I was initially skeptical of “The Book of Delights.” My friend Darius had decided to use his workshop time to teach a couple of essays from it. I was thinking, how can anyone find so many things to be happy about? I’d only known of Ross Gay in poetry, the brilliant poet behind “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude” and “Love, I’m Done With You.” I had high hopes about the quality of writing, but wondered how he would make happiness appealing to people. Too often, audiences are drawn by the broken artist. In “The Book of Delights,” Ross Gay gifts us something that defies the laws of what should be compelling.
One of the things that makes this collection so great is the fact that he doesn’t only focus on happiness. I suppose, in that way, that the title of the book could be misleading. However, he shows us that the terrors and sadness find homes within the delights, that they can coexist and still remain beautiful. He recognizes the dangers and unfairness present in life, but picks himself up at the end of the delight. Reading these essays was like biting into a cookie with a solid exterior to find a soft, melted core. His ability to combine both the sad and the happy made this collection feel realistic and accessible.
His experiences feel all at once universal and individual. We can all relate to the experiences detailed throughout the collection, from high-fiving a stranger to hearing a cheesy song to celebrating one’s birthday. Poetic and lovely, Ross Gay makes us feel included in his collection, even in moments that many of us might not have experienced, such as seeing someone go into remission. He manages to find joy in the oddest of places, like in a NO LOITERING sign or the internet phenom named Grumpy Cat. He focuses on the small, the mundane, the things that we fail to notice. After reading the “Book of Delights,” you will definitely find more things in the world to love.
Most of all, he finds joy in the natural world. In many places throughout the collection, he takes a break from the fast-paced man-made lives people live, and focuses instead on his garden. Even if you aren’t a green thumb– like me!– it’s easy to appreciate the sheer beauty of the world when described by Ross Gay.
Whenever someone has asked me what book to read, or what book to give to anyone at all, this is the first book that comes to mind. I remember walking out of Darius’s lecture in the middle of a long, hard winter, just filled with so much joy I couldn’t contain it. Ross Gay is shameless in the best way– on brand with his poem “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude.” More than anything else, Ross Gay is hopeful. This is perhaps one of the most important collections today, because not only is it absolutely beautiful, but it instills this sense of hope in the world.
In the photograph of him at the back of the book, he’s frozen in laughter, hand cupping his cheek. It’s fitting, as “The Book of Delights” captures the delights of the world in tiny snippets, like little literary photographs.