Wednesday 21 May 2014

Delight - J.B. Priestley

In 2009 I read a fun book called Modern Delight, in which various authors and others talked about the things that most bring them delight. I mentioned it in a Weekend Miscellany, but don't think I ever got around to a proper post about it.  It was enjoyable and fun, and for a good cause.  Also published at that point was a reprint of the book that inspired it - Delight (1949) by J.B. Priestley.

Somehow I didn't get a copy of it then, but when I was in Malvern recently I stumbled across an original edition of Delight and couldn't resist it - it became my dipping-in-and-out-of book. And (yes, this mini-review writes itself), it was a delight!

I haven't read any of Priestley's novels, although I've read one play and seen another - and read a fair bit of his journalism as part of my DPhil research. Delight shows quite a different side to him. Basically, it is short pieces on 114 things which delight him. Why this number, I don't know.

Priestley claims to be an old grumbler (he was actually only in his mid-50s, and would live 'til a month shy of 90) and this was his way of making up to those around him.  And the things that delight him are truly delightful - covering the silly (charades, playing with small children, fantastic theories), the moving (coming home), the scholarly (Shakespeare re-discovered, discovering Vermeer), and the bizarre (mineral water in bedrooms of foreign hotels).  Above all, they are wonderfully engaging, often very amusing, and show a writer who knew how to put together a book that is at once utterly unnecessary and wholly (yes, again) a delight.  Here's an excerpt from Delight no.1, about fountains:

And I believe my delight in these magical jets of water, the invention of which does credit to our whole species, is shared by ninety-nine persons out of every hundred.  But where are they, these fountains we love?  We hunger for them and are not fed.  A definite issue could be made out of this, beginning with letters to the Times, continuing with meetings and unanimous resolutions and deputations to Downing Street, and ending if necessary with processions and mass demonstrations and some rather ugly scenes.  What is the use of our being told that we live in a democracy if we want fountains and have no fountains?

Well - as someone who once traipsed around Torquay trying to find the precise fountain that my friend had seen in her youth, I can empathise.  But you need not worry about wanting Delight and not finding a copy - there are plenty around, particularly the 2009 reprint.  I can think of a few dozen bloggers and blog readers who would love this... it's just the sort of gem that deserves to be on a reader's shelves.


  1. Well, I am one of those bloggers who *wants* this on their shelves! Oddly enough I've been eyeing it up lately - you're being a bad influence again Simon!!

  2. This does sound like a lot of fun. Great quote about fountains. I haven't read any Priestley either. Seems like one of those books that's a bit of an anomaly for an author like Hemmingway's A Moveable Feast, but shows a more human side to them.

  3. Sunday at Ciao Domenica mentioned this in a post a couple of months ago and I found a copy from 1950 to buy. I think it is so amusing (I haven't read all of it yet) and I've told lots of people about it. I loved the section on Detective Stories in Bed.

  4. I'm definitely another blogger who would enjoy this. I do love a book of random, unnecessary musings.


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