Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Isn't that a song?

As I read C. J. Box’s terrific suspense novel Blue Heaven (Select Editions volume 298) for the first time, I wondered about the title. Something was nagging at my brain . . . Hadn’t I heard the phrase somewhere before? It sounded so familiar . . . is it a song? Could I hum it? Or is it a movie?

Well, the title I was thinking of is “My Blue Heaven” (one word longer), and not only is it a song and a movie, it’s also the title of at least one book, according to the Wikipedia.com “disambiguation” page. One of my favorite features of Wikipedia is this useful filter, which helps random searchers like me find out what I really mean (for example, do I mean Mercury the element, Mercury the planet, or Mercury the automobile). I had stumbled upon an expanding universe of possibilities with just one search.

I must digress a moment to talk about the word “disambiguation” — one of my favorites! At first, I thought it was a neologism dreamed up by computer nerds, something specific to Wikipedia. But no—the word appears in Webster’s New Collegiate dictionary, eleventh edition. Although there’s nothing wrong with ambiguity—it’s every artist’s stock in trade—for me, disambiguation has a certain emotional appeal as well. There’s satisfaction to be gained when things are classified—the satisfaction of knowing that other classifications, orders, and configurations are always possible.

Anyway, “My Blue Heaven” is the title of three songs: one written in 1927 and recorded by no fewer than 85 artists, including Gene Ausin and Fats Domino; one released in 1989 by the band The Pogues; and one released in 2007 by the band Taking Back Sunday. It’s also the title of two movies, one released in 1950 starring Betty Grable and one released in 1990 starring Steve Martin—and no, the latter is not a remake of the former. A search on Amazon reveals that My Blue Heaven is also the title of three books and a play, each of them on different subjects.

What is it about the words “blue” and “heaven” that, when combined, form something magical? Clearly, the words have inspired more than a few writers and artists. Perhaps it’s that heaven can’t properly be ascribed a color, just as rage can’t properly be called purple, except poetically. There’s probably a word for that verbal technique—maybe a Greek term from the formal study of rhetoric. Does anyone know?

All I know is that Blue Heaven by C. J. Box takes readers on a wonderful journey, and I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.


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