STARRED REVIEW
February 12, 2019

The Book of Delights

By Ross Gay

If timing is indeed everything, what better time than now, here in deep winter, to seek—and find—solace in the delightful but often elusive moments of the everyday? In The Book of Delights, poet and avid gardener Ross Gay sets out, beginning on his 42nd birthday, to write “a daily essay about something delightful” for one year. The result: 102 essays with curiosity-provoking titles like “Tomato on Board” and “Hole in the Head.” Gay writes, “[M]y delight grows—much like love and joy—when I share it.”

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If timing is indeed everything, what better time than now, here in deep winter, to seek—and find—solace in the delightful but often elusive moments of the everyday? In The Book of Delights, poet and avid gardener Ross Gay sets out, beginning on his 42nd birthday, to write “a daily essay about something delightful” for one year. The result: 102 essays with curiosity-provoking titles like “Tomato on Board” and “Hole in the Head.” Gay writes, “[M]y delight grows—much like love and joy—when I share it.”

Gay leads us on a merry walk through the mundane, illuminating moments of his day with intense, exquisitely detailed observations: a morning stop at a fragrant bakery; a glimpse of two strangers sharing their shopping bag handles; a grateful kiss planted on a blooming flower in his garden. He is mesmerized by the moment when the natural world meets the human eye, as when a praying mantis perches on an empty pint glass and transforms it into “a gorgeous transparent stage for this beast to perform on.”

Nor does he shy away from the reality of being black, that constant third rail embedded in our country’s history. The color of his skin shadows and illuminates his existence, causing both delight (when a “phenotypical” flight attendant calls him “Baby” and bestows him with extra pretzels) and angst (he has reason to note that “the darker your skin, the more likely you are to be ‘loitering’”).

Gay’s journey ambles back and forth in time. He feels his losses but imbues them with gratitude; people here and gone remain his delights. They are all here, stuffing this slim book with their abilities to delight the author. Yet humans are far from the only objects of Gay’s insights. Hummingbirds, cardinals, pigeons, skunks and bumblebees are all worthy of a moment’s glee, and he shares them all—delightfully, of course—with us.

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The Book of Delights

The Book of Delights

By Ross Gay
Algonquin
ISBN 9781616207922

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