To catalogue delights and to delight in them at some length, as Gay does, shines a light on otherwise private, intimate moments, and the book that collects this catalogue has the feel of a devotional poem. Because Gay is a poet, it’s hardly a stretch to read his prose as versifying, and an attentive reader will notice moments of overlap between the concerns in The Book of Delights and Gay’s poetry ... it’s not simply that Gay has dedicated this book to a single idea—delight in its many forms—but that in its repetition, in his act of finding delight in rice candy, in music from a passing car, in babies on planes, and in a backyard log pile, it becomes an enthusiastic exercise in observance ... The shock of Gay’s writing—and I wonder if I would have fully understood this if I hadn’t heard the work read aloud by Gay himself—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 the essays didn’t come into being with a flick of the wrist, a wave of the wand. 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.
Ross Gay is known for his poetry, but The Book of Delights proves that he’s also an adept essayist ... reflections that are sometimes whimsical, sometimes touching, and always thoughtful ... Documenting his travels and encounters over the course of his year with a wry, deft touch, his book stays true to its title and demonstrates his estimable talents as a prose stylist as well as poet.
Lest you think these essays are all airy and silly and hold no truck with the grind of the so-called real world, keep in mind that Ross Gay’s garden is concerned just as much with death as it is with pretty flowers. Most of this collection was written in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, the weight of which applies pressure to the search for delight. There are tragic deaths, illnesses, racism and horror in these pages. Paying attention requires a deep focus lens; nothing can be ignored in favor of simple bliss. What is gained from this acute watchfulness? If not wisdom, then at least a certain clarity.
It’s hard not to reach for religious language when describing Gay’s work. It’s filled to the brim with spirit and the temporal allegiance with dailiness that abides at the root of mortality and spiritual practice alike ... Wherever Gay finds his delight, he offers intimacy, rapport, and an open invitation to explore its many guises: joy, wonder, pleasure, sorrow, justice, revenge, anxiety, tenderness, caretaking, relief ... uses cultivation and tending to question how we create and connect our interior and exterior spaces ... Gay’s voice is inimitable, his essays as particular as a fingerprint ... There’s a proximal rhythm to Gay’s constructions: fragments echoing with caesura, clauses and modifying phrases stacked into tumbling towers of paragraph that break with a stanza’s precision. Yet, for all the abandon of Gay’s usage, there’s also an omnipresent sense of distillation, a preoccupation with the essential. Stamped with their own rhythm and frequency, each essay is equally thoughtful, cogent, and interesting ... Gay’s essays sparkle with charm, wit, and laugh-out-loud funny bits jostling cheek and jowl against eschatological explorations and philosophical concerns. No matter the emotional timbre, Gay’s thoughts unfurl with a lush beauty, delighting the terroir of the writing and reading alike.
If timing is indeed everything, what better time than now, here in deep winter, to seek—and find—solace in the delightful but often elusive moments of the everyday? ... Gay leads us on a merry walk through the mundane, illuminating moments of his day with intense, exquisitely detailed observations ... Gay’s journey ambles back and forth in time. He feels his losses but imbues them with gratitude; people here and gone remain his delights. They are all here, stuffing this slim book with their abilities to delight the author.
One of the biggest delights in reading The Book of Delights is simply imagining people passing by, seeing Gay — notably tall, often wearing bright, floral-patterned clothing and elaborate scarves — soaking in the small beauties of the world ... The generosity Gay greets the world with doesn’t come off as blindly optimistic or naive. It feels hard-earned. As often as he’s finding delight in gardens, pop music and interactions with strangers, he’s reflecting on the loss of loved ones, institutional racism and toxic masculinity ... Since The Book of Delights is essentially a diary with a singular focus, the book is naturally a little loose — sometimes very loose. But it’s also a reminder of what the personal essay is best at: finding the profound in the mundane. The casual route Gay takes into profundity may not work for everyone, but his delight is infectious. It’s hard to read Gay and not to be won over.
