Book Review: I’m Sorry, I Love You: A History of Professional Wrestling by Jim Smallman

Jim Smallman explains his choice of title near the start of this book, explaining that he chose the words delivered by Shawn Michaels to Ric Flair at WrestleMania XXIV, not only for their importance in the world of wrestling, but because they serve as his own words for a passion which for years he kept hidden or denied.

smallman sorryloveyou

Smallman would later become a more outspoken fan, talking about it in his stand up and even setting up his own wrestling company, PROGRESS Wrestling. And now he turns his hand to writing about the history of the business.

The book charts the course professional wrestling has taken, going from being a real sporting contest to the sports entertainment we have today. Smallman focuses largely on US wrestling, but does take time to discuss the history in Japan, Mexico and the UK.

For wrestling fans some of this will be familiar territory- Vince McMahon’s vision in expanding and growing the WWF he took over from his family, the Monday Night Wars, the rise and fall of ECW and the Montreal Screwjob. But there is some stuff I didn’t know about, the formation of the NWA and a lot of the early years of the sport were fresh to me.

Smallman’s writing is free of pretension and conversational in tone, making this an easy read that delivers the information, along with interesting asides and informed opinion, in a way that avoids becoming dry or dull. It’s not a complete history, but Smallman never sets out to do that, instead capturing a sense of how wrestling has evolved and changed over the decades.

It benefits from Smallman’s fandom, and also his inside knowledge of the business, and he often uses this perspective to offer explanations for some of the more controversial decisions made by some promoters. I also liked that he includes various top ten lists throughout the book, explaining his choices briefly and introducing me to some new names.

It’s a good read, even if has left me with a whole list of matches and wrestlers to seek out. It might not go into great depth on the whole history, but for most fans this will give a good overview and is a good place to start learning more about the background.

Verdict: A good, short history of the professional wrestling business told in an easy, engaging way. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Book Review: Hiroshima by John Hersey

I didn’t enjoy this book, but I would still recommend it.

In 1946, John Hersey spoke to six people who had been in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped, he then wrote the story of what happened to them on that day and afterwards. In 1985, forty years after the attack he wrote about what had happened to them over the years.

hiroshima hershey

The atomic bomb attack is one of the key moments of World War II but yet is one I’ve never really heard about in depth before. I dimly recall reading something about it in school but that was a short piece, and fictional, I think. But here Hersey presents a detailed and at times difficult to read retelling of the horrors that the city endured.

Hersey’s writing is strikingly evocative and doesn’t flinch from the grim details. He reflects the responses of his subjects and their mindset, often almost numbed by the relentless suffering they witness. There are moments recounted here that I will probably remember for the rest of my life.

Almost as grim as the first few days is the story of the aftermath, with people suffering from radiation sickness and having to rebuild their shattered lives in a devastated city. One of the survivors, Kiyoshi Tanimoto, endeavours after the war to help his fellow survivors and also to work towards peace. During this sequence, Hersey inserts updates on the nuclear proliferation that followed, and ends with a depressing note that just as Tanimoto’s memory starts to fail it appears the world’s collective memory is already forgetting the horrors of Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.

This is a tough read in places, filled with heartbreaking tragedy and moments of genuine horror. And yet there are also moments of kindness and heroism, as well as quiet moments of endurance and personal strength.

It’s worth reading for providing an insight into an important piece of history which is often glossed over or reduced to statistics. To see the human face of the suffering makes it resonate even more and highlights the evil of nuclear weapons.

Verdict: Grim but powerful reading, Hersey’s skilled writing captures the chaos and pain of the events that follow the bombing. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Kingdom by the Sea by Paul Theroux

This is an odd one for a travel book as it doesn’t concern far off and exotic places, instead it deals with places that are often familiar to me. In 1982, after eleven years living in London, Paul Theroux realised that he still hadn’t seen much of Britain, the capital city being almost a separate country. And so he set off to travel clockwise around the coastline, and records his impressions here.

