In ‘The Book of Delights’, a mostly everyday discipline focuses a writer’s attention – The Virginian-Pilot

Here’s a kaleidoscope of downtown and downtown essays by one individual that captures the attention of readers who appreciate a sly cashier with a sense of humor. Ross Gay had already written three books of poetry, winning numerous awards along the way, including the 2015 National Book Critics Circle award, when he decided on the idea for this book, his first volume of essays: ” The Book of Delights” (2019; Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 288 pages, $24.95).

“I came up with a handful of rules: write a delight every day for a year; begins and ends on my birthday, August 1; write them quickly; and write them by hand. The rules made it a discipline for me. A practice. Spend time reflecting and writing about fun every day.

“Because I was writing these essays almost daily (confession: I skipped a few days), patterns, themes, and concerns emerge.”


“One of the great pleasures in my life, when I can do it, is staring at the ceiling or the closet from my bed…remembering my dreams. Sometimes they’re prominent and clear, like last night when I was supposed to be Hillary Clinton’s vice president.

Another delight from Ross Gay: “I’m flying back today. …Before taking off I was going through my rituals, it wasn’t until today that it struck me as delightful (albeit a bit weird), that I’m sure I’m stopping the plane from falling out of the sky . I first imagine a large glowing curtain of light that the plane passes through (sometimes I imagine myself throwing the curtain over the plane, like a bedspread), emerging as a large glowing vessel of light. This glow means the plane is safe from damage.

On another plane trip, Gay observed a toddler strolling down the aisle. “The man in front of me…smiled maniacally, making kissing noises at the baby. …I was so flabbergasted by the endurance of love and pleasure that this child engendered…that I found myself…laughing out loud and babbling with them and convinced again of something deeply good in us.



Here are some of my favorite things: My wife Lynn, my son Ben and my daughter Mattie, all smarter than me; the cats Hamilton and Luna, also smarter; mad dog Charlie, who loves anything edible (and, sometimes, inedible); books (reality, fiction, fantasy and almost anything practical); breakfast lunch and dinner; movies on demand; Sundays and Pastor Craig Wansink.

Also: Drawing caricatures, my desk (a chair).

Doumar dinner and drive-in, burgers, postmen, hats in the rain, singing in the shower.

Old movies, new movies, adventures abroad, especially in England and Hollywood.

Long walks, live theatre, the zoo when the elephants are out.

Write — when I have something to say.


Ross Gay says of his experience of spending a year writing his delights: “I’ve also learned this year that my pleasure grows – and so does love and joy – when I share it.”

Reading his essays invites the reader to enjoy his own day.

Take some time to marvel.

Bill Ruehlmann is professor emeritus of journalism and communication at Virginia Wesleyan University.