Monday, November 25, 2013

Book Review: The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling by David Shoemaker (Deadspin's "The Masked Man")

In the last year, I've been roped back into the world of professional wrestling. A rite of passage for any preteen boy as is, it's decidedly uncool as a thirtysomething, but being older now I've come to appreciate a lot of the unique storytelling aspects that go along with the goofy lowbrow craziness that comes with the sport format.

David Shoemaker is best known for his Deadspin "Dead Wrestler of the Week" pieces as well as writing a regular column for Grantland on the ins and outs of the WWE. It's probably my favorite feature on Grantland these days if only because he appears to be the only mainstream writer taking wrestling seriously, and giving him a full length book opportunity to discuss the topic was something I had to jump at.

The book follows two parallel paths. One of the paths is a detailed history of professional wrestling in America, running from the early stages of the genre through the territorial system and in through the Attitude Era of the WWE. The book is near perfect in this regard - it takes a very straightforward, sober look at the ups and downs of the industry, staying serious while being unafraid to come down on some of the more ridiculous or negative turns. While not fully exhaustive, it is surprisingly detailed and might very well be the best printed piece on the subject we have.

The other portion of the book is a series of reprints, contextually located in the era the book is covering, of the "Dead Wrestler" columns from Deadspin. Seeing as I hadn't read these again since my return to the wrestling fold, they were an interesting look back, but they were also pieces I had already read. As Shoemaker may be catching an audience that he didn't previously have, I'm not completely against the reprints here, but, in this case, it felt less like a value add and more like padding for a book that would have understandably been shorter without them.

Really, though, the strength of the book is the context. There's a wealth of information here for anyone who isn't versed in the history of wrestling promotions, and it's a book I can see lending to a number of people who are interested more in the bigger picture than just a bunch of oversized men fake fighting on television. It would benefit from some more information from the last few years, but, as a whole, an excellent read anyone who has had any interest in wrestling, past or present, to give some time.


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