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The book is an odd mix of the familiar and the alien, while many of the place names are familiar (Eastbourne, Barry Island, Tenby etc.) there are big differences. As L.P. Hartley observed, the past is a foreign country, and while there are some things that haven’t changed, some of the sights witnessed by Theroux feel foreign to me.

Theroux records the journey in his usual intelligent, captivating way, with a keen eye for the characters he meets and a way of making insightful observations about the local character and outlook. Throughout his quick sketches and impressions of the people he encounters feel real, and he captures their contradictions and foibles wonderfully.

Travelling as the Falklands War rages, Theroux uses this frequently to examine the British outlook and attitude, and as an outsider can see the odd way the country works. He remarks on the depression and grim economic times, the jingoistic tabloid coverage at odds with the more quiet way the public deals with the war, and the way that Britain is changing but unchanged. Old castles that have stood for centuries remain as do old traditions, even as industries die around them and factories fall quiet.

It’s an interesting look at a certain period of British history, a ground level look at the way people lived, capturing the society with an outsider’s eye. Theroux is wry and humorous in places, and his relationship with Britain is complicated, a mixture of affection, frustration and confusion. There are places he hates along the way, but often he finds something to admire, whether it’s the landscape or the people.

An interesting and entertaining read, quite nice to read about places you know and see how they’ve changed, and how they’ve stayed the same.

Verdict: A very engaging read helped by Theroux’s writing which is insightful and smart throughout. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: My Mother Was Nuts by Penny Marshall

I think I got this book on offer. It’s the only reason I can think of why I downloaded it, because while I’m vaguely familiar with Penny Marshall’s work and love a couple of her movies (Big and A League of Their Own), I’d not given much thought to what her personal life was like. Well, thanks for that offer.

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Like her friend Carrie Fisher, Marshall has been in and around Hollywood for most of her life. She moved out to LA in her twenties at the end of the sixties to join her successful writer brother Garry, and soon started picking up acting gigs, becoming a star thanks to the Happy Days spin off Laverne and Shirley, which I’ve never seen. While Happy Days and it’s other spin off Mork and Mindy were shows I watched as a kid, Laverne and Shirley didn’t seem to get repeated here.

Married to actor, writer and director Rob Reiner she became part of a group of Hollywood friends. Later she would move into directing, and with Big become the first woman to direct a film that made over $100m.

And also, like Fisher, she tells her stories with energy and humour, albeit in a slightly less scatterbrained and meandering fashion. She talks about on set difficulties, of her past excesses and indiscretions, her loves and losses.

It’s a wonderfully entertaining read, the supporting players a cast of big names like Tom Hanks, Jack Nicholson, Madonna, Drew Barrymore and Whitney Houston. But she’s also at home with the crews of her film, the firemen she meets after 9/11 and the old friends from her neighbourhood in the Bronx who she remains close to.

Marshall writes in an easy, unpolished manner which draws you in and gives you a sense of her personality and humour. She’s funny and warm, honest and introspective. She admits to her failings but fights her corner too.

There are moving passages as she details the loved ones lost along the way. Yet her own battle with cancer is handled with humour and a lack of moping. Marshall is a force to be reckoned with, full of life and spirit. She says early on that she always liked to play, but while there is playfulness there’s something else at work, a constant driving energy that leads her to throw herself into what comes her way. An energy that helps her succeed and opens new doors for her. It’s a life well lived, and a life well written about.

I dipped in and out of this book, but whenever I did it left me warmed and amused.

Verdict: A life story told in a warm and unpretentious manner, Marshall’s energy and charm infuses the entire book. It made me smile numerous times, but also tugs the heartstrings. There’s some interesting showbiz gossip, a look into the private lives of big name stars, but at it’s heart it’s Marshall’s story. The story of a woman of humour and boundless energy, who throws herself into the opportunities and challenges that appear in her path, and succeeds. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

 


Book Review: “Rommel?” “Gunner who?”: A Confrontation in the Desert by Spike Milligan

Having really enjoyed the first instalment of Spike Milligan’s war memoirs, I was keen to get on with the rest of the series. So, when I got an Amazon gift card for my birthday, this was one of the first things I downloaded onto my Kindle.

