The Book of Delights by Ross Gay

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 black American man, his life involves his blackness, and includes regular experiences of and thoughts about 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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(Full disclosure: I read this via NetGalley. And now I’m ordering a copy from my bookstore.)

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