You drove me, nearly drove me out of my head; or, On Reading Ocean Vuong and Brian Doyle

I’m a crier. (I’m an ugly crier, so I try to keep it to myself.) I cry at all kinds of things: music, TV commercials, stupid movies that I know have manipulated me into crying but I do it anyway. I cried in front of a Van Gogh painting. I’ve cried at the beauty of nature. But these days I’ve been crying because of two books I’m reading. Give me a break, boys! You’re killing me here!

One is Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, whose title alone is enough to bring tears to my eyes, but then the writing. Every paragraph is so beautiful and grief-filled and yet not tragic somehow. Full, overflowing with grace. I can barely read an entire page without having to put the book down.

The other one is One Long River of Song, by Brian Doyle, a book I pulled off the library shelf because I liked that title too. I had never heard of Brian Doyle, to my recollection — although he is an essayist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Orion, Harper’s. A blurb on the front stated, “These essays are truly staggering,” and I thought, okay, I like essays, I like staggering.

And they are lovely, joyous little things, along the lines of Ross Gay’s Book of Delights, only mostly longer than Gay’s daily dosages. But oh my, they are lovely. And I am indeed staggered by them, their seeming simplicity, their humility and wonder. A religiosity permeates them but more spirit than doctrine.

I have been thinking recently about beauty, and about how where I have been living of late is so beautiful that I feel like it’s spilling out of my hands, dribbling down my chin, and I can’t slurp it up fast enough nor keep it. Now with the beauty of these books, well, I’m a puddle on the floor, people, all tears and blurble.

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