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Inciting Joy: Essays

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An intimate and electrifying collection of essays from the New York Times bestselling author of The Book of Delights 

In these gorgeously written and timely pieces, prizewinning poet and author Ross Gay considers the joy we incite when we care for each other, especially during life’s inevitable hardships. Throughout Inciting Joy, he explores how we can practice recognizing that connection, and also, crucially, how we expand it.

In “We Kin” he thinks about the garden (especially around August, when the zucchini and tomatoes come on) as a laboratory of mutual aid; in “Share Your Bucket” he explores skateboarding’s reclamation of public space; he considers the costs of masculinity in “Grief Suite”; and in “Through My Tears I Saw,” he recognizes what was healed in caring for his father as he was dying.

In an era when divisive voices take up so much air space, Inciting Joy offers a vital alternative: What might be possible if we turn our attention to what brings us together, to what we love? Full of energy, curiosity, and compassion, Inciting Joy is essential reading from one of our most brilliant writers.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published October 25, 2022

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About the author

Ross Gay

27 books763 followers
Ross Gay is the author of Against Which, Bringing the Shovel Down, and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Orion, the Sun, and elsewhere. He is an associate professor of poetry at Indiana University and teaches in Drew University’s low-residency MFA program in poetry. He also serves on the board of the Bloomington Community Orchard.

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5 stars
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287 (32%)
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123 (14%)
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31 (3%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 176 reviews
Profile Image for Amy Imogene Reads.
881 reviews759 followers
November 7, 2022
4.5 stars

The power of community and the healing abilities of positive growth and shared love. Inciting Joy is a collection of "feel good" that I think is the perfect balm for those struggling in these times.

Sense of joy: ★★★★★
Flow of stories: ★★★★
Writing style: ★★★★

There are some books that are both shockingly simple to describe and yet so vastly large they feel impossible to shrink down into the purposes of a review. Inciting Joy is one of those reads.

Ross Gay's essays in this collection all have a central theme—joy, of course—but each feels layered, framed through a different quirk of the lens, and reliant on different modes to convey their message. Joy, like all emotions, is a complex and ever-changing thing.

Growth and green things are a prominent note in this collection. Ideas of life and growing are no strangers to joy.

More surprising to some might be the inclusion of grief and exploration of loss as a means to receive the sharper, more poignant pieces of joy and uplifting emotional resonance.

Beautiful, sharp, soft, and layered, Inciting Joy is a unique thumbprint on a world that often focuses on the sharp and critical. Sit down with Ross Gay for a while and feel some love. It'll help... I promise.

Thank you to Algonquin Books for my copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Profile Image for Gwen.
83 reviews5 followers
June 5, 2022
Gratitude, delight, and now joy. If Ross Gay spends the rest of his life writing about, cataloguing, reveling in, emotions...I will follow right along as he does so, and consider myself fortunate. These essays are longer than the small exercises in The Book of Delights, and I loved that. It gave him time to let a topic breathe, to meander around it, circle and expand his ideas in ways that I adored. It felt very much a companion to Hanif Abdurraqib's work. New life goal: See Hanif Abdurraqib and Ross Gay on a stage together, talking about their work. Book gods...make that happen?
Profile Image for Katie.
48 reviews1 follower
October 14, 2022
Do you know the feeling when you come across a book at exactly the right time? If you have also found yourself feeling worn thin from the past few years, this book will be a balm. Having read and loved Gay's prior essay collection, The Book of Delights, I knew that he would not deal in platitudes. Instead, Gay offers a series of meditations on experiences and lenses to examine different aspects of joy. If you've already read The Book of Delights, you will recognize the thoughtful observations and celebration of the mundane and the minutiae which populate his newest collection of essays.

I was especially moved by his repeated return to community and connection as a site of care and a cornerstone of joy, through chapters on pickup basketball, gardening, and the Bloomington Community Orchard. I also appreciated the notion of joy as resistance against the abuses of power, as insurgency against mindless mandated conformity, as a refusal of that which will harm the community. The essay which analyzes Benito Cereno in the context of the abuses of the state is especially excellent.

Perhaps most compellingly, Gay deftly moves between the freedom in joy to the intimate relationship between joy and sorrow. Gay explores the latter relationship from multiple angles through the experience of the death of his father. I found these sections to be especially vulnerable and compassionate—solace I have been craving. It is a gorgeous read.

