Algonquin Books, 288 pages
Among the words to describe a global pandemic, “delightful” is not one. In fact, it’s quite possibly offensive in light of the toll it has taken on the human community. One by one, each with a name.
Yet the gift of Ross Gay is his capacity to speak of delight without ignoring what is not delightful. His previous books of poetry, “Against Which” and “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude,” display the same skill. Gay took it upon himself to write of delight every day for a year. The result is this collection of brief essays finding wonder in an astonishing array of places, including grim neighborhoods and forest understory where the redbud and dogwood blossom and hummingbirds dart.
One of the odd things about the COVID-19 pandemic is the juxtaposition with spring beauty. While hearing the grim news of death, the earth was so vibrantly alive. There is a certain discipline required to attend without blinking to death and life, sorrow and wonder. Few contemporary writers do this as well as Gay. That is one good reason to read these essays during a pandemic — or at any time (after all, they were certainly not written with foreknowledge of the disaster that has befallen the world). To read them is to be reminded of the beauty and wonder that abides. It’s also a reminder that delight is a choice that keeps the heart alive. “The Book of Delights” is manna for each day.