In 2018, when things seemed bleak, both in her personal life and in the world at large, the journalist Hannah Jane Parkinson started writing a column for the Guardian on small things that gave her joy. The idea, she freely admits, was nabbed from JB Priestley, who wrote a book some 70 years earlier called Delight. “If this grouchy Yorkshireman could take the time to sit down and document his everyday exultations,” she reasoned, “then I, someone whose default is a sort of droll cynicism, could do the same.”
After three years of celebrating dogs in parks and night buses, regional accents and the subtle pleasure of closing browser tabs – a period that spanned the onset of a pandemic, when even small pleasures were in short supply – the column came to an end in September. Now Parkinson has turned it into a book, gathering together more than 100 entries, each one short and snappy as befits the theme.
It could so easily become cloying over 250 pages, but Parkinson deploys her droll cynicism to good effect. Where there is positivity, mordant wit and pathos are never far behind (we learn of the author’s struggles with mental illness, which adds an extra dimension to the exercise).
It helps, too, that Parkinson is good at articulating little details that we encounter on a daily basis but rarely put into words. In the phrase “under the weather”, she finds the suggestion that “when we are well, we soar above the clouds”. That moment of disorientation that can occur immediately after waking strikes her as “a sort of GPS failure in the liminal space between the unconscious and conscious states”.
To read the book from cover to cover is perhaps to experience a surplus of joy. For most people, the pleasure will lie in dipping in at random, though it’s a credit to Parkinson’s writing, which is open-hearted and deceptively light, that you end up consuming it in considerably larger chunks than you might at first anticipate.
• The Joy of Small Things by Hannah Jane Parkinson is published by Guardian Faber (£10). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply