On Being Blue is a book about everything blue—sex and sleaze and sadness, among other things—and about everything else. It brings us the world in a word as only William H. Gass, among contemporary American writers, can do.
Of the colors, blue and green have the greatest emotional range. Sad reds and melancholy yellows are difficult to turn up. Among the ancient elements, blue occurs everywhere: in ice and water, in the flame as purely as in the flower, overhead and inside caves, covering fruit and oozing out of clay. Although green enlivens the earth and mixes in the ocean, and we find it, copperish, in fire; green air, green skies, are rare. Gray and brown are widely distributed, but there are no joyful swatches of either, or any of exuberant black, sullen pink, or acquiescent orange. Blue is therefore most suitable as the color of interior life. Whether slick light sharp high bright thin quick sour new and cool or low deep sweet dark soft slow smooth heavy old and warm: blue moves easily among them all, and all profoundly qualify our states of feeling.
On Being Blue is the NYRB Classics Book Club selection for February 2014.
[On Being Blue] is a talismanic, self-contained kind of book that seems more giving, more delicious each time one returns.
—Brian Dillon, The Guardian
A book no person who loves writing and the sound writing makes should be without.
—The New Republic
The mark of a good essay is its ability to span worlds — illuminate complex ideas with a careful, personal touch. In On Being Blue there is life and death, pleasure, sadness, sex, personhood, theology — worlds of words.
—Juan Vidal, NPR
Gass is a philosopher-voluptuary, someone who romances language with a roué’s cunning, and isn’t afraid to play with words and ideas for sheer sport.
On Being Blue is a luminous work, a tour de force on blue, that word (and color) reverberant with what is called experience. On Being Blue celebrates both language and that which it represents and carefully draws our attention to that difficult middle ground on which the writer finds himself in lifelong struggle to join the two without sullying or smearing the clarities of either.
This is a tour de force…a virtuoso performance of great imaginative force.
—Los Angeles Times
An enchanting book.
—John Bayley, The New York Times Book Review
A blue-black, slightly brackish beauty of a book, a philosophical essay written, for the most part, with the lilt of a Renaissance epithalamium.
—Larry McMurtry, The Washington Post Book World