Books: “Little Victories” By Jason Gay

Jason Gay, the very witty sports columnist for the Wall Street Journal, has written his first book, “Little Victories: Perfect Rules For Imperfect Living.”

The book is inspired by his “Rules” columns, which, as the author describes it, “provide untraditional, highly amusing bur useful advice for the navigating the minefields of everyday life.”

For those that read Gay’s columns, the book will be very familiar, as it is written in the same conversational manner. There is a clear focus, but some very funny lines that come out of nowhere and hit you just right. The thing about Gay’s writing is that he is very open and that helps him connect to the reader, yet he does not take himself too seriously, something rare in this era of social media.

In a tip to the Facebook crowd, Gay writes of what he has done in his life, “I’d been blessed to get work that let me fly around the world and see things and meet people I’d never dreamed of meeting and a handful of schnooks I hoped never to meet again. I’d been dispatched to Super Bowls, Summer and Winter Olympics, World Cups, and the snooty-pants golf Masters. If you’re not impressed by that, I once saw a photograph of a bird on top of a mouse on top of a cat on top of a dog.”

Gay’s wit and humor is a bit like David Letterman’s dry wit that can really be appreciated. This was on display when he dropped this into a bullet-point description of what he hopes to achieve with the book, “If by chance you are in a Greyhound station at 3:20 A.M., the bus to Pensacola leaves in three minutes.”

The book is full of great anecdotes such as one in which he is home in Boston, and has to leave for the airport. “In the morning, I had to fly back to New York City, and I knew that upon waking up I would bicker with dad about what time we needed to leave the house. This was always a comical argument, our version of Abbott and Costello. With no traffic, you can get from our house to the airport in a half hour, I believe leaving ninety minutes in advance in reasonable. My father preferred to leave in 1987.”

There are a lot of personal stories in here, the first of which comes about his father being sick and how that changed his view of life. Gay wrote of that times, “Our lives would change; all our energy was dedicated to improving whatever time he had left. A high school science teacher, my father was full of wonderment about how the world worked -he was the kind of person who could spend an hour explaining the Northern Lights, or the inner workings of a toaster oven. Suddenly his world shrank. For the coming year, life would not be about the big play, the grand gesture, or long-term plans. The focus would be on creating smaller, perfect moments that brought us all temporary relief and happiness. Little victories.”

There are many relatable stories about life and things that go on everyday that we may not realize is that big or important, but when put together, make the day go smoothly.

Gay writes of life, “Sometimes it’s just easier to believe that life’s path is chance, a fluke of randomness, and yet it’s not really random, not when you think about what you are and what you wanted to be and all the miles in between. And I thought about all the people who had imparted advice to me –  good advice, bad advice, in and outside my family. I’d had plenty of mentors – mentors I sought, ones I didn’t. Good bosses, jerk bosses. Great coaches, ambivalent coaches. You think you are on your own, but you really are not. Nobody figures it out alone.”

Gay then shows some perspective of what it is like being a sportswriter covering professional athletes, “If you’re a pro ahtlete, you’re not supposed to describe your job as a job, because you are doing something that most people would do for free, unless, of course, they were good enough to do it for $15 million, in which case they would never do it for free. And yet you can still tell the difference between the athletes who still love it and the athletes who wish they could get away from it. One of the quiet agonies of life is seeing people who loved something lose touch with what made them happy. It can happen to anybody, not just members of the New York Knicks. No matter what you do for a living, where you live, or who you’re with, it’s important to remember why you wanted to do something for the first time. How it made you feel. Why it made you happy. I think that’s an emotion to reach back for, always.”

There is some very positive stuff on making friends and valuing friends. It sounds simple, but Gay shines a light on it, with his usual wit, that people should keep with them everyday. “Friendship is good for you; we all know this. There are a zillion studies establishing that the more friends you have and the more socializing you do, the more satisfied and happier you are, the more money you make, the better sex you have, the more Grammys you win. More friends does mean that you will spend a third of your salary on birthday gifts and go to a lot of birthday dinners at loud restaurants where no one can hear anything, but I have come to believe this is a fair trade-off.”

Gay then makes it clear what kind of friend he values the most, “The best type of friend is a no-brainer: the Listener. That’s the kind of friend my wife is. There is always a place for the Listener. It’s like knowing how to make children’s balloon sculptures or deep-dish pizza. In life, there will forever be a place for you.”

There are also great stories about things like interviewing Rihanna on a private jet in a way that is very approachable and takes you behind the curtain. He describes the jet as such, “The plane is a Gulfstream IV. Or V. Or maybe a Gulfstream III. I am not even sure it’s a Gulfstream. I don’t know anything about private jets; I drive a family wagon that reeks of spilled milk and graham crackers.”

There is plenty in here about how people approach things and how they think, such as when Gay writes on being cool. “No activity on the planet besides talking about real estate wastes as much time or creates more turbulent feelings of personal insecurity than trying to be cool. It’s true. Trying to be cool may be the thing that unites us a a species – wherever you are in the world, there is someone who believes he or she looks cool in those jeans and that T-shirt, the fading one with the name of a nonexistent pancake diner – and yet it is mostly a failed endeavor. Somewhere between 19 and 20 trillion hours are lost every year trying to be cool. And yet by and large, none of us are cool. I am definitely not cool.”



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