Over the last decade and a half, publishers finally realized something that has helped them turn a nifty little profit: wrestling fans actually CAN read. With the myth that all wrestling fans are inbred yokels with an IQ south of the century mark debunked, myriads of wrestling books started sprouting up at an alarming rate starting in 1999. Almost all of them are drivel; utterly lacking in focus, charm or anything that makes them standout in any way shape or form. I decided to use that ancient relic of the past, my library card, to try to separate the class from the crap, and this list is only my opinion. Your mileage may vary. I have not yet read EVERY book out there, as there are literally now hundreds to comb through, but I sifted my way through a good 75-90 of them over the last two years, and this is the list I have come up with.
Honorable Mention: Adam Copeland On Edge
I put a premium on the wrestlers writing their own books without the aid of a ghostwriter. That said, I did not think Edge’s book was going to be anything special, especially seeing it was written during his time off for spinal fusion surgery in 2003, before he ascended to the top of the card as the sleazy “Rated R Superstar.” I was wrong, as Edge, while he is far from O. Henry, writes a fine tome on his young career. It is a fun book that also doubles as a kind of biography on his childhood chum Jay Reso, who you may know better as Christian. It is funny, irreverent and full of self deprecating charm. Definitely recommended.
5. Mick Foley, “The Hardcore Diaries.”
Mick Foley’s third foray into his life story takes us to 2006, with Mick pitching an idea to Vince McMahon for the upcoming ECW One Night Stand pay per view. Foley’s books are either hit or miss, and while some malign this edition, I enjoy it. It really drops you into the clusterfuck that is WWE creative, as Mick has a brilliant angle cut off at the legs at every turn by various backstage buffoons from HHH to Vince and Stephanie McMahon. The book is literally a diary Mick keeps throughout the whole process, and it shows as Mick starts off effusive and optimistic, and by the end his faith in the WWE has been completely destroyed as he is depressed and despondent. Definitely worth a look just for the sheer lunacy of WWE “Creative.”
4. Chris Jericho. “Undisputed: How to Become The World Champion in 1,372 Easy Steps”
This is Jericho’s second book, and it focuses on his first go around with WWE, as well as his touring with his band, Fozzy. Much like “Hardcore Diaries,” this book offers a glimpse into the crazy world of “creative” at WWE/WWF, albeit during a different time: from mid 1999 to 2005. It illustrates just how insulated and insecure some of the talent are when a new guy comes in from a rival organization and is, upon his first appearance, more popular with the crowd than 90% of the roster. Jericho had to scratch and claw for everything he got (and didn’t get) in WWE, and he is candid about it in this book. It also helps that this book is not published by WWE, so Jericho can tell his story without (too much) fear of reprisal. The Fozzy interludes are actually quite fun, with stories of partying like a rock star from guys like Zakk Wylde to Axl Rose to Sebastian Bach to fomer MLB pitcher Scott Erickson(!). The most gutwrenching chapter, though, has to be the one devoted to his close friend Chris Benoit, and the circumstances surrounding his ignominious demise. A fantastic read.
3. Mick Foley, “Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks”
The book that started it all. This was published in 1999, and was it ever refreshing. As I explained earlier, this is the book that broke the “wrestling fans are dumb rednecks” barrier. Maybe not Jackie Robinson territory (or even remotely fucking close) but still significant for wrestling fans. More significant, Foley shunned the ghostwriter saddled to him by the publisher and wrote the books by himself, longhand, no computer, while still maintaining a full wrestling schedule. I would assume most fans have read this by now. If not, for shame. Foley proves an adept, if unspectacular, scribe; funny, self deprecating and immensely enjoyable, the book covers Foley’s childhood to his early days as Cactus Jack; from his talent being squandered in WCW, to his blood being spilled both in ECW and in extreme death matches in Japan; from being told year in and year out he didn’t have “The Look” to compete in WWF to ascending to the very top of the promotion as its champion and biggest draws, this is must read material.
2. Chris Jericho, “A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex”
Noticing a trend here? Many people actually prefer Jericho’s second book. I am not one of them. This covers Jericho from his Winnipeg beginnings as Chris Irvine, son of NHL star Ted Irvine, through his days in WCW and his signing with the WWF. Along the way we stop in Calgary, Mexico City, The Reeperbahn in Germany,Knoxville Tennessee, Philadelphia, Japan and all points in between. Jericho may be the last of a dying breed, a man who plied his trade and perfected his craft globally, not merely as a WWE trained drone. The book is full of twists and turns; from his mother’s harrowing accident that left her a quadriplegic, to wrestling and living in the middle of Germany’s red light district; from smoking medicinal strength marijuana with his cancer stricken pal Brian Hildebrand (and Benoit, Eddy Guerrero and Dean Malenko) to making a name for himself in WCW, this book strikes just the right blend of humor, sincerity, humility and hubris. Just read the chapter “Strange Tennessee People”. If it weren’t for the next book on this list it would be hands down the best, and some might enjoy it more than my personal number one.
1. Bret Hart “Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Pro Wrestling”
Without a doubt the magnum opus written by a wrestler, this book weighs in at nearly 600 pages and in small print. In a word, it is quite the undertaking (see what I did there) to read. But it is so worth it. Bret, who always wanted to be a movie director, kept an audio diary of basically his entire career, and what you have here is an amazing transcription of his journey. The tone of the book is somber, as it is essentially a tribute to his father, Stu Hart, but trust me there is some humor in there. Bret is candid about everything here, from his drug use to his copious extramarital affairs, offering no excuses for the choices he made. Everything you wanted to know, or didn’t want to know, about the wild WWF of the 80’s and 90’s is included here, from Hogan and Savage to HBK and the Clique. Bret does an incredible job at weaving narrative here, as the book in tone starts from a naive child to a green rookie teenager, to a stalwart of his father’s promotion to an also ran for Vinnie Mac; to veteran mid carder to the top man in the promotion, its simply marvelous. Bret was also very close to Vince McMahon, so you get a few hysterical tales of a drunken, high of his ass WWF CEO, including amateur wrestling his employees in hotel rooms and strip clubs. It also encompasses his long backstage feud with Shawn Michaels, Montreal, his botched WCW run, et al. Obviously Bret writes in a very wistful tone about his late brother Owen, and the domino effect it had in turning the once proud Hart family into a living embodiment of the Jerry Springer show. The book is essentially a tragedy, as that what Bret’s life has been, especially after suffering a career ending concussion in 2000 and a life threatening stroke in 2002. But Bret is a survivor, a fact sadly reminded to Bret as too many of his wrestling comrades left this life too soon. Your mileage may vary, but to me, there is no finer book on a pro wrestler than Bret Hart’s gutwrenching tome.