BOOK OF DELIGHTS

One day last July, 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 on something delightful. I remember laughing to myself for how obvious it was. I could call it something like The Book of Delights.

I’m writing this, hacking and coughing, with a sore throat and headache, while I wait to see if my RAT develops the extra telltale line which will mean I’ve got covid. And I’m thinking that if I was Ross Gay, I’d be using the time to write an ‘essayette’ about delight. But having a cold, or possibly covid,  I’m a bit underpowered in the finding delight department, in spite of having RATs, two whole boxes of them, and Panadol and Strepsils and a husband who just brought me a cup of tea…

This is indeed a delightful book. Ross Gay is a poet, a Professor of English at Indiana University, an activist advoca

ting for community gardens and public spaces, an ex-college football player. Given that Gay is a passionate gardener, there are the expected pieces on the natural world, on insects and plants and seasons. There’s this kind of gorgeous close observation:

Just beyond the pear tree already wealthy with sun-blushed fruitlets is an alcove of trees, a dense black screen made of walnuts and maples that is, for these lucky weeks, pierced by the lumen-tummied bugs, one of which landed on my neck earlier today, crawling down my arm to my hand, balancing itself when I brought it closer by throwing open the bifurcated cape its wings make.

Apart from fireflies, what else? So much. He fell 50 short of a daily essay, but here are the joys of having family and friends, listening to music, plane travel, cafes, loitering, public toilets. Seeing two people carrying a shopping bag together. Kind familiarity from strangers. Public sleeping. What could have been just sweet and soothing is actually inspiring and illuminating, sometimes very funny (reading about his adventures in public-toilet challenged North America and resorting to peeing in a bottle, I laughed out loud). Occasionally these short pieces are also surprisingly tough and challenging. In essay #83, written after listening to a podcast about Whitney Houston, he writes:

…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. Suffering and blackness. 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.

I listened to an interview Ross Gay did with Christa Tippet for an American public radio series call ‘On Being’, and he seemed to be saying that joy and delight are not easy, nor are they a luxury or a privilege. For him, joy is deeply connected to mortality. Joy, he said, is his life’s question. Finding joy, celebrating joy, is part of the labour of making the life he wants to live.

My day’s delight? It’s not covid, just a cold.

 

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1 Response to BOOK OF DELIGHTS

  1. Kate C says:

    Phew!
    This book does sound wonderful. What a fantastic project — I wonder if it would have a lasting effect on one’s optimism. It’s like a gratitude diary in a way, but it sounds much deeper and more thoughtful than that. Another one for my list…

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