Delight by J.B. Priestley

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been indulging in some polyreading – and this is the reason why! “Delight” is a book I picked up on a whim a little while back; I’d read Simon’s review of it, and thought it sounded perfect. I love Priestley’s rather grumpy writing persona (which I explored in a wonderful collection of his essays from Notting Hill Editions), although this promised to be less of him grumbling and more of him celebrating what gives him pleasure. And if ever a book lived up to its name, this one did!

First published in 1949, “Delight” contains one hundred and fourteen short pieces where Priestley reveals a particular aspect of life which does indeed bring him delight. This can be anything from a gin and tonic plus packet of crisps, through dreams, tennis and detective stories, to Not Going (out); and there’s a lovely piece on the Marx Brothers (whom I also adore)! It’s a funny and entertaining concept, all realised in Priestley’s wonderfully lugubrious prose, and it was indeed a real delight dipping into it.

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

For dipping is what you need to do with a collection like this; because attempting to read the whole lot in one go would really dilute the effect and spoil the fun. So I read this alongside “Zoo…”, and they made perfect and constrasting companions. Priestley comes across as a down-to-earth, commonsense man, which is particularly refreshing in these days of lies and obfuscation; and his celebration of simple pleasures captures what is in many ways a lost world. However, although he’s happy to present a fairly genial exterior, several of the pieces do look a little deeper; Priestley wears his socialist heart on his sleeve, as a champion of the struggling classes; and there’s a very moving piece on old photographs and how they capture someone frozen in time.

One of Tabitha Wykenham’s delightful illustrations !

My copy of “Delight” is a beautiful 70th anniversary edition which was issued by Great Northern Books (and bought with my hard-earned pennies). It’s a gorgeous hardback, printed on quality paper, and enlivened with some lovely little colour illustrations by Priestley’s granddaughter, Tabitha Wykenham. So as an object, it’s also delightful!

Rather than witter on about how lovely this book is, I’ll end this post by sharing a few favourite quotes from it. I do feel that dipping may be the way forward when I’m struggling to engage with anything of substance and structure, and this was certainly perfect lockdown relaxation reading! 😀


On the joys of grumbling: The feminine view appears to be that grumbling only makes things worse, whereas I have always held that a fine grumble makes things better. If, for example, an hotel gives me a bad breakfast, I have only to grumble away for a few minutes to feel that some reasonable balance has been restored: the grumble has been subtracted from the badness of the breakfast. So it is no use crying to me “Oh – do be quiet! It’s bad enough without your grumbling.” My mind does not move along these lines. If I have not had a good breakfast, I argue, at least I have had a good grumble.

On the joy of reading snugly inside during bad weather: There is a peculiar delight, which I can still experience though I knew it best as a boy, in cosily reading about foul weather when equally foul weather is beating hard against the windows, when one is securely poised between the wind and rain and sleet outside and the wind and rain and sleet that leap from the page into the mind.

On the compulsion to shop: … spending money in shops has gone on so long that it is now an instinctive activity. Drawing free rations is not a substitute for it, which is something Communist governments often fail to understand.

On the joy of detective stories as escapist: As thoughtful citizens we are hemmed in now by gigantic problems that appear as insoluble as they are menacing, so how pleasant it is to take an hour or two off to consider only the problem of the body that locked itself in the study and then used the telephone.