The Book of Delights

The Book of Delights

by Ross Gay


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As Heard on NPR's This American Life

“Ross Gay’s eye lands upon wonder at every turn, bolstering my belief in the countless small miracles that surround us.” —Tracy K. Smith, Pulitzer Prize winner and U.S. Poet Laureate

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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly


Poet Gay (Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude) forays into prose with this collection of stirring, thought-provoking “essayettes” on the ways and means of delight. Spanning a year between Gay’s 42nd and 43rd birthdays, the 102 pieces—each one dated—cover widely varied subject matter, including high-fiving strangers, nicknames, the movie Ghost, trains, and much more. “I am ultimately interested in joy,” Gay declares, adding, “I am curious about the relationship between pleasure and delight.” While “the pleasant, the delightful, are not universal,” he also hypothesizes that “delight grows as we share it.” But cataloguing delight isn’t his sole motivation; from the opening entry, Gay challenges popular conceptions of masculinity, blackness, and the kinds of writing expected of black male authors, making explicit in one piece that for an African-American writer to focus on delight runs counter to a culture more accustomed to the “commodification of black suffering.” Throughout, Gay presents himself as fallibly human rather than authoritative, capable of profundity and banality alike. One’s reception of his work will depend on personal temperament; readers may be convinced of Gay’s delight without necessarily sharing it. Nonetheless, he is a remarkable expositor of the positive, and his writings serve as reminders “of something deeply good in us.” (Feb.)

From the Publisher


As Heard on NPR's This American Life

“The delights he extols here (music, laughter, generosity, poetry, lots of nature) are bulwarks against casual cruelties. As such they feel purposeful and imperative as well as contagious in their joy.”
The New York Times Book Review

“These charming, digressive ‘essayettes,’ in the manner of Montaigne, surprise and challenge . . . Gay, an award-winning poet, knows the value of formal constraint: his experiences of ‘delight,’ recorded daily for a year, vary widely but yield revealing patterns through insights about everything from nature and the body to race and masculinity. The fruits of this experiment—for which gardens and gardening provide a frequent, apt metaphor—attest to an imagination cultivated in hostile conditions. Gay’s optimism is as easy as it is improbable, his ‘heart cooing like a pigeon nestled on a windowsill where the spikes rusted off.’”
The New Yorker

What emerges is not a ledger of delights passively logged but a radiant lens actively searching for and magnifying them, not just with the mind but with the body as an instrument of wonder-stricken presence.”
Brain Pickings, Favorite Books of 2019

“Ross Gay’s poems are little celebrations of joy, and this book of mini-essays—each centering around a particular 'delight,’ from sleeping in your clothes to planting tomato seedlings to the nod of greeting between the only two black people in a room—is a pure balm for your soul. Savor one at a time every morning, this summer, or wolf them all down en masse on a gorgeous sunny day.”
Celeste Ng for

"Delightfully snackable . . . Pick it up, read for ten minutes (start anywhere, really), put it down, and you’ll find that the delights of Gay’s world illuminate the delights of yours, that his wonder is contagious and has caused you to deepen your own."

“The shock of Gay’s writing . . . is his seamless shift from breezy, affable observation to sober (and admittedly still affable) profundity . . .  I want to say that Gay’s writing is magical because that’s the way it feels when I read it. But . . . calling it magic undercuts Gay’s craft, the effort that goes into producing literature that feels as fluent and familiar as a chat with a close friend. His voice has integrity, in both senses of the word: a completeness or consistency, true to itself; and an honesty and compassion so frankly subjective that it produces an incorruptible vision. Gay’s loose-limbed sentences diagram his delight, partaking in numerous asides—some as paragraph-long parentheticals—and equally numerous asides within asides, as well as nested subordinate clauses that are the purview of intimate conversation, not written prose. They are clauses and asides in which, as Gay writes them, you feel his hand on your arm, you feel him lean in toward you, conspiratorially or simply to emphasize his meaning.”
—The New York Review of Books

“Everyone could use a bit more delight in their days . . . Gay, who is the winner of the NBCC Award for Poetry, is here to provide just that, with essays celebrating everything from air quotes to candy wrappers to pickup basketball games.”
New York Post

The Book of Delights is both practice and perfection in an unassuming package . . . These pieces reflect and examine the natural world, masculinity, racism, and other topics with vibrancy. Most essays are a few paragraphs, a page or two at maximum, but it’s not the width or length of the pieces that ultimately grabbed my attention. It was the heart and intelligence found within his daily introspections.”
—The Rumpus

"A reminder of what the personal essay is best at: finding the profound in the mundane . . . his delight is infectious. It’s hard to read Gay and not to be won over.”
Seattle Times

“This collection proves is that delight is infectious and demands to be shared, and, most importantly, ‘our delight grows as we share it.’
Washington Independent Review of Books

Kirkus Reviews


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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781616207922
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date: 02/12/2019
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 6,575
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.10(h) x 1.20(d)

Customer Reviews