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Books | Palette cleanser

Books | Palette cleanser

Posting in Cancer

A review of ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book About Color, by Jude Stewart.

If you've ever ransacked a Home Depot for paint samples that you didn't actually need, if you've ever Googled "blue lobsters" or "pink blueberries," if you've ever asked for sprinkles (even though they're tasteless), or if you contend that a box of crayons is the best gift a child could receive, buy ROY G. BIV: An Exceedingly Surprising Book about Color (Bloomsbury USA, $22, excerpted here).

In her first of hopefully several books, Jude Stewart -- a writer for Slate, the Believer, Fast Company and PRINT -- presents non-arbitrary trivia in a kid-size 7-by-7-inch square.

"I wanted to write a book rife with that deep sense of 'Aha!' that you get when you finally unravel something that has puzzled you since childhood," she writes, citing the "color and science tango."

The chapters do not follow the expected order dictated by the much-recited, titular mnemonic (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet). Rather, we learn about white, pink, red, orange, brown, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, gray, and finally, black.

While Stewart could have written a Taschen-esque chromatic opus, ROY G. BIV is a slim design text for anyone mature enough to acknowledge the existence of sex.

As she explores in the chapter about the color green, for a woman, a "roll in the hay" is synonymous with getting a "green gown" of grass smudges.

Not to make myself sound like a slut, but that chapter is my favorite, mostly because of a conspiracy theory that Napoleon died from arsenic inhalation -- his bath steam may have led to mold growth on chemically drenched green wallpaper. Stomach cancer has long been cited as the notorious Frenchman's cause of death.

Readers of ROY G. BIV are encouraged to skim or study, following a linear path only if you want. Stewart is a color expert without a hint of elitism (we are all color experts). What makes her an appealing guide is that she is having fun; she drifts from words like "felicity" and "literaria" to endearing quotes from, of all people, Eminem.

On a 2010 episode of 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper tried to coax the brutal-tounged rapper into admitting that some words are almost impossible to work with (including silver, purple and orange). "I can think of a lot of things that rhyme with orange," Eminem said. As Stewart writes, "He then spooled out a spontaneous rap about putting an 'orange four-inch door hinge in storage,' and 'having porridge with Geo-rge.'"

To be completely honest, one structural element of ROY G. BIV annoys the hell out of me: the far column of every page is composed of side notes redirecting you to related passages. For example, we are told countless times to go back and read about Queen Victoria popularizing white wedding dresses. Here is the unfortunate effect: every bit of the book functions as an advertisement for itself (you know, the one you already purchased and is providing plenty of entertainment).

Ultimately, Stewart leaves you wanting more, which is the best compliment a writer can earn. If there is a sequel, finger-crossed she references this panorama of our rainbow-centric president-in-waiting.

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Jenna Marotta

Columnist (Books)

Jenna Marotta is a party reporter for New York magazine and has written for their five blogs plus The Daily Beast, The A.V. Club, Jezebel, Nerve, Time Out New York, Time Out Chicago, and Chicago magazine. She is the books editor at SmartPlanet. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure