The winner of the NBCC Award for Poetry offers up a spirited collection of short lyric essays, written daily over a tumultuous year, reminding us of the purpose and pleasure of praising, extolling, and celebrating ordinary wonders.
In The Book of Delights, one of today’s most original literary voices offers up a genre-defying volume of lyric essays written over one tumultuous year. The first nonfiction book from award-winning poet Ross Gay is a record of the small joys we often overlook in our busy lives. Among Gay’s funny, poetic, philosophical delights: a friend’s unabashed use of air quotes, cradling a tomato seedling aboard an airplane, the silent nod of acknowledgment between the only two black people in a room. But Gay never dismisses the complexities, even the terrors, of living in America as a black man or the ecological and psychic violence of our consumer culture or the loss of those he loves. More than anything other subject, though, Gay celebrates the beauty of the natural world–his garden, the flowers peeking out of the sidewalk, the hypnotic movements of a praying mantis.
The Book of Delights is about our shared bonds, and the rewards that come from a life closely observed. These remarkable pieces serve as a powerful and necessary reminder that we can, and should, stake out a space in our lives for delight.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Strong language, Strong sexual themes
Booklist (December 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 8))
On his forty-second birthday, poet Gay (Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, 2015) began a yearlong project to write, every day, about something that delighted him. The 100 of these “essayettes” shared here in chronological order—and which are most delightfully read that way—consider things as contained as a high five from a stranger and concepts as vast as existence itself. The longhand in which Gay first wrote these (one of the project’s rules) seems to uncurl on the typed page, in winding meanders and meaningful digressions that share a life-spanning spectrum of emotions and experiences. Gay discovers that his delights begin to compound and embed in one another. Stacking delights, saving up several to write about another day, is technically against the rules, but he does it anyway; and occasionally blowing off the project is its own delight. While Gay’s delights embrace the darkness of racism and death, en masse they share a profound capacity for joy and belief in humankind. This stunning self-portrait of a gardener, a teacher, and a keen observer of life is sure to inspire.
Kirkus Reviews (February 1, 2019)
A collection of affirmations, noncloying and often provocative, about the things that make justice worth fighting for and life worth living.Gay—a poet whose last book, the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, bears the semantically aligned title Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (2015)—is fully aware that all is not well in the world: “Racism is often on my mind,” he writes by way of example. But then, he adds, so are pop music, books, gardening, and simple acts of kindness, all of which simple pleasures he chronicles in the “essayettes” that make up this engaging book. There is much to take delight in, beginning with the miraculous accident of birth, his parents, he writes, a “black man, white woman, the year of Loving v. Virginia, on a stolen island in the Pacific, a staging ground for American expansion and domination.” As that brief passage makes clear, this is not a saccharine kind of delight-making but instead an exercise in extracting the good from the difficult and ugly. Sometimes this is a touch obvious: There’s delight of a kind to be found in the odd beauty of a praying mantis, but perhaps not when the mantis “is holding in its spiky mitts a large dragonfly, which buzzed and sputtered, its big translucent wings gleaming as the mantis ate its head.” Ah, well, the big ones sometimes eat the little ones, and sometimes we’re left with holes in our heads, an idiom that Gay finds interesting if also sad: “that usage of the simile implies that a hole in the head, administered by oneself, might be a reasonable response.” No, the reasonable response is, as Gay variously enumerates, to resist, enjoy such miracles as we can, revel in oddities such as the “onomatopoeicness of jenky,” eat a pawpaw whenever the chance to do so arises, water our gardens, and even throw up an enthusiastic clawed-finger air quote from time to time, just because we can. An altogether charming and, yes, delightful book.
About the Author
Ross Gay is the author of three books of poetry, including Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Catalog was also a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry, the Ohioana Book Award, the Balcones Poetry Prize, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. He is a founding editor, with Karissa Chen and Patrick Rosal, of the online sports magazine Some Call It Ballin’ and founding board member of the Bloomington Community Orchard, a nonprofit, free-fruit-for-all food justice and joy project. Gay has received fellowships from the Cave Canem Foundation, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Guggenheim Foundation. He teaches at Indiana University.
His website is www.rossgay.net
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