I fell in love with someone new over the weekend. Someone my friend and poet, Skye Van Saun told me I would adore. She was not wrong. When I saw him in the bookstore, I knew I had to take the first step. So despite my beliefs about carrying hard cover books on airplanes, I bought The Book of Delights by Ross Gay, thus unlocking the best reading experience I have had all year.
The first part of falling in love is often recognition. When he mentioned Frenchtown, one of the river towns we haunt locally, the spark of the familiar pulled me in. He knew my home; we could be friends in real life. I could be browsing at the Book Garden, and Caroline Scutt could turn to me and say, oh, hey, Brandi, do you know Ross? And then we would go get a lavender latte at Early Bird and talk about writing for a while. Maybe Skye will roll up, with her guitar somewhat inexplicably, and start playing for us on the bench out front.
You have to forgive me for such a vivid fantasy. That is the second part of The Book of Delights that pulled me in; Gay writes about the things that struck his fancy, the moments that most of us smile at and pass over on our way to our next grievance. I feel like he would delight in my whimsical world view. At least, I hope he would; no one wants this type of love to be unrequited.
But the real reason I fell in love goes back to something I learned in the early days of my women studies education: the personal is political. In the case of The Book of Delights, the personal is political is poetic. While simultaneously launching us into moments of delight, a depth of experience creeps in that belies some of the hard truths of being an African American man in the contemporary United States. Not all of the pieces do this—some are just straight up delight—but there is so much capital T truth mixed in with the recording of delights. Like finding delight in outlasting the store owner that told him he couldn’t sit on the coffee shop porch or the exploration of the “negreeting,” a nod given to other African America men in public spaces that is sometimes withheld. These moments are truly delight, but they also present something deeper, a life lived in a space that doesn’t always make it easy. And he does so with language that sings off the page. I laughed out loud, interrupted my husband’s reading to read him passages out loud, and took pictures of paragraphs so that I would never lose them. Like this passage:
I fell in love with this book, and by extension Ross Gay, for showing that you can have both delight and challenge. While I don’t share his path as a middle aged white woman, I connect to the idea that life is neither one nor the other—that adversity doesn’t need to supplant delight and how in even the most obtuse, frustrating, unjust moments, a person may still retain the spark that connects them to source, no matter how hard external forces may work to snuff it out.
So I will keep stoking my platonic meet-cute fantasy and be on the look out for delights of my own to share with the world. Thank you for this book, Mr. Gay. I hope to see you soon.