Partly memoir, partly essay, partly poetry: it’s hard to describe Maggie Nelson’s work. But one thing is for sure: when you read her books, you’ll be itching to pick up your pen and start writing yourself. Nelson writes in such a beautiful and compelling way that makes you want to write in the margins, and her books are full of quotes you just want to underline. It is quite rare to come across an author that writes so beautifully, that it just inspires you to write and be creative yourself.
I only discovered Maggie Nelson recently, through the Instagram account @herpickings (I’ve loved all of her recommendations so far, and it’s great she doesn’t recommend the standard books Bookstagram is full with). She showed some exerpts of Bluets and I immediately fell in love: I had never read a book that is written in such a way, yet it spoke to me immediately. So naturally, I went on Bookdepository right away to order it. But naturally, I was impatient and I went to the bookstore where I bought one of her other books, The Argonauts.
So what are her works about? The Argonauts is about Maggie Nelson herself, and her partner Harry Dodge, who is genderfluid. She talks about their relationship, about starting a family, about her pregnancy and motherhood. She talks about the prejudices and misunderstandings when it comes to genderfluidity, what words you can and can’t use, which assumptions you can and can’t make. It is an illustration of the power of words: how they can define things, but thereby also limit the thing itself. Words set boundaries. Maggie Nelson’s writing style is very ‘no-nonsense’ and tells you the way things are. There are a few explicit sexual scenes that I thought were quite unnecessary, but did fit with Nelson’s overall style. Furthermore, there are many quotations and references to theorists, philosophers, thinkers and scientisits that make the book hard to understand sometimes if you don’t understand the reference, which is a shame. But the parts where Maggie get’s personal and almost autobiographical are truly inspiring and make this book one to remember.
Bluets also includes these references and quotes but here they seemed somehow more fitting. In it’s appearance, Bluets is a love letter to the color blue – but essentially it is about the themes of love and loss and personal suffering – and for me, the beauty of writing. It is hard to explain because Nelson’s work mixes so many genres, so therefore I’ll just show the first paragraph or Bluets to you here:
“Suppose I were to begin by saying 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, and 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.”