cover image The Book of Delights

The Book of Delights

Ross Gay. Algonquin, $23.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-61620-792-2

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.)