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Picking up where the first ends, this sees Milligan and 19th Battery in Algeria, pushing on for Tunisia as the war starts to heat up. Whereas in the first book the conflict seemed almost a world away from his training on England’s South coast, here he is closer to the danger and actually comes under fire. This means that despite Milligan’s sense of humour there is a darker edge. One particularly dark moment has Milligan taking a watch from a recently killed Italian soldier and sending it back to his father.

The humour of the men changes, there’s more gallows humour and at times Milligan admits that the wisecracks feel forced, or repetitive. The men are clearly rattled, but trying to carry on as normal, to put on a brave face, but the cracks do show. There’s a particularly moving sequence when one of Milligan’s friends, a Lieutenant, is killed.

There are other moments when death looms large, but Milligan is also well aware of the ridiculous moments of war and the quirks of the men he serves with. There is a feeling of not taking life too seriously which flows through everything he does, with even his more introspective moments undercut with quips and gags.

The gags come thick and fast and it made me laugh many times, but there is a darkness and sense of consequence here that makes it less fun and carefree than the first part. That being said it is an entertaining and involving read about one man’s war, and thankfully a man of humour and intelligence.

Verdict: Very entertaining but the horrors of war close in and make this slightly less fun than the first. Luckily, Milligan is still a hugely entertaining writer with a keen eye for the absurdities of war and a knack of capturing characters and place well. A good read. 8/10

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Sum of My Parts by James Sanford

I’m not usually a fan of misery memoirs or cancer survivor stories. In fact before this the only book about having cancer I can remember reading is Lance Armstrong’s. That book inspired me, leaving me slightly disappointed by his subsequent fall from grace.

I only picked this because I have Kindle Unlimited and I decided to branch out a bit with my reading. I’m glad I did as Sanford is a talented writer and thankfully avoids mawkishness or cliche.

Sanford wakes up one morning to a strange feeling down there and when he finally sees a doctor discovers that it is testicular cancer. Sanford details his treatment and the impact on his personal life.

One of the interesting aspects of this book is that Sanford talks about how the treatment reawakens old body image issues and his slow route to some form of body acceptance and newfound confidence.

The writing is polished and engaging enough, albeit with a lack of flair. It’s a decent reading but at times Sanford appears to be holding himself back. You get the feeling that more may have gone on but he chooses to leave it out. Which is fair enough, it’s his choice after all but it does leave this feeling rather muted. This detachment stopped me from being able to really connect with the book at times.

Verdict: A decent read that avoids self pity but feels too guarded to fully engage. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher

Having enjoyed Wishful Drinking, I was keen to read more of Carrie Fisher’s stuff and this book was just as enjoyable.

Like the previous book the writing here is conversational, witty and painfully honest. Fisher discusses her experience of Electroconvulsive Therapy and the help it did with her personal demons while still mocking herself for her memory lapses.

Fisher trades in sarcastic asides and silly gags, but these merely mask the big heart at the centre as she discusses the troubles of fame, Michael Jackson, ageing and her relationship with her father. It’s this section that touches on her making peace with former stepmother Elizabeth Taylor, that is most profound with Fisher showing great compassion and understanding for the man who walked out on her as a child. She talks about coming to forgive and understand him a bit better, of relinquishing the bitterness that might have grown within. There are moments of humour here too and her portrayal of Eddie Fisher is affectionate but not blindly so, she knows his failings and weaknesses, some of which she sees reflected in herself.

Fisher writes about celebrity and fame with insight few others can, having grown up within the machine and seeing how it all came together.

Her writing is chaotic at times, rambling in places but she never loses the reader, her wit and personality locking you in to what she has to say. A delight of a book.

