Algonquin Books. 280 pages. ISBN: 978-1616207922
By China Myers
Just like the title, I expected to find ‘delightful’ musings of life - and I did, but with effortless injections of humor and devilish candor, Ross Gay delivered charming meaning to simple things.
Reading each entry almost feels naughty, like stumbling across someone’s private journal and encountering their very own rendering. Rummaging through these short stories - one by one – it’s easy to be intrigued, noticing the timestamp date of each occurrence, and folding down the tops of pages for future reference. It is hard to pick a favorite, for the stories are as varied as his life with moments of sadness, deep reflection, and others that are light, childlike or filled with comic relief.
A heroic ode to his life observed, digested and delivered into a non-fiction telltale - The Book of Delights piques our interest and shares how Gay finds some oddities delightful and how we might decide to exercise our right to find delight in the ordinary.
Gay explains the awkwardness of male bonding with an airport security employee during a lengthy security check. “I told him I was going to read poems in Syracuse, which made him look up from his work, which he was kneeling to do, and he said, enthusiastically… “You must be good at that if they fly you around to do it?”
Smiling and feeling a bit more vindicated after a groping session, Gay is finally released to collect his belongings and hears a ‘delightful’ detail. “I never believed in it myself, but I know some people do, he said, dismissing me at last, and I laughed and nodded, overhearing him say to one of his colleagues as I jogged toward my gate, “Hey, Mike, that guy’s being flown to Syracuse to read palms!” Through a comical view, Gay spins an irksome experience into a laughing matter as the guard mistakes him ‘reading poems’ for ‘reading palms’. Such a delight!
The Book of Delights does a grand job in amusing us. Gay has a flair for frolicking with the intimate glimpses of his life; anything and everything from his childhood to nature, tossing and mimicking all things from his years of living. He pokes fun at the civility of man, the ignorance of our society and the innocence of life itself.
“...to look at the moonless black night being pierced by fireflies, or lightning bugs...I can feel my small hand in my dad’s big hand, mesmerized by this show, which I don’t think I knew was made by bugs. There is some profound lyric lesson in witnessing an unfathomably beautiful event in the dark night, an event illegible except for its unfathomable beauty while leaning your head into your father’s hip…”
Not afraid to bare his heart or soul with the bits of information that reflect the credo of a modern urban man alive with concepts of childhood atrocities, societal barriers, parenting flaws, the sad imprint of human loss, the joys of music, or the adventures of a tall man’s search for a New York City restroom - Gay makes you wince and smile.
“...I was in Greenwich Village, again well hydrated, but this time from coffee, without a bathroom, and asked the barista where he might urinate if he couldn’t pee in the place where he just spent four and a half bucks for a short fucking Americano, he pointed to the park across the street, which had a porta-potty….the tops of porta-potties have screens that you can look out of, which I did, like I was in a confessional, like I was a priest, watching the parishioners walk by as the noon bells to the nearby church started to ring.” And there in the Big Apple, a city of endless possibilities, Gay shows us that there is a ‘lavatorial deprivation’ for those pesky human necessities.
With similar delight, Gay takes aim again on the subject matter of the functioning body temple and reminds us of an interesting geek fact long forgotten from the days of high school chemistry class, as he collects his ‘golden elixir’ for his garden. “I was peeing into the bottle so that I could discreetly pour it into my watering can to give my garden plants a shot of nitrogen, which the pee has in abundance.”
Some things funny, some things sweet, some things unusual, but in all of Gay’s entries, he is finding the inner child of his delight, and that alone makes it an intimate portrayal of his life. The Book of Delights is not typical - not the run of the mill essay explosion of thoughts - but it is indeed a great way to feel connected to the simplicities of how so many experiences can equate to a delightful memory. Thanks, Ross Gay for deciding to compile your life notes and give us a moment to reflect on your many treasured delights.