In the introduction of Mr. Blue, it said that this could very well have been the Catholic answer to The Great Gatsby, because it was written only four years after Gatsby. Interestingly, but I’m sure not coincidentally, I read Gatsby earlier this year, in my ongoing attempt to read some of those classics I somehow missed earlier in my life. (And who’s running the show again? Even my reading, if only I let Him drive…as Archbishop someone-or-other said, “all I know is, the more I pray, the more it [“coincidence”] happens”…and I must research that some other time to get the reference right, sorry) Just like Gatsby, Blue is short – 126 pages, and the perfect length for preseason football game viewer companions, who like to share the space but perhaps not the activity of watching. Watch out, though. This book packs a punch – there’s a lot there worth rereading, considering, and yes, buying your own copy. I was delighted that our small town library had a copy in their stacks, but I do think it goes on my must-own list, so that I can pass it out indiscriminately to those unsuspecting visitors and friends who mention, however much in passing, that they “need something good to read.”
So much of this book spoke to me. For example:
“Life gives you pretty much what you give it. She gives beauty to those who try to add to her beauty. She gives happiness to those who share their happiness with her. She gives, even, love to those who love her. But those are very, very few. Almost all of us have a capacity for being loved. But few of us have a capacity for loving.”
I can’t help but think about the conditionality of so much of the love I have experienced in my life, and to reflect on how very much I too have conditional with people. Love is not conditional. Blue reminds us of that, gently at times and at others with the glaring spotlight of self-examination.
“‘Friendship, at worst,’ he once said to me, ‘is an investment. Your friend, no matter how he may turn out in the end, is an addition to your life. He brings some things, and whatever his disloyalty, these things he cannot take away.’”
And, reading this and the passage surrounding it, I could not help but think of the patchwork of friends that make me complete. There are the friends who have fallen out of touch, and those who are right down the street who I never see or speak with, those who I revisit every so often as if we were never apart, and those who I am in the stages of becoming friends with. There are the friends who hold me up, and the friends who land, like angels, beside me, and comfort me with words and actions that must be inspired by the Holy Spirit.
“It is the humble man who risks his dignity to speak up for what he loves. It is the courageous man who dares contradiction and the acrimony of argument to defend his beliefs. If one loves anything, truth, beauty, woman, life, one will speak out. Genuine love cannot endure silence. Genuine love breaks out into speech. And when it is great love, it breaks out into song. Talk helps to relieve us of the tiresome burden of ourselves. It helps some of us to find out what we think. It is essential for the happiest companionship. One of the minor pleasures of affection is in the voicing of it. If you love your friend, says the song, tell him so. Talk helps one to get rid of the surplus enthusiasm that often blurs our ideas. Talk, as the sage says, relieves the tension of grief by dividing it. Talk is one of man’s privileges, and with a little care it may be one of his blessings. The successful conversationalist is not the epigram maker, for sustained brilliance is blinding. The successful conversationalist says unusual things in a usual way. The successful conversationalist is not the man who does not think stupid things, but the man who does not say the stupid things he thinks. Silence is essential to every happy conversation. But not too much silence. Too much silence may mean boredom or bewilderment. And it may mean scorn. For silence is an able weapon of pride.”
Mr. Blue takes on so many topics, with a succinctness that might make you think it’s a quick read. Oh it is! But it will sit in your mind, like one of those expandable sponges, and soak up what’s already there, and make you turn those thoughts and reflections in a different way, in a different light, until you have something completely new.
“People remember sorrow much longer than they remember laughter. It is easier to revive your sad hours than it is to revive your gay ones. It is too bad, with all the amiability in the world, that tears should be so facile and laughter require so much effort. Literature is to be blamed. It is never cooperated with the gayer side of mankind. … And yet all men loaf far more than they work. All great men especially. It is a misfortune that the seriousness of men lives after them while their gaiety dies with them. … The history of the past, especially of the distant past, reads much like a long and somber obituary. And yet, those men of other days were as gay and gayer than we. As with individuals so with peoples: their gaiety dies with them but their seriousness goes on forever. Historians describe early peoples as especially severe, gray creatures moving stolidly through laughterless twilights. Yet, the presumption is that early peoples, especially the so-called primitive peoples, were immensely much happier and heartier than we. Primitive peoples as we find them in contemporary life are most always gay. The older a civilization, the more it approaches the glumness of stagnation. Capacity for laughter could well be employed as the index of the wisdom of a man or a civilization.”
There was a comment by Blue about the idea that it’s growing harder to keep the faith. Why?
“Scientific agnosticism is here for a long stay, he maintained, because it is not a philosophy but a somewhat vainglorious state of mind. It is hard to oppose it with reason and argument. The only thing to oppose it with – as he pointed out – is another state of mind. And that, I suppose, is where great lives and good art come in.”
Mr. Blue is worth reading and discussing with others. It would make an excellent book study, because it provides so much of the stuff that’s good to chew on with others. I think it would be especially interesting to read this with a group of teens, because although it was written back in 1928, it seems to speak to me NOW (but I’m not a teen). I wonder what they would have to say about it, what thoughts it would inspire, what conversation would ensue. If you read it, let me know what you think.