They always say to never judge a book by its cover, but that isn’t the case for Ross Gay’s recently published ‘The Book of (More) Delights,’ which proves itself wholly delightful. In this sequel to his previously celebrated work, ‘The Book of Delights,’ Gay has literally written “more” about delight. All the while, he has created an experience of “more”-ness for readers: a growth of life as we know it and a celebration of experiences that enlarge it.
Gay’s work is a reminder of all things tiny and beautiful, small but miraculous, ordinary yet magical. Over the course of 81 mini-essays — what Gay refers to as “essayettes” — he describes the appreciation of glee and the minuscule miracles that cause it, inspiring the same feeling within his audience.
The book’s precursor, ‘The Book of Delights’ was a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. Published in 2019, the book begins with an essay centered around Gay’s 42nd birthday — “My Birthday, Kinda,” — in which he promises to write a delightful essay each day of the upcoming year. He follows through on his intentions, ending the collection with an essay centered around his 43rd birthday: “My Birthday.”
In the introduction to the sequel, Gay explains that the conclusion of his first project made him reconsider its scope. “The yearlong project I had just completed felt like it would be a useful, fun and unpredictable lifelong project,” he writes. And so, Gay decided he would write daily essays one out of every five years going forward. As such, the first essay in this book, “My Birthday, Again,” was written on his 47th.
Gay’s 47th year is not particularly momentous. His new collection does not recount grand narratives of dramatic change. Rather, he shifts his view from the monumental to the miniscule, asking readers to confront the small wonders sprinkled throughout the contents of our daily lives. His preoccupations lie primarily in the natural world — root, garlic, fig, harvest and sunflower are among the most common words in the book — and how this world interacts with humanity, both in the actual and metaphorical.
In the particularly memorable “I’d Prefer Not To,” Gay recounts how he distracted himself from a conversation about the modern-day destruction of connection by taking note of a blooming tree. “‘Evil Dead II’ was opening up in my chest and sucking me and everything I could perceive or imagine into it, and I heroically managed to cling to the true living world in part by noticing the espaliered apple tree against the picket fence,” he writes.
In Gay’s mind, all that blooms becomes a cause for joyous reflection — or joy in reflection. So too do small dogs, misspelled words, braces on adults and pick-up basketball games. And, with a complicated and tender thoughtfulness, so too do the most difficult and undelightful of things: Lost loved ones, aggressive masculinity, battles with mental health and systemic racial violence all appear persistently in the book.
Gay’s experiences with grief — and the experiences that continue to make him grieve — are not erased or omitted from the narrative. Rather, they are embedded in his experiences of delight, contrasting and defining them with further clarity. Violent devastation is as much a truth as joy is, Gay seems to argue. And yet, it is the contrast of the two that makes delight both valuable and necessary.
A quote from the book explains Gay’s message better than any summary could: “I do not think of this as looking on the bright side, I think of it as looking at everything. Bad french fries do not negate good ketchup. That your one friend died does not untrue the fact that your other friend survived. … And the delight of realizing that those two boys you thought were kneeling in prayer in the woods on campus were actually feeding the corpulent squirrels, which yeah, too, is a kind of prayer.”
As is clear from that sentence, which averages on the shorter side of all those in the book, it appears that Gay writes how he thinks: colloquially, humorously, windingly and profoundly. Over and over, he interrupts himself — he loves to tangent, footnote and anecdote until the subject of the essay fractalizes, and the experience of delight moves seamlessly from one object to the next. Parentheses interject again and again, always slipping in an idea that is simultaneously digressive and inextricable.
These segways sometimes contain a level of profundity that escalates the experience of the entire read. After describing a song he likes, Gay includes the following: “I sometimes think that one of the purposes of the beautiful, by the way, is to leave us, or rather bring us, to wordlessness. To grant us some silence.”
With such composed informality, as if the thought could be thrown out casually, Gay’s genius is revealed. And along with it, he creates for readers precisely the beauty he describes. Read “The Book of (More) Delights.” It will grant you some gorgeous silence.
Liliana Greyf is a senior staff writer covering College Hill, Fox Point and the Jewelry District, and Brown's relationship with Providence. She is a sophomore studying Literary Arts and a proponent of most pickled vegetables.