The problem is, Gay’s essays aren’t particularly delightful. For every one that’s full of grace, such as one exploring the comfortable, unspoken trust that strangers riding together in a train feel after an extended time, there’s a goofy, indulgent one, such as a three-pager on how Gay collects his own urine to use as fertilizer, and how this one time his girlfriend’s daughter grabbed a bottle of it thinking it was a soft drink. Not delightful. In addition, the essays are packed with allusions that will send even well-read readers to Google, an exercise that gets in the way of the reader’s delight. The writing is often careless, full of long, winding sentences that appear to have been dashed off. Perhaps such spontaneity is the point, but it makes for a bit of a struggle on our part. Gay has a passion for social justice and a fine and curious eye, but his pen wanders too much into things that feel banal rather than delightful. His idea will inspire, but the execution falls short.
If you didn’t know Gay as a poet before coming to Delights, his prose would tip you off, with its repetition and precision, its river of ideas and images flowing without pause from one into another ... There is a similar sort of physicality to most of these essays that embodies delight rather than merely observing it. These essays get their hands dirty.
Restores pleasure as a site of serious thought and, even more, as a mode in inquiry in itself, while Gay’s wholesome (but never saccharine) voice convinces us that a mode of inquiry, a way of thinking, too, can be a pleasure itself ... Pleasure, then, for some, becomes as an act of resistance against a racist status quo, against a world that locates sorrow within blackness, which allows society to ignore the sorrow of black people completely. This idea, which recurs throughout these essays, elevates the idea of delight and the act of cataloging it, to something important, serious, and necessary.
The contents of the book can best be explained if one can imagine a conversation between Walt Whitman and Thich Nhat Hanh ... Throughout the book Gay establishes an interesting degree of intimacy with the reader ... The Book of Delights should take a reader a year to read. There is no need to rush when one can savor the small treats on each page. If nothing else this book will instruct you how to oil your body. Not even Whitman taught us this.
Intensely personal, wise, witty and sensuous, these glimpses of life through Gay’s perceptive eyes aren’t merely an introduction to his unique world. Collectively they’re an invitation to readers to awaken to the delights that surround us every day ... But for all its emphasis on life’s pleasures,The Book of Delights isn’t simply a lighthearted romp through Gay’s enjoyably observant life. Though politically themed essays don’t dominate, he chooses his targets with care, and hits them when he does.... an inspiring, life-affirming volume...
As Ross Gay escorts you through his latest literary garden, The Book of Delights, your face may crack open, pulled apart like an egg’s two ends ... The essays in The Book of Delights braid this childlike awe with mature commentary, rendering even commonalities such as pawn shops and animal scat as opportunities to extol our connections and reevaluate what we elevate and denigrate ... it seems that, in Gay’s horticultural hands, delight proliferates. Often his enthusiastic diligence to account for and investigate each divergent delight gives the reader the sensation of looking through a kaleidoscope and seeing myriad multi-dimensionalities apparent to us if we let ourselves muse upon them, if we pay attention ... Each essay is an empathic gesticulation ... To read Gay is to feel adored by Gay. He encourages our wildest behaviors, our kindest behaviors, and sees the dancing in all we do.
...exploring delight with beauty, humor, and a tender, compassionate eye. Throughout, Gay suggests what delight might tell us about our lives and our connections to one another ... There are other delights for the reader, too, sprinkled inside these moments, such as Gay's recipe for guacamole or instructions of how to get more nitrogen into the garden, along with frequent and generous nods to books, films and music, tender suggestions for the reader's further study.
The longhand in which Gay first wrote these (one of the project’s rules) seems to uncurl on the typed page, in winding meanders and meaningful digressions that share a life-spanning spectrum of emotions and experiences ... While Gay’s delights embrace the darkness of racism and death, en masse they share a profound capacity for joy and belief in humankind. This stunning self-portrait of a gardener, a teacher, and a keen observer of life is sure to inspire.
Engaging ... 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 ... An altogether charming and, yes, delightful book.
Stirring, thought-provoking ... 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.'