- Gay shares a list of patterns in the prologue that show the range and weight of his study of delight: “My mother is often on my mind. Racism is often on my mind. Kindness is often on my mind. Politics. Pop music. Books. Dreams. Public space. My garden is often on my mind.” (xii)
- Gay’s delights are informed by his experience of racism – exemplified in current events by birdwatcher Christian Cooper’s encounter in Central Park: “I’m trying to remember the last day I haven’t been reminded of the inconceivable violence black people have endured in this country. When talking to my friend Kia about struggling with paranoia, she said, ‘You’d have to be crazy not to be paranoid as a black person in this country.’” (16)
- There’s a 3 week break, from Nov 5-Nov 25, marking the 2016 presidential election – which occurred about 3 months into his year-long project.
- Gay is a poet whose award-winning Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude shares themes and imagery with these essays; another interesting example of a poet turning to another genre. Consider his interest in taxonomy and precision in language and feeling: the differences between delight, joy, gratitude. Read the title poem from that collection.
- In honor of George Floyd, who was murdered May 25 by police in Minneapolis, please read this poem Gay wrote for Eric Garner in 2015, “A Small Needful Fact.”
JOIN US FOR OUR VIRTUAL BOOK CLUB MEETING
While we’re unable to meet in the theater, we’re taking our book club online. We hope it’ll be a great way to read new books and stay connected. The event for The Book of Delights will be Friday, May 29, 2020 from 5-6pm on Zoom. RSVP here to receive the link.
About the Book
Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights is a genre-defying book of essays—some as short as a paragraph; some as long as five pages—that record the small joys that occurred in one year, from birthday to birthday, and that we often overlook in our busy lives. His is a meditation on delight that takes a clear-eyed view of the complexities, even the terrors, in his life, including living in America as a black man; the ecological and psychic violence of our consumer culture; the loss of those he loves. Among Gay’s funny, poetic, philosophical delights: the way Botan Rice Candy wrappers melt in your mouth, the volunteer crossing guard with a pronounced tremor whom he imagines as a kind of boat-woman escorting pedestrians across the River Styx, a friend’s unabashed use of air quotes, pickup basketball games, the silent nod of acknowledgment between black people. And more than any other subject, Gay celebrates the beauty of the natural world—his garden, the flowers in the sidewalk, the birds, the bees, the mushrooms, the trees.
In addition to The Book of Delights: Essays, 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 it was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. He is a founding board member of the Bloomington Community Orchard, a non-profit, free-fruit-for-all food justice and joy project. Gay has received fellowships from Cave Canem, the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, and the Guggenheim Foundation. He teaches at Indiana University.
Get into it
This American Life
The Show of Delights
In these dark, combative times, we attempt the most radical counterprogramming we could imagine: a show made up entirely of stories about delight – inspired by The Book of Delights.
Washington Independent Review
Review: The Book of Delights
“Each essay stands satisfyingly on its own, at most six or eight pages, more often two or fewer. All of which goes to say that it’s a book that begs to be carried along, offering insight and delight in whatever slice of time a reader may have.”
Feeling delighted and compelled to both wonder about and share that delight, I decided that it might feel nice, even useful, to write a daily essay about something delightful. I remember laughing to myself for how obvious it was. I could call it something like The Book of Delights. […] It didn’t take me long to learn that the discipline or practice of writing these essays occasioned a kind of delight radar. Or maybe it was more like the development of a delight muscle. Something that implies that the more you study delight, the more delight there is to study. (xi-xii)
Stacking delights defeats the purpose of TEMPORAL ALLEGIANCE, which, note the caps, is a fancy way of writing on one’s hand in the bathroom of Darn GOod Soup what means, simply, dailies. So today I’m recalling the utility, the need, of my own essayettes to emerge from such dailies, and in that way to be a practice of witnessing one’s delight, of being in and with one’s delight, daily, which actually requires vigilance. It also requires faith that delight will be with you daily, that you needn’t hoard it. No scarcity of delight. (108)
About a week before my old man was diagnosed with liver cancer I was hanging around the house when he was getting ready to head out to his job at Applebee’s. I said, “Aw man, blow it off. Let’s go watch Hell Boy.” He looked at me wistfully while tucking in his shirt and sliding his belt through the loops. “You have no idea how bad I wish I could.” That was the first time he’d said anything like that. I was twenty-nine. And so, in honor and love, I delight in blowing it off. (12-13)
I love, I delight in, unequivocally pleasant physical interactions with strangers. What constitutes pleasant, it’s no secret, is informed by my large-ish, male, and cisgender body, a body that is also large-ish, male, cisgender, and not white. In other words, the pleasant, the delightful, are not universal. We all should understand this by now. (28-29)
I’m… delighting in this accouterment fluffing around my neck because it represents a different relationship to an idea of masculinity I have inherited, and for much of my life watered, which makes it a garden. A garden of rocks. A garden of sorrow and hypertension and prostate woe. Some of the tenor here might be influenced by the sun’s brevity today, but just a little. For I kid you not, ten. Years ago I no sooner would have worn this plush purple thing around my neck than jump off a bridge. I mean, not quite, but you get me. […] The scarf is a soft and endless exteriorization of a shifting interior. I want to be softer, I’m trying to say. (92-93)
If you get closer to the amaranth, you’ll notice in the lighter-colored flowers—the reddish, fiery pink sort of fading to a lavender—that the flowers are giving way to the seeds, of which, on every flower—the bees know this, the honey and the ballerinas and the many I can’t see—by my estimation, there are a zillion. A zillion seeds on every flower, I’m saying. Maybe one hundred flowers. Meaning, check my math here, one hundred zillion seeds. Meaning, keep your calculators out, one hundred zillion future plants, on every one of which how many flowers, how many seeds (some of which are now in a paper bag in my pocket, thank you very much). This is what I think exponential growth actually means. This is why I study gratitude. Or what I mean when I say it. From a crack in the street. (64-65)
I dreamed a few years back that I was in a supermarket checking out when I had the stark and luminous and devastating realization—in that clear way, not that oh yeah way—that my life would end. I wept in line watching people go by with their carts, watching the cashier move items over the scanner, feeling such an absolute love for this life. And the mundane fact of buying groceries with other people whom I do not know, like all the banalities, would be no more so soon, or now. Good as now. (48)
Because in trying to articulate what, perhaps, joy is, it has occurred to me that among other things—the trees and the mushrooms have showed me this—joy is the mostly invisible, the underground union between us, you and me, which is, among other things, that great fact of our life and the lives of everyone and thing we love going away. If we sink a spoon into that fact, into the duff between us, we will find it teeming. It will look like all the books ever written. It will look like all the nerves n a body. We might call it sorrow, but we might call it a union, one that, once we notice it, once we bring it into the light, might become flower and food. Might be joy. (163)
It’s old hat, the commodification of black suffering. If I had a nickel for every white person who can recite lines from The Wire. I have no illusions, by which I mean to tell you it is a fact, that one of the objectives of popular culture, popular media, is to make blackness appear to be inextricable from suffering, and suffering from blackness. Is to conflate blackness and suffering. […] Which is clever as hell if your goal is obscuring the efforts, the systems, historical and ongoing, to ruin black people. Clever as hell if your goal is to make appear natural what is, in fact, by design.
And the delight? You have been reading a book of delights written by a black person. A book of black delight.
Daily as air. (220)