Review of Inciting Joy by Ross Gay
Poet and essayist Ross Gay explores the experiences and explorations that have offered him meaning, depth, connection, understanding, and joy--despite the many challenges and heartbreaking matters that are always at hand.
In poet and essayist Ross Gay's Inciting Joy, he aims to explore the joy in our interactions with each other and the avenues by which he himself finds joy.
Inciting Joy is about various ways of caring for each other and the human connections that make up a full, rich life. Gay turns his thoughtful eye and sensitive mind to inspiration and fulfillment in essays with topics ranging from skateboarding to masculinity to facing mortality.
At times Inciting Joy feels most like stream of consciousness reflections. I enjoy peeking into Gay's thoughtful perspective and reading his often-incisive or poignant commentary--on immersing himself in legendary Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy standup, or the power of monumental cover songs, or the poignancy of creating a community orchard that won't bear fruit for decades. But I didn't connect as fully to some of the experiences Gay shared here--or to the arc of incitements in the book--as I did the essays in his Book of Delights.
I find Gay's essays most heartbreaking, beautiful, and penetrating when he digs into specifics of his own particular experiences, rather than his immersion in other media or others' writings. (Side note: I would love a separate list of the many musical, poetic, prose, comedic, and other works Gay references here out of his deep love, fascination, and awe.) I love diving into his vulnerabilities surrounding grief, change, pain, and the fight for freedom from preconceived notions.
It is true that we are often implored--or compelled, especially by institutions that have the power to kill us, by which I mean the power to withhold the resources for life and the power to exterminate us--to be grateful. ...you should just be grateful you have a job here. Or you should just be grateful we let you in....
In the final pages of Inciting Joy, Gay is winding down the text when he quotes a line from Toi Derricotte's poem "The Telly Cycle" that feels like the heart of the book: "joy is an act of resistance."
Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?
Ross Gay's Book of Delights is a sunshiny set of thoughts and examinations that's not overly earnest and never corny. I just loved it. You can check out my Bossy review of that book here.