and its societal importance.

I’ll read more by Gass, eventually, and I’ll try and stay more on topic with whatever I post on here next.

Bye bye bye.

Buy On Being Blue direct from NYRB via this link.


1. It’s all fucking suburbs here, the whole city is fucking suburban. There are like big buildings without gaps in between for like six or seven blocks in the middle and all the rest is houses with gardens. Gardens! Gardens in a city!? Gardens are either for royalty in a city or for people who are scared of hearing a siren. Too many gardens, too much space. Eurgh.


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2 comments on “On Being Blue by William H. Gass

  1. Thanks for all recommendations and none recommendations

    Like

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