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Carrie Cappiello.
208 reviews24 followers
December 19, 2022
I loved his last essay collection, The Book of Delights, so I was thrilled to receive this book. However, this did not incite any joy for me. It is getting rave reviews so I’m willing to admit I’m the problem. It’s me. Hi.
Profile Image for Kurt Neumaier.
74 reviews2 followers
January 14, 2023
This book gave me a feeling that Gay describes "as thousands of birds taking flight in my chest, which means, I think, the long and beautiful breaking into something more than me."
Profile Image for Kathy Kraft.
61 reviews2 followers
December 16, 2022
One of the worst books I have ever read. Rambling disjointed paragraphs with lengthy run on footnotes on every page. Nothing about this book incites joy. Half the time I didn’t even know what he was talking about.
Profile Image for Jules.
1,349 reviews80 followers
November 16, 2022
I was very hopeful when asked to read Inciting Joy. I had not read anything by Ross Gay, and I was intrigued by the idea of a series of essays and I was in need of some heartwarming joy.

I did find an early essay about rekindling a relationship while caring for his sick father touching. Beyond that I struggled with the verbose writing style, and the intentionally bad ARC formatting did not help. Subsequently, I didn’t find a lot of joy in reading this book of essays. I am definitely an outlier reviewer on this book, but not every book is going to appeal to every reader.

I received an complimentary copy of this book from Algonquin Books in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for Miri.
43 reviews21 followers
November 24, 2022
I came across this book at the perfect time as I’ve been feeling a little burned out and this helped me invoke self-reflection. His collection of essays remind me to slow down, celebrate life, and remember that community and our connections with others is a cornerstone of joy
Profile Image for Bonny.
711 reviews26 followers
January 14, 2023
Every year in January or February, I read a book that I'm sure will be among my top 10 books for that year. I'm fairly sure that Inciting Joy is that book for 2023. I tried to slow down and savor Ross Gay's essays, but I started listening as soon as I downloaded the book and didn't want to put it down. Like any other book of essays, there were some that I didn't connect with as much as others, but that is because I don't have a lot of interest in skateboarding or basketball. But I listened to "Through My Tears I Saw" three times because this reflection on what was healed while caring for his father is one of the best I've read. In the remainder of the essays, Mr. Gay asks us to pay attention to what brings us together (like eating good food, dancing, and gardening) rather than focusing on our differences. Several reviewers have said they're not fond of the author's digressions, but I loved them as his curiosity always leads to more compelling writing about how joy is deepened by grief, fear, and loss.
Profile Image for Stefanie.
434 reviews15 followers
December 11, 2022
What a beautiful book this is! Joy does not preclude sorrow or grief, but these are an integral part of joy. And these essays are so very full of all the feelings. I laughed, I cried, and thought hard about many things, and finished the book with a deep sense of joy.

Gay loves digressions, and I do too. There is one essay that has a 3-page footnote and this brought me great joy. The essays are lyrical and poetic, the language is often inventive. I recommend reading them slowly, wallowing in them, rolling around in them like a pig in the mud.

Gay is a true treasure. I will definitely be returning to these again and again.
16 reviews1 follower
January 5, 2023
“Though I didn’t yet have the words for it, plantings that orchard—by which I mean, you know this by now, joining my labor to the labor by which it came to be—reminded me, or illuminated for me, a matrix of connection, of care, that exists not only in the here and now, but comes to us from the past and extends forward into the future. A rhizomatic care I so often forget to notice I am every second in the midst of.”
38 reviews
January 5, 2023
This book did nothing at all to ‘ incite joy’ for me .
I found it to be a self indulgent set of very personal essays about Ross Gay’s life, his relationship with his father and his political views and experiences.

Indeed, for me the title of the book was ironic as it actually made me sad and depressed reading it . The book title suggests it might give helpful hints and incites as to how to create more joy in your life and in turn, joy in those around you, but the book title is grossly misleading and it made me sad that Ross Gay seemed to be using the guise of supporting those (who by nature of reading this book might be feeling vulnerable and in need of support) to sell a book .