Verdict: Funny and painfully open this is a great read. Fisher’s style is unpolished but this works well, allowing her larger than life personality to permeate. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Binman Chronicles by Neville Southall

Everton and Wales goalkeeping legend Neville Southall’s career was winding down when I started watching football. I can remember him doing a decent job for an uninspiring Everton side and playing for Wales quite a few times. But it would only be later that I came to appreciate how successful his career between the posts had been.

Southall is Wales’ most capped player and won several trophies at Everton, becoming their most decorated player. This book charts his career and life after football, and is a decent read throughout.

He’s quite direct and open in his analysis of his career, acknowledging that the discipline and dedication which made him so successful also contributed to problems in his personal life, due to his selfish focus.

Southall talks about the players, managers and coaches he worked with, at times with unflinching honesty. He lifts the lid on behind the scenes politics and changing room rifts, as well as the unprofessional chaos of the Wales set up.

He’s also not shy in offering his opinions on problems in the sport. When discussing the banning of English clubs from European competition in the ’80s there is an anger which remains fresh, anger at the impact this had on the careers of a generation. And it’s hard to dismiss that UEFA’s frustration at English dominance may have had a part in the decision.

Throughout this book Southall is a down to earth narrator and seems a decent bloke, if a bit curmudgeonly. And it provides an insight into the drive needed to be a top athlete and the challenges faced, particularly with regards injury and navigating a world of big characters and egos.

And it shows the cutthroat world of football as various players and managers are cast aside unsentimentally. In fact reading about the end of Big Nev’s time at Everton after 17 years provides a sad example of how, despite a player’s contributions and history, clubs are quick to move on and replace players.

A good read for football fans, and Southall had a good life after football, using his experience to teach and help disadvantaged youths.

Verdict: An honest and direct read from a man who opens up about his career and peers. Southall is a likeable writer and provides a detailed look into what was going on in the teams he played for. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall by Spike Milligan

What an absolute gem of a book. This is the first part of Milligan’s war memoirs and I will definitely be continuing with the series.

The book charts Milligan’s life from the start of the war through his enlistment and time as a signaller. The book goes right up to his arrival in Algiers with the prospect of real combat looming.

Milligan’s writing is simply marvellous, delivering a steady stream of gags in a breathless fashion that makes this a hard book to put down. The stories of shirking, scheming, drinking and disorder are hugely entertaining, with Milligan mocking pompous authority figures. The war is largely a distant thing, with the odd moment where it starts to intrude on his life.

The book had me laughing aloud repeatedly and smiling almost continuously. Milligan’s humour and individuality leaps off the page and the result is a book you wish was longer. Thoroughly recommend.

Verdict: Just wonderful, a masterpiece of hilarity. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Countdown to Lockdown by Mick Foley

When I got back into wrestling as a student Mick Foley quickly became one of my favourites. He had some ridiculously brutal matches while coming across as a likeable, rather sweet dude. There was something about him that won you over and he seemed more real than many of the characters he grappled with.

I read his autobiography which just made me like him even more as it was well written and very entertaining.

He’s since written more books and this, a fourth memoir details his time having left WWE for TNA. Lockdown is the pay-per-view event where he would face wrestling legend Sting.

As the title suggests the book details the build up to the event with Foley giving a behind the scenes look at how the feud is created, how he comes up with his promos and his fears regarding his injuries and whether he can still deliver an entertaining match.

Foley talks about the mental and physical preparation, the way he tries to build the story for the match. It’s interesting and shows the work and dedication he puts into his craft.

It also provides insight into why Foley left the WWE, and the problems he had there towards the end.

Other parts of the book see Foley write on a variety of subjects including performance enhancing drugs, Tori Amos and his charity work. In places Foley’s humour is slightly juvenile but he still manages to come across well.

For wrestling fans it’s another chance to look behind the curtains and Foley continues to write well.

Verdict: A fun and interesting read about the wrestling business. Foley is adorably goofy at times and a warm, engaging writer. Non wrestling fams might not be too fussed, but for Foley fans it’s a solid read. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.