Last night I read a book in a single sitting. That almost never happens.
Last night marked the fortuitous intersection of a quiet evening alone, the completion of a book on Mongol history, and the call of small book from 1928 called Mr. Blue. It was sent to me unprompted by a friend who has known about the book for years, and according to people better-read than me, is an account of a 20th-century St. Francis figure. OK – I’m late to the Catholic Church and poorly educated regarding the saints. At a glance, the online reviews of the book appear to fluctuate between loving Blue and his attempts to live his understanding of his Catholic faith authentically, and hating Blue for flawed and feel-good notions of Christianity.
Whichever. The more compelling figure, to me, is the narrator, who is admiring and incredulous, who sees wisdom and folly in Blue, who badgers him to make something of himself and yet finds himself almost irresistibly drawn to Blue’s ideas and lifestyle.
I wrote my friend afterward: “blue is what the jim-in-my-head aspires to be; the narrator’s back-and-forth (“blue’s so wrong! blue’s so right!”) is why i’m not more that man. (that, and jodi’s desire not to live in a shipping crate.)
I should say that I don’t literally aspire to be Mr. Blue. I don’t wish to live in a shipping crate, any more than Jodi does. But, like the narrator, I can admire a man whose vision and convictions guide him more than the expectations and norms of society, and who manages to live, more or less happily, beyond worldly concerns like stuff and money.
(Sure it’s a simplistic reading. But I’ve got enough complexity in my world right now.)
I also dig a story about people who try to follow “a Way” in a world that has apparently moved on. Perhaps that’s why (in a very different way) one of my favorite movies as a younger man was Ghost Dog. The faithful, the mafia, and the samurai all have their “Ways” to follow. The world doesn’t always understand or agree with those Ways. And sometimes, people die along the Way.