Very disappointing..
Profile Image for Elizabeth Edwards.
4,626 reviews9 followers
September 21, 2022
i think the biggest take away, no matter how you go through life hardships, it even friends' or family members' hardship ...if you are one who help them, encourages them, etc. they will change your heart, your mind and move you in your daily life. out on October 25, 2022. i am happy i won it through Goodreads giveaway. Black & African American Biographies & Memoirs. essays (kindle and books). i did receive a book that was not in its "final state", which is fun, but you don't know that all you are reading is the final bit that all will see when they read it in October?? point being there will be no quote in this review, because you as i said you don't know what will be final. which is kind of poohie ... i love giving quotes when reading books similar in style to this ... i think something to learn if you have never been through a similar time in our daily life ...the point of when you lose something. no matter a friend, family member or pet. the dealing with loss is rough, it can rip you down right to a time when you might need outside advice or to maybe leaning on others to help ya through. depends on you and how you deal with such events in your life (daily life) i don't personally think that any such method is best ...if it works for you that is most important. find that happy medium and find 1's who you can lean upon and lift you up when you might need that encouragement and positivity. for myself ... i am thankful i have a family and loved ones to lift me up and encourage me ...as well as i can do a similar time for them. give and take. "naysayers" ("a person who criticizes, objects to, or opposes something") you gotta have a plan, i know sometimes u gotta wing it, but you need to have the guts to keep going if in your heart you know what you are doing is right??! don't allow others those "naysayers", to weigh you down. gorgeous book cover. i do believe that you can learn from others, when they might go through this or that ...it might help you. i know it is sad to think that due to their sad times you are encouraged but i do believe you get my point ...they might have a suggestion to keep you roaring on ... moving forward.
Profile Image for Laura Sackton.
969 reviews75 followers
January 13, 2023
Absolute perfection.

I could review this book by saying that I cried through most of it, and that, at the same time, my heart fell full to bursting with how much deliciousness and joy exists in the world and in my life. That’s it, I could end it there. Or I could go on to say that I have never cared about basketball, but Ross Gay turns basketball into poetry and music and companionship and creativity and so it doesn’t matter if I’ve ever played a game of pickup or ever will, because he’s singing with it, he’s gloriously high on it, it’s the thing that threads through his veins and keeps him here and home and alive and nourished and laughing, and I feel that, oh, I feel it, and it makes me think of sitting in a barn singing old songs with dear friends while the rain falls outside, and it makes me think of cooking in my best friend’s kitchen, and it makes me think of playing silly word games while weeding endless rows of carrots, and it makes me think of all the times I’ve ever felt held up and seen, so who cares if it’s basketball, or covers (look, I will never love music the way Ross Gay loves music, and it’s okay, though what makes it even better is that the way he writes about music makes makes me love what I do love—books, seeds, vegetables, dirt, fruit trees, yes, we have many loves in common—more), or skateboarding, it doesn’t matter, and this is the heart of it, maybe, this is the secret of it, maybe—it doesn’t matter what joy he’s writing about, I’ll say it again, it doesn’t matter, it’s the essence of the thing he captures, the beautiful, hurting, complicated, not-at-all-perfect, overflowing, impossible essence of each and every joy that thrums through every sentence of this perfect book, so that you can’t do anything but sit up and say “yes!” or clap or sing or start sobbing, because he feels it, you feel it, it’s a different feeling, it’s the same feeling.

