I decided to kick off my podcast with one of my favorite writers, Jay Gabler. I met Jay a few years ago and we decided to found The Tangential with Katie Sisneros (who I hope to have on soon enough!). I was excited to see that he had quietly spent his summer writing a book, The Summer of 40, which he published on Amazon. I quickly devoured it on an airplane and invited him to come talk about it.
I asked Jay three hard questions to help you get to know him even better!
Who was the first writer who made you love writing?
Roger Ebert was an early inspiration. As a kid, I’d read his movie guidebooks cover to cover despite the fact that I couldn’t (or wouldn’t be allowed to) see most of the movies he was reviewing. He taught me that reacting to the work of others could be a creative act in and of itself, and reviews might still be my favorite things to write. What’s one of the most embarrassing things you’ve ever written?
In 2010 I published a review of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Guthrie Theater, criticizing the director for using obtrusively loud background sound effects. Readers immediately pointed out that those sound effects were explicitly called for in the original script for the play, and I had to issue a mea culpa admitting that the director wasn’t entirely to blame for the cheesy effects: Tennessee Williams had to share some of the blame too. At the time I was kind of appalled because the review accidentally revealed that I wasn’t especially familiar with the play, which in a sense stood me on ground that was less firm than the other reviewers’. Still, I’ve always believed that you don’t need to be an expert to have a valid perspective on an artwork. If you could get on Wikipedia for accomplishing anything, what would it be? Mira Gonzalez has a Wikipedia page that says, “According to one source, she writes about ‘drugs, sex, loneliness, laziness, recklessness, self-loathing’ in an ‘extremely humorous and warm manner.'” That’s my gold standard.
Can you also describe your book for people who are interested? The Summer of 40 is a short book of essays that I wrote over the course of this past summer; I turned 40 in August. It’s my way of making sense of what people like to call “a significant birthday,” and I hope others will relate.