A collection of affirmations, noncloying and often provocative, about the things that make justice worth fighting for and life worth living.
Gay—a poet whose last book, the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, bears the semantically aligned title Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (2015)—is fully aware that all is not well in the world: “Racism is often on my mind,” he writes by way of example. But then, he adds, so are pop music, books, gardening, and simple acts of kindness, all of which simple pleasures he chronicles in the “essayettes” that make up this engaging book. There is much to take delight in, beginning with the miraculous accident of birth, his parents, he writes, a “black man, white woman, the year of Loving v. Virginia, on a stolen island in the Pacific, a staging ground for American expansion and domination.” As that brief passage makes clear, this is not a saccharine kind of delight-making but instead an exercise in extracting the good from the difficult and ugly. Sometimes this is a touch obvious: There’s delight of a kind to be found in the odd beauty of a praying mantis, but perhaps not when the mantis “is holding in its spiky mitts a large dragonfly, which buzzed and sputtered, its big translucent wings gleaming as the mantis ate its head.” Ah, well, the big ones sometimes eat the little ones, and sometimes we’re left with holes in our heads, an idiom that Gay finds interesting if also sad: “that usage of the simile implies that a hole in the head, administered by oneself, might be a reasonable response.” No, the reasonable response is, as Gay variously enumerates, to resist, enjoy such miracles as we can, revel in oddities such as the “onomatopoeicness of jenky,” eat a pawpaw whenever the chance to do so arises, water our gardens, and even throw up an enthusiastic clawed-finger air quote from time to time, just because we can.
An altogether charming and, yes, delightful book.