First up is a reread of Open by Andre Agassi, a book that regularly makes the various lists of best ever sports books. For now, I’ve written my thoughts based on how I remember the book from when I first read it more than 7 years ago. I’m about to start re-reading it and will update the post after I finish.
Sometimes the right book comes into your life at the right time – this is that book for me. This book had a significant impact on me. I read it at a low point in my life when I was very overweight, miserable in my job and eager for change. I was on 3 months study leave from work to study for accounting exams and determined to use the time to lose weight. I managed to drop a huge amount of weight that summer, and the following year – get significantly fitter, meet my now wife and reach a much happier place in my life. I also did pretty damn well in those exams.
What I know is I loved this book – I genuinely believe it had a major impact on my finally being successful at losing weight and keeping it off (although I’ve put a lot back on in last couple of years which has prompted the re-read. I’m eager to discover if it lives up to my memory.
What I remember is a brilliantly well written and searingly honest account of Agassi’s life. His struggles with hating tennis, hating his father and substance abuse were striking. His ability to turn his life around and become a better player post 30 than before was remarkable, but 7 years removed all I can really remember is that I recommended the book to many many many people. Will update as soon as reread is complete.
I reread Open over two nights – its as good if not better than I remembered.
From the first pages, its immediately obvious that it is first and foremost a very well written book. There a huge number of memorable lines in the introduction alone. The repetition of Agassi’s hatred of tennis is striking and makes it clear this is a book about the man as much as the sportsman.
It feels very honest – you believe this is the real Agassi, the Agassi that his friends saw but that he kept hidden from the rest of the world. The contrast between the public image and the private thoughts of young Agassi is almost unbelievable.
The first two thirds of the book – his young life and early professional career is the journey of a young man who seems to have the greatest of lives but is struggling deep down. It think it wonderfully captures the feelings of someone who who ostensibly has a good career but struggles day to day with the Why? We want to believe “successful” people are happy because then, if we are successful, we will be happy too. Agassi reminds us that “success” is deeply personal and many of us never fully grasp that or what our own personal victory looks like.
While I loved reading this again, I did begin to wonder why this had such an impact on me other than being a really great book. And then I read this piece at the beginning of Chapter 21:
“Change. Time to change Andre. You can’t go on like this. Change, change, change – I say this word to myself several times a day, every day, while buttering my morning toast, while brushing my teeth, less as a warning than as a soothing chant. For from depressing me, or shaming me, the idea that I must change completely, from top to bottom, brings me back to centre. For once I don’t hear that nagging self-doubt that follows every personal resolution. I won’t fail this time, I can’t because its now or never. The idea of stagnating, of remaining this Andre the rest of my life, that’s what I find truly depressing and shameful”.
I can remember the impact that paragraph, and particularly the last line had on me. It was visceral, it was like reading my own thoughts. It spoke to me, like very few books every have. So the experience of this book was deeply personal for me and my review is obviously impacted as a result.
However, besides the personal relevance, it is a wonderful book. I have read a lot of autobiographies, as this blog will hopefully eventually show, and this really does stand head and shoulders above so many others.
The final third – Agassi getting his life back on track, and his late career resurgence is a feel good redemption story. His coming to grips with finding himself down a path he never chose is inspiring. He figured out what his own goal was, what he wanted for himself – to win all 4 grand slams – and achieved something that was for him.
Mostly though, this book is about love. The misguided love of Agassi’s father. The love between brothers, between friends, between those who come into our life when we need them most. And the overriding importance of being with the right partner. I was single when I first read Open and his telling of his relationship with Steffi Graff felt conjured, too adorable and manufactured, the one thing that didn’t ring true. Then I met my wife and I realised some people do actually get that lucky.
It won’t be another 7 years before I read this again.