The Book of Delights – Ross Gay, 2019

It may have been through Gretchen Rubin that I first heard of this book, but it’s been popping up everywhere. I loved these “essayettes”! So many delightful little and large observations on pleasures to be found in the everyday. His existence as a black man in America informs the book in fascinating ways but it’s also universal, an embrace of the world as it is in all its flawed beauty without sugar-coating. Very funny too; one of my favorite stories is of a TSA worker who is so impressed that Ross is being flown somewhere to “read palms.” I love that he wanted to do one essay per day but gave up on that goal and ended up with about 100 for the year—easygoing in the best way, not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, and still succeeding in savoring and sharing so many experiences.

He’s great with images like “A fly, its wings hauling all the light in the room” and with pile-on sentences that romp around an idea:

It is a sweet correction this computer keeps making, turning pawpaw into papaw, which means, for those of you not from this neck of the woods, papa or grandpa, which a pawpaw grove can feel like, especially standing inside of it midday, when the light limns the big leaves like stained glass and suddenly you’re inside something ancient and protective.

But what I have learned is the worry one might have about one’s child, perhaps most especially one’s black or brown child, speaking “improper” English, wearing “improper” colors, having “improper” etiquette, or displaying “improper” tastes, which, in the case of my dad and I, really meant behaving in the style or manner of black people, the idea of black people, which really meant one’s black or brown child being perceived as the idea of black people, the prospect of which, for my father, thought I never heard him say it plainly, must have been a terror.

He extrapolates wonderful metaphors from the natural world:

…It has occurred to me that among other things—the trees and the mushrooms have shown me this—joy is the mostly invisible, the underground union between us, you and me, which is, among other things, the great fact of our lives 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 in 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 flowers and food. Might be joy.

And if I think I’m in a hurry, or think I ought to be, and quickly walk by to peek at the beds, the teeny bindweed sprouts will sing out to me, “Stay in the garden! Stay in the garden!” And I often oblige, despite my obligations, getting back on my hands and knees, my thumb and forefinger caressing the emergent things free, all of us rooting around for the light.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter on loitering, and its lovely synonyms “linger, loaf, laze, lounge, lollygag, dawdle, amble, saunter, meander, putter, dillydally, and mosey“:

…another of the synonyms for loitering, which I wrote as delight: taking one’s time. For while the previous list of synonyms allude to time, taking one’s time makes it kind of plain, for the crime of loitering, the idea of it, is about ownership of one’s own time, which must be, sometimes, wrested from the assumed owners of it, who are not you, back to the rightful, who is.

Gay will read at the Juniper Institute next month, and I hope to go!

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