Jason Gay Reads From New Book as Mom Steals the Show

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Photo: Stealing the show: Author Jason Gay with his proud mother, Marilyn.  

You can go home again. But you’ll probably have to share the moment with your mother.

And that was the case for the Wall Street Journal sports columnist Jason Gay as the Belmont-raised writer came back to his old hometown for a reading of his first book, Little Victories: Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living” (224 pages, Random House) at the Belmont Public Library on Nov. 12.

While the night was advertised as a night with Gay, someone forgot to tell his “mommy,” long-time and well-known Winn Brook Elementary teacher Marilyn Gay, who, like any proud mother, was ever present to provide praise and more than a few words of encouragement for her son.

Gay did note his mother rated his book on the book website Goodreads with four stars out of five. While saying he’d happily take a four-star review from any other reviewer, “this is my mother!”

“Even if mom thought the book was above average, four-star material, isn’t your mom suppose to give you a charity star?” pondered Gay.

“Had I done something to offend mom?” said Gay, going so far as to think maybe the fourth star was the charity star. When he finally broached the subject with her, Gay’s mother said, “I thought I gave you four our of four. Let me change that right NOW!”

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“Anyone who knows me knows about my immense technological skills,” said Mrs. Gay.

“Mommy, this is my reading,” said Gay, to the amusement of the overflow crowd.

“For those of you who bought the book, Marilyn Gay will be signing them at the end of the evening,” he said. 

It was more a reunion than a book reading as the Assembly Room was well-packed – Gay said he was thankful a fire official wasn’t in attendance – with longtime friends, his mother’s longtime friends, relatives, family, neighbors, former Chenery Middle School English teachers, those who took tennis lessons from Jason and on-and-on.

“This is not necessarily thought I would say when I left Belmont in 1988 … There’s nothing like the passage of time to make you appreciate a place. And there is certainly nothing like having children of one’s own to understand what brought your parents to a place like this,” said Gay.

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After a journalistic odyssey that included stops at a weekly newspaper in Martha’s Vineyard, the Boston Phoenix, New York Observer, GQ, and Rolling Stone, Gay is the WSJ’s humorous sports columnist, which he wrote in the book is “about as stupid as lucky a job you can have.” 

“The kind of job that makes you think that one day a stern-faced man will appear at the door and say, ‘There’s been a terrible mistake. You’re supposed to be managing a karaoke bar for dogs’.”

Gay’s quirky and wry observations of sports and its absurdities has won him a following among Journal readers. He is also known for his annual column on rules for the Thanksgiving afternoon family football game.

The book has been receiving outstanding reviews – People magazine called it “Hilarious … a tasty collection of advice about, for instance, mastering the office Christmas party or how to dress a slightly exhausted hipster dad.” – making it an Amazon Best Book for November.

The collection of “advice” trends from the humorous (the family Thanksgiving chapter), pointed (the impact of being fired) and heartfelt.

Gay said with two very young children back with his wife in Brooklyn, “I will go anywhere to support this book. This could be a truck stop on Route 9,”

When asking a fellow writer from Brooklyn who Gay calls “the cynical author guy” told Gay to get used to readings at libraries or bookstores “where no one will be there!” Gay pulled out his phone and took a “selfie” with the overflow audience to send to his “grizzled” acquaintance.

“I’m going to send this to Sebastian Junger,” said Gay, noting his fellow Belmont-raised author “got just about the same number of people.

Little Victories “began as a silly idea” as “a rule book basically for people who can’t follow rules,”

But it changed to a collection of incidents, events in Gay’s life that were every day but still important. 

“This is the truth. I don’t really believe that … the most important things in life are these seismic events, whether it’s going to college or having a family or … swimming under all the chairs at the Underwood Pool. The truth is it’s often the little things – if I can remember to plug my cell phone in before going to bed, if I can get the children out the door without either one of them crying, if I can get the children out the door without me crying – those are little victories.”

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Gay then relayed the story of his father, educator and Cambridge Ringe and Latin tennis coach Ward Gay, and his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in 2014, and how friends and colleagues would be there for him, providing “simple things such as companionship, a conversation, a walk around the block when he felt up to [it].”

“These were small things, mundane life events but they became incredibly meaningful to all of us,” Gay recalled. And towards the end of his father’s life, it was “giving my dad these little victories, a little happiness, a little joy.”

“This isn’t just a business trip for me to come here to talk about a book. This is very personal not just because I grew up here but because my family has the deepest of deep roots here. This community has been here for my family repeatedly so thank you so much for that,” he said.

“That got a little heavy there for a second,” Gay said, flashing his trademark impish smile.

The remainder of the night was filled with stories, acknowledgements, and readings before both Gay and his mother ended the night autographing books.

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