Ross Gay is the author of the best-selling essay collection The Book of Delights and the award-winning poetry collection Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude. His new book of essays, Inciting Joy, explores the power of pursuing shared pleasures.
Benito Cereno by Herman Melville (1855)
Melville's novella, ostensibly about an insurrection of enslaved Africans, is equally a story about well-meaning liberal Americans who can't tell their asses from their elbows but sure think they can. As sophisticated a use of perspective, and irony, as I've ever read. Buy it here.
The Origin of Others by Toni Morrison (2017)
Beloved is one of my very favorite books, as is Morrison's slim book of literary criticism, Playing in the Dark. But her best book for this moment may be her next-to-last work, The Origin of Others, which considers how we invent "others," to whom we feel we can do anything — how we're all susceptible to doing it, and how we're doing it right now. Buy it here.
Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments by Saidiya Hartman (2019)
A historical consideration of young Black women living in Philadelphia and New York between the 1890s and the 1940s. Hartman shows, through amazing and intense archival research, how these young women invented all kinds of radical modes of life infrequently attributed to them. It's almost a poem, and one of the most beautiful books I've ever read. Buy it here.
Soccer in Sun and Shadow by Eduardo Galeano (1995)
I'm not a soccer person, but this is one of the best sports books I have ever read. It's effectively a history of men's soccer — offered in brief vignettes, some of them only a paragraph or two long — from the perspective of one of our great, incisive, searing writers on empire. Buy it here.
A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit (2005)
In this lyrical book, Solnit considers the virtues, the necessities even, of being lost. A book I often share with writing students, and return to again and again for sustaining guidance on how to be a writer, and how to be a person. Buy it here.
Fatheralong by John Edgar Wideman (1994)
Fatheralong, a prequel of sorts to Wideman's astonishing Writing to Save a Life, follows a trip Wideman took with his father, with whom he had a complicated relationship, to South Carolina. If you're interested in relationships between fathers and sons, by one of our very best writers, you might love it. Buy it here.
This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.