Read the rest of my review here: https://booksandbakes.substack.com/i/...
Profile Image for LeeAnna Weaver.
128 reviews13 followers
November 26, 2022
His latest collection of fourteen essays asks in a hundred ways what brings you joy? Singing, dancing, growing a garden, playing on a team, nurturing friendships, eating great food, loving your family, listening to your heart - these are just a few of the keynotes in his essays. My eyes brimmed with tears, I laughed hard, my heart broke, and I saw myself in many of his passages. I am happy I found Ross Gay’s work.
168 reviews2 followers
November 11, 2022
Effing brilliant. Best book of the year for me, no competition. A wise, funny, gorgeous, constantly unexpected set of essays on the things in the author’s life — in all our lives — that incite joy, and create meaning in our lives. Ross Gay is amazing and I want to hang with him, garden with him, and I am damn sure grateful for him.
53 reviews
January 9, 2023
This book was incredibly moving and thought provoking. I found myself reading little bits at a time so I could digest the message before reading on.
Profile Image for Monica Hershey.
32 reviews1 follower
January 27, 2023
This book made me feel a lot of things and I hope to read it again (and maybe again)!
Profile Image for Wendy.
200 reviews4 followers
November 11, 2022
I had the good fortune to hear Ross Gay read excerpts from this book at our local independent bookstore (Midtown Scholar in Harrisburg, PA). Being able to hear his voice in my mind as I read my copy certainly enhanced my enjoyment. His passions for basketball, gardening, music, and family unite beautifully in this collection of essays. I already look forward to re-reading this book.
Profile Image for Glenda Nelms.
545 reviews15 followers
December 2, 2022
Inciting Joy is an impactful, thought-provoking and personal essay collection, it's about his family, mental illness, sports, and being a Black man. Joy is an act of resistance. The essays help you think differently and process things in a different mindset. This book will stay with me for a long time.
Profile Image for Monika.
508 reviews146 followers
November 10, 2022
After listening to the audiobook of THE BOOK OF DELIGHTS a few years ago, I knew Ross Gay would be one of my auto-buy authors. So when Algonquin Books asked if I'd like a review copy of his latest essay collection, INCITING JOY, I replied with a wholehearted, enthusiastic "yes!"

And how timely, too. Unless you hold a good bit of privilege, things are truly awful lately. INCITING JOY reminded me to slow down, set aside worries that aren't yet as immediate as they feel, and yes, find and celebrate joy. But these essays are grounded in reality—not once did they feel saccharaine, overly sentimental, or dismissive of the hardships that exist in our lives. Ross Gay's essays make me thankful for all the beautiful ways we show up for, fight for, and care for each other. (A lot of you will especially appreciate "We Kin," where the garden becomes "a laboratory of mutual aid.")

If you're feeling burned out and cynical, if you're involved in any kind of collective liberation and care, or if you simply need a little boost—INCITING JOY is a must-read.
Profile Image for Kara.
331 reviews5 followers
July 10, 2022
Ross Gay's "Book of Delights" carved out a place on the recommendation lists of so many authors and creators I admire that I couldn't wait to read this new volume. Joy often feels in short supply these days, and I looked forward to sharing Gay's.

Gay has a relatable, easy cadence in his prose that makes you feel quickly connected to him, like you're bullshitting with a friend instead of reading a structured essay. This works extremely well when it works. Not all of the essays worked very well for me, but the ones that did were excellent.

My favorite selection in this work was a reflection on gardening and community. Gay spoke so lovingly about learning to expand his connection with nature through growing food for himself and his loved ones that it made me, a notorious hater of digging in the dirt, itchy to get out and find something to grow. He makes beautiful connections between sharing knowledge, sustenance, and joy with the ones who shaped you to those you may never even meet. It makes you feel tingly.

A few of the later essays didn't work quite as well for me. Some of the topics were a bit out of my range of experience/interest, which made holding that early connection more difficult. I started to lose the thread a bit as well, as the latter essays relied heavily on sprawling footnotes that broke the stride of its primary focus. But keep in mind that (1) I read this on an e-reader, which does not provide the best experience for that kind of structure, and (2) I read an advanced copy that may not be exactly what is published.

While this didn't quite hit every single note for me, I very much enjoyed the bits I enjoyed. I will take all the joy I can get.
Profile Image for Carolyn Crocker.
1,059 reviews11 followers
December 19, 2022
Gay terms his essay style as 'blathering'-- the list is his mode, and frank expansive conversation with expatiating footnotes carries his exuberance and his pain. Among the 14 things that incite joy are basketball, cover songs, communal orchards, unorthodox teaching, dancing, laughter and losing your phone and the clock. And much of that joy is 'in spite of' the machine of capitalism.

