The Book of Delights: Essays
There is something about the word delights that quickly brings to mind such things as sweetness, laughter, and endless flirtation. Ross Gay’s small book seems designed for the backpack. It’s larger than a mobile device and at times just as addictive. Gay calls his book a collection of essayettes. The word is either an appetizer or a dessert depending on the page one turns to.
The contents of the book can best be explained if one can imagine a conversation between Walt Whitman and Thich Nhat Hanh. In his preface Gay explains the purpose behind the book. He wanted to write about something he found to be filled with delight, something he wanted to ponder and share.
“I came up with a handful of rules: write a delight every day for a year; begin and end on my birthday, August 1; draft them quickly; and write them by hand. The rules made it a discipline for me. A practice. Spend time thinking and writing about delight every day.”
Ross Gay is a poet and his literary endeavor is similar to the one David Lehman undertook starting in January 1996. That was the year Lehman started writing a poem a day as an experiment. The result was his book The Daily Mirror: A Journal of Poetry.
Gay’s book has a Buddhist taste to it. The pages are filled with recorded acts of mindfulness. Gay is person who interacts with almost everything surrounding him.
“One of the great delights of my life, when I get to do it, is staring into the ceiling or closet from my bed or looking at the slats of light coming into the room, or the down of dust hovering on the blinds, recalling my dreams.”
Throughout the book Gay establishes an interesting degree of intimacy with the reader. We begin to learn much about his body through sensual confessions.
The Book of Delights is not just a collection of observations, it’s also a year’s compilation of feelings. It’s this mixture that at times makes the book as uneven as the future we daily await. Should an author write about everything? Should the body become one big ear or eye? In today’s world social media unfortunately defines delights by likes. At times this dilutes the joy of living and forces prose to compete with photography.
If The Book of Delights was a box of chocolate one might view Gay’s few comments on race to be small essayettes filled with nuts and now and then a sweet caramel of racial awareness. This is very evident in his entry “45. Microgentrificatiom: WE BUY GOLD.”
The joy in this book comes from the author staying on the move; walking through airports, flying, and simply being on the go. Still Gay can find stillness in his love for the earth and all that blooms. The man loves to hold life in his hands.
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.