Review of Inciting Joy by Ross Gay

If you’re looking for a self-help book about finding joy—this ain’t it. It is, however something much bigger.

Blurb: 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 can expand it.


In “We Kin,” Gay thinks about the garden (es­pecially around August, when the zucchini and tomatoes come in) as a laboratory of mutual aid; in “Share Your Bucket,” he explores skateboard­ing’s reclamation of public spaces; 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 airspace, Inciting Joy offers a vital alternative: What might be possible if we turn our attention to what brings us together, to what we love?

 Taking a clear-eyed look at injustice, political polarization, and the destruction of the natural world, Gay shows us how we might resist, how the study of joy might lead us to a wild, unpredictable, transgressive, and unboundaried solidarity. In fact, it just might help us survive.

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Perhaps I was looking for an easy path to joy when I began reading Inciting Joy by Ross Gay, you know, something thoughtlessly simple. Inciting Joy is definitely not that. Instead, the reader is taken on journeys that involve family and all of the complicated emotions those relationships rouse; gardens and community and sharing, how seeds and seemingly bare twigs change hands and fluorish; and a world in which some refuse to acknowledge privilege or that some simple everyday expectations should never be privilege but a right. Interwoven in these frequently poignant, and sometimes stark essays is a writer’s passion for life, living, learning and experiencing. I felt his passion with each word he wrote so effectively.

Not all of the essays spoke to me at the same level. As Gay was writing about music, Luther Vandross’ exquisite cover of “A House Is Not a Home,” and I am right there, he transitions to basketball and loses me. In fact, some of his maze-like writing lost me without ever having to venture into basketball. Those particular essays beg me to read them again, to be more patient as I wade through the prose, and understand what he is saying.

And, as you would expect from a poet, the prose is rhythmic, sometimes punchy, and frequently dense. Gay also shows admirable vulnerability. If I had read his previous works, would this one have been easier for me to manage? I wondered about that when I blanked out sometimes while reading and the blanking out is entirely on me.

I came away from Inciting Joy at the very least feeling more thoughtful and wanting to read more by Ross Gay to see if all his work inspires meditation. As I do, I’ll let you know.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

5 thoughts on “Review of Inciting Joy by Ross Gay

  1. This sounds like an interesting and uplifting read. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I will take a look into it myself. Thank you for sharing 🙂

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