"Nearly everything we do, it turns out, causes harm to what and who we cannot concceoive (the concealment of which, the inconceivability of which, is by design.) p.145

"..._care_ happens all the time. Or, if we pay close attention, the mycelial threads connecting us, the lustrous web, --_joy_ I mean--is flickering there in wait all the time." p.150

"But if you think of art as something you wonder about, or listen to, or get lost in the making of, as something that might be trying to show you something you do not yet know how to understand, something that, again, unfixes us, perhaps we can practice making and heeding that. And if you imagine a classroom as a place where we do this unfixing work together--where we hold each other, and _witness each other_, through our unfixing, well, that sounds to me like _school_." p. 162

"The thing about a good poem, or a good piece of writing, or a good friend, is that they listen to you.
...And _witnessed_: a good poem witnesses its reader..." p. 207
Profile Image for Asa.
43 reviews12 followers
November 9, 2022
For three years I’ve proudly recommended Book of Delights as my favorite title to share with friends. So I must admit that I was a bit hesitant about this new collection given it’s similar approach and subject matter, even the cover looks reminiscent of the first text! I wondered how Ross Gay could possibly recreate the thoughtful wonder and novelty that his first investigation into delight so successfully captured.

This is to say all to say my doubts were in vain. Gay has picked up where he left off, expanding on his original investigations, while shifting his attention to the subject of Joy. He approaches this theme with a reflective gentleness that feels soothing and almost necessary in a “post COVID” world, but he also flexes his professorial expertise and brandishes a pointed tone that perhaps wasn’t as spirited in previous essays. When he doesn’t shy away from “politics” I found that passion to be refreshing, especially when interwoven with his classically playful approach.

The footnotes throughout this text are a decadent treat and not to be overlooked. If you’re not sold on it immediately, then hang in there through to the end. The last couple essays (particularly Falling Apart: the Thirteenth Incitement) illustrate a moving vulnerability that nearly brought me to tears.
Profile Image for Paula Hagar.
838 reviews30 followers
January 19, 2023
DNF. I was only able to read one of these essays completely before giving up on this one. Gay's run-on sentences - sometimes a whole paragraph or more without a break - make me feel breathless as I read. Way too many sentences throughout the essays were way way too long and just not that interesting to me. Here's an example where he's talking about putting down our cell phones:

"Believe me, I know there is nothing more boring than what I'm doing right now, this Luddite's lament, I know, unless you agree with me about, in this case, the ubiquitous surveilling, data-gathering narcissism/alienation machines, mystery killers, time keepers, cameras: could we please not look it up, could we please take fewer pictures, could we please just be here together for a sec without documenting that we were, I swear to you life is still life even when you don't take a picture of it, I don't care what you ate for breakfast, I'm sure the baby is cute, but not as cute as the goddamn chipmunk right in front of my face."

These long sentences make me rush through them, trying to catch a breath, and for me, they ruin Gay's message of things inciting joy.
Profile Image for Abby.
1,395 reviews178 followers
December 22, 2022
I love Ross Gay and his project of joy. This was a slightly disappointing follow-up to the very delightful Book of Delights, however. This collection is not as focused as that prior book. And in its format, I found the interruptions and long footnotes distracting, almost as if he could not bother to collect his thoughts and so had to insert many rejoinders and asides to bring it all together. The essay on football and masculinity was the best, in my opinion, and further cemented my strong belief that football is unethical and resoundingly bad for human beings (as players, as spectators, as a culture).
Profile Image for Brandon.
177 reviews
December 23, 2022
I'll come back and re-review this after a re-read. The short is this:

Ross Gay knows what's up. Inciting Joy is on par with his best-selling The Book of Delights as the author again explores goodness (gratitude, delight, joy, love, and so on). I've read everything by Ross, and these full-length essays sound full-voiced (or, rather, present fullness of being). The author's signature entangled, amalgamative style is here, is challenging, and is wonderous.

This is radical! I'm already excited to return to Inciting Joy .
Profile Image for Roman Peregrino.
89 reviews
October 27, 2022
When I read Ross Gay, I remember the beauty and wonder that remains in the world, specifically at the smallest levels of everyday life. Gay follows up Book if Delights with another masterpiece that is just as likely to make you laugh as make you cry - and I guarantee you'll leave it seeing the joy all around you.
Profile Image for Tracy.
257 reviews
January 27, 2023
The most interesting thing about this book is how it touches so much on sorrow, grief, shame and fear. Unless we can come to terms with all of these emotions we can’t experience true joy.

It took me longer to read than I expected, but that was ok because I wanted to chew on all the beauty contained in each essay. I am excited to read and re-read more wisdom from Ross Gay in the future.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 176 reviews

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