Monday, November 16, 2009

Serena vs. Andre: A tale of dueling memoirs

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not keen on reading Serena’s memoir, which was ghost-written by the prolific Daniel Paisner. My concern was in part based on my perception that Serena does not exactly come across as a self-reflective or introspective individual. A memoir is best written by one gifted in the art of navel-gazing, not navel-baring.

Furthermore, I was concerned that the characteristic Williams’ reticence would win out in the end and that we would not be privy to anything that we don’t already know. And most of the reviews that I have read seem to concur with this prediction.

For instance, one Amazon Vine reviewer notes: “I was hoping for more in-depth knowledge about how Serena thinks, her loves, future hopes...even some juicy stuff. But none of that is in the book. Even when she talks about the events of 9/11 when she and her family were all flying that day, it reads like a dry gulch rather than the tear gusher that it should be. She refers to past loves as ‘so and so’, there’s just not enough details about the private Serena to make this a worthwhile biography. It’s all the stuff about the public Serena and then a few tidbits of stuff thrown in where she calls Venus a nerd. But even that doesn’t seem like sincere banter. OK, very light reading, perhaps read while sitting in an airport terminal somewhere and then leave for the next person to pickup and read.” Ouch.

Let’s be honest, whatever chance Serena had of selling more copies of this book was damaged by her outburst at the US Open. In fact, Serena’s initial attempts to apologize for the outburst were roundly criticized because she seemed to be more focused on plugging her book than on saying that she was sorry. Then came her nude cover on ESPN magazine which seems to have drained away some of the attention from the memoir instead of adding to it as I assume was the intent.

But the death knell seems to have been the publication of Andre Agassi’s “Open”. Andre’s memoir leapt out of the blocks and has been selling like hotcakes. Already we have been privy to a few of its eye-popping and highly controversial revelations.

Like Serena, Andre has been doing the rounds promoting this book. Like Serena he has been hopping from one continent to another, submitting to interviews and fan-filled book signings. Except that unlike Serena, Andre is a thoughtful and self-revelatory interview subject. Here is a report written by Elaine “Lainey” Lui, a Special Correspondent for Canadian TV who interviewed Andre in Toronto yesterday:

“Agassi is very intense and it was early morning so maybe he was more intense than usual, having stayed up the night before for an appearance at a book store with 800 fans. I almost withered under the eye contact. He never breaks. I wouldn’t say he’s super warm, not the friendliest individual, rather guarded in fact, even though he lays it all out in the book. But Agassi is honest and articulate and he is his own person. Did not arrive surrounded by sycophants and an entourage of handlers. He takes care of himself, he doesn’t need to be coddled or protected from the tough questions, and is willingly shouldering his beats – about the meth use, about his hair weave, about his fragile ego, all of it totally Open, his aptly titled autobiography that I powered through this weekend.”

I have not seen a single negative review of “Open”. By all reports it is a stunning book and extremely well-written. Of course I intend to form my own opinions after I read the book. In the meantime, here is Lainey’s assessment of Andre’s memoir:  

“It’s good. Really good. It’s the best sports memoir I’ve ever read and not only because of the scandalous details, but because of who helped him write it. LOVE J.R. Moehringer. “The Tender Bar” is one of my favorite books of all time. And this is what elevates Agassi’s “Open” above the others. The stories are there, sure. But J.R. Moehringer frames them so beautifully, it reads like something entirely different. If you follow tennis, you’ll love the tennis details: the match play, the locker room dynamic, the training, even how he strings his racket – all fascinating. And yes, the gossip too. I’ll never feel the same way about Pete Sampras again. Dude, he’s CHEAP.”

Go here for an excerpt from Andre’s “Open” and here for an excerpt from Serena’s “On the Line”. Each book will probably appeal to an entirely different kind of tennis fan. But at the end of the day, the dueling memoirs are going to be great for tennis.


Karen said...

I bought Serena's book while I was in Canada in September. This is the first memoir or autobiography of an athlete that I have ever purchased and I am still trying to figure out why. I finished the book on my way back from Calgary to the Cayman Islands. That is like a little bit over 48 hour trip. I read fast, but I have to agree with the reviewer, On the Line had more questions thant it answered. It was very guarded and you came away thinking that you have basically been reading a collection of newspaper clippings rather than a memoir about an athlete who has inspired so many and who has brought tennis to new heights. Serena's personality never does come through very much in the book and that is quite unfortunate. Maybe she did not wish to reveal too much about herself. As a matter of fact I read an interview that she gave to the Scotsman that revealed more about her than the book. The interview is here.
In it she talks about weddings etc., I would have loved to know how Common has inspired her because there is no doubt that he has. The fact that she talks in this interview about her growing up and being an adult are things that I would have liked to have seen explored in the book. She talks about her self esteem issues etc., but one would dearly love to know how she overcame all of that. Parts of the book were very emotional, especially about the death of her sister. Maybe that portion resonated with me because I had just completed a trilogy of funerals which ended with my sojourn to Canada. The book could have been much better. Perhaps she did not wish to reveal too much about herself and as such the ghost writer did not have much of a chance. In relation to Open folks over at who have read have indicated that it is a very good read. You just cannot put it down. I am not sure if I will spend the money to buy it, but we will see.

happygeek said...

...I still can't get past the cover image, boy. I looked at a photo of the book alone and it looks so unlike Agassi. he looks distressed in the photo used for the book! it's like looking at a different person. you can recognize him of course, but it's not like him to project such distress. :-O