The Book of Delights

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 26 Feb 2019

Member Reviews

A stunning collection of teeny tiny essays that delight. Gay's voice is one we need more of, telling us that beauty exists even when we don't believe it so.
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I looked up what others had said about this book before I read it, and expected something much more political, which is not right. It includes the political, interwoven with life as that is for all of us to varying degrees. Ross Gay is a tall black American man, his life involves his blackness, and includes regular experiences with racism. In addition, as for all of us, it includes other painful experiences of fear, loss,  shame, regret, and embarrassment. But this is a book of “essayettes” about joy, the light that darkness cannot overcome.

We are often told to practice gratitude, which sounds like work. Gay’s search for delight, every day for a year, is contagious. He found that the more he looked, the more he found, a truism too easy to forget.

It’s a pleasure to be in the company of his thoughts and observations, his alert upbeat sensual kind persona, a grown man in touch with his childlike self. The essays are brief, friendly and digressive.  There are lots of books, plenty of food and drink. He gardens, reads, bikes, does laundry, people-watches, considers philosophy, music, memories, famous people, and his own evolving responses to the world. He talks to friends, family, birds, animals and insects, sits in the sun with coffee, lists the most delightful architectural features (the breezeway, the breakfast nook). He pees in his car, twice. Once, he walks through an airport carrying a tomato seedling, which elicits a “shower of love.” The goofy vulnerable nature of delight is open for discussion too, how oblivious eccentric enthusiasm in others can make us feel embarrassed when we lack the same openness and inspiration ourselves. “Witnessing the absence of movement in ourselves by witnessing its abundance in another…can hurt. Until it becomes, if we are lucky, an opening.” This is a book of inspirations, a model, a good companion, perhaps to be read cover to cover, but then also dipped into at times when you need re-grounding and reassurance, a reminder to pay attention, get a grip, let go, find the delight.
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Poet Ross Gay challenged himself to write an essay every day for a year about something he found delight in. He edited the results down to this book, which is enchanting in its enthusiasm. From the joys of animal and plant interaction in his garden to his memories of dealing with family and friends to simply something that catches his eye, he finds a lot to delight him, even if it is sometimes tempered by consumerism, racism, and other cultural violence. In the end, his joy is infectious and the book is like reading the diary of a friend’s ecstasy and joie de vivre.
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Having really liked Ross Gay's Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, I was very excited to read The Book of Delights. I absolutely loved it. Gay recorded daily delights for a year, and then collected them in this book of what he calls essayettes. (I would argue some could also be considered prose poems.) Gay has an incredible ability to see the absolute good in humanity, and he also stops and appreciates nature in all of its forms. I expected a lot of nature pieces due to his poetry, but what I didn't expect was that this book would be so funny. I kept giggling and reading parts aloud. I also deeply related to the essay about having to fix things in whatever way possible. There are more sobering entries as well, reflecting on racism and inequality. Ultimately this book really did make me think about all the little delightful things I gloss over in my own life, and I appreciated that. Everyone should read this.
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