Little Victories: Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living

Image of Little Victories: Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living
Release Date: 
November 3, 2015
Reviewed by: 

Sports writers, at least the really good ones, have always seemed to be philosophers driven to make a living or pay back their college education loans. The really good ones are masterful writers in their conciseness, color, and wit lest their readers get distracted by the box scores. Jason Gay, sports columnist for the Wall Street Journal has a bit of a cult following for his family Thanksgiving dinner and touch football rules and other essential essays on post-modern survival so this book has the potential to be good. And it is.

Our lives can actually be pretty funny in a droll way; even the tough and tragic moments need their share of levity. Gay has had his moments of being upended by life: he has had testicular cancer; lost his father to cancer during this book’s genesis; has been fired from a journalist job to die for; has endured (with his wife) the really expensive, emotional roller coaster ride of IVF (which finally succeeded); and a few other OMG experiences. All these, and a lot more, are the material for Little Victories: Perfect Rules for Imperfect Living.

In a self-effacing, anxious way that is alive with acumen Jason Gay’s subjects include food, exercise and abs, health and sickness, jobs and bosses, marriage and weddings, family (your own and the in-laws), manners, friends, travel, youth sports and the parents that devote themselves to it, and of course “the kids” (he has two young ones). He is at his best when his topic is the most serious and daunting (like illness, loss, loneliness and kids).

He gives us a collection of short essays on finding a way to make for a good life. When “outrageous fortune” strikes, when there is illness, loss or death, our vision becomes focused and heightened; these are the moments when what really counts emerges—but we need to be alert, and use them to be open to living, loving, and learning.        

Gay’s thesis is that the “little victories” make for a life well lived, with the kindness of family and friends, health, and meaningful work and contribution. Living is of course “imperfect,” yet that does not mean it cannot have its moments of wonder, intimacy, passion, and joy. But they do not come, ex machina, as bolts from the sky; instead they are opportunities that present as “small steps” to be taken and that accrue and make for what is sometimes called happiness.

His essays are not really “rules” because they are not pedantic or highly prescriptive. There are no abdominal exercises, seven-day diet plans, or 10 steps to Nirvana. He is his own most unsparing critic. Gay reaches us by making us laugh (many times, aloud), appreciate what we have, and admire our own pluck. It is a rare writer who can surprise, amuse and bemuse—who has the right spectacles to see the world as a funny place. No wonder he has a following. That now includes me.