Monday, 28 June 2021



(Beware, many quotes) It is not often I love a book as much as I have loved 'The Book of Delights' by Ross Gay, so much that I immediately bought his poetry collection 'Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude' from the bookshop. The book is a collection of delightful thoughts, sights, sounds, events and happenings over the course of a year. Every single page made me smile. Every story made me pause to think and recall something from my own life. I fear I may have fallen a little in love. How can you not love a man who finds delight in such tiny and inconsequential things. Some delights are less tiny. He saved delights up, to write for the collection, then realised that was not the spirit of the book which was to seek them in the moment, and so took delight in listing the delights he had saved all in one go. "It also requires faith that delight will be with you daily, that you needn't hoard it. No scarcity of delight."

Praying Mantis
"This bug seems to be dancing - it kind of pounces on the four legs beneath its abdomen, bouncing and swaying, like it's hearing music I'm not yet tuned to. And, trying to tune in, I notice the swell and diminution of cicadas nearby, and another cricketish chirping just over in those forsythia. The mantis's head rotates occasionally, sometimes seeming to follow my movement, its big bulbous eyes and filamentous antennae twisting, its little mouth opening and closing. Turns out this mantis has been my companion for the last twenty minutes, this whole break in my afternoon, edging closer to me, dancing, then scooting closer still. And when I sit back in my chair, the mantis pulls its head over the glass to see me (am I being egocentric?), swaying as it does so. Dancing." (p.11)

He delights muchly in positive interactions with coffee shop staff, here in 'Coffee without a Saucer', (and I adore him for the use of the word discuses, not just discs):

"Anyway, she pulled the double expresso and without even reaching - without even glancing - beneath the counter where the useless and actually truly dangerous saucers are stacked (think of the natural resources wasted in their production, little discuses of evil!); she just placed the demitasse, holding it not by the handle but sort of clutching it from above, like the magical mechanical claw in those rest-stop games, in front of me, all French-like, pretending she wasn't my sister, which she was."

This was one of my favourites, in a book replete with favourites, Infinity, in which he describes his love for a scarf, and the undercurrent it exposed for him:
"I'm also delighting in this accoutrement fluffing around my neck because it represents a different relationship to an idea of masculinity I have inherited, and for much of my life watered, which makes it a garden. A garden of rocks. A garden of sorrow and hypertension and prostate woe. Some of the tenor here might be influenced by the sun's brevity today, but just a little. For I kid you not, ten years ago I no sooner would have worn this plush purple thing around my neck than jump off a bridge. I mean, not quite, but you get me. Tied into this weird and imprecise moratorium on the pretty were surely currents, strong ones, of misogyny, and probably homophobia. It's true, I often wore my hair long in cornrows with beads, but that sartorial affect represented some other intersection that did not scare me in the way this very cuddly scarf would have. I sometimes wonder how this happened, if there were very specific moments in my life - the older boys holding my hands and painting my nails; my mother regularly praising that she had sons instead of daughters; my father accidentally making me cry by squeezing my leg too hard after a joke and asking with disgust, Are you kidding? - that constitutes a minor tilting of an axis. But no tilting of an axis is minor, as you know." (p.92-3)

And here, talking about being an enthusiastic gesticulator, me just enjoying his vocabulary:
"And so imagine my delight when, today, after chatting with my friend Walton for about an hour, I found myself, a few hours later in another conversation, employing - embodying - some of his elegant hand gestures: the emphatic hand swimming through the air, or pointing and plucking at something simultaneously, or, always, some kind of beckoning. I've been told there is a term for this among behavioural psychologists, which foregrounds the behaviour as opposed to what intrigues me, which is the fact of our bodies' ubiquitous porosities, how so often, and mostly unbeknownst, our bodies are the bodies of others." (p.155-6)

"I wonder if this impulse to share, the urge to elbow your neighbor, who maybe was not even your neighbor until the bird flew between you up into the pipes and rafters you did not notice until you followed the bird there, is also among the qualities of delight? And further, I wonder if this impulse suggests - and this is just a hypothesis, though I suspect there is enough evidence to make it a theorem - that our delight grows as we share it." (p.173)

On page 223 it delighted me to find connection; my mum had talked to me a while ago about scything and Ross devotes a delight to the subject, because it is also his joy to own and use a scythe:
"My friend Jack, who is also wrapped explicitly into this delight, or is this delight, secured the blade for me when he went to a scything conference in Switzerland. I do not know what they do at a scything conference, but I like the images it conjures for me, despite the fact that I've never seen and likely will never see The Sound of Music."

I could not relate to his childhood reminiscences about car ports, but he ends it like this, obviously:
"I have taken note of how delight and nostalgia, delight and loneliness, which I will further clarify as existential loneliness, irremediable loneliness, are, in this one, connected. They are kin.  Seems a good thing to know.
As for other architectural features that delight me: the breezeway, the breakfast nook, and the window seat, all for obvious reasons." (p.257)

I love to read and learn new words; I learned limn, and then could not re-find the context. I love to discover new names; he mentions C.D. Wright, who I had not heard of, and Jamaica Kincaid, who felt familiar, people to seek out and read. He starts so many sentences with 'Imagine my delight', and so I imagined. I loved his long rambling, circuitous sentences, that slowed me down and made me read them twice. Some of his delights are tinged with understanding of a deeper sadness, often about his, and other's, experience as people of colour. I leave you with this one, because he talked several times about touch, and it reminded me of a moment in a biographical film about Nelson Mandela where, after many years in prison, he is allowed physical contact with Winnie, and the terrible notion of a life deprived of loving touch, how important touch is to human connection:

"20. Tap Tap
I take it as no small gesture of solidarity and, more to the point, love, or, even more to the point, tenderness, when the brother working as a flight attendant - maybe about fifty, the beginning of grey in his fade, his American Airlines vest snug on his sturdily built torso - walking backward in front of the cart, after putting my seltzer on my tray table, said, 'There you go, man,' and tapped my arm twice, tap tap. Oh let me never cease extolling the virtues, and my adoration of, the warranted familiarity - you see family in that word, don't you, family? - expressed by a look or a tone of voice, or, today on this airplane between Indianapolis and Charlotte (those are real places, lest we forget), a tap - two, tap tap - on the triceps. By which, it's really a kind of miracle, was expressed a social and bodily intimacy - on this airplane, at this moment in history, our particular bodies, making the social contract of mostly not touching each other irrelevant, or, rather, writing a brief addendum that acknowledges the official American policy, which is a kind of de facto and terrible touching of some of us, or trying to, always figuring out ways to keep touching us - and this flight attendant, tap tap, reminding me, like that, simply, remember, tap tap, how else we might be touched, and are, there you go, man." (p.66-7)

Stay safe. Be kind. Share delight.

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