Book Review: Open by Andre Agassi (and a few thoughts about writing and editing)

by Ahalya on July 16, 2010

open_andre_agassiA few pages into Open, I decided that Agassi is a really good storyteller, but he needed more editing. I was wrong. In retrospect (I just finished the book three minutes ago), I think he had a fantastic editor (and a fantastic collaborator).

Writing a book, is not easy. You can’t do it with a checklist. You can’t do it if you don’t want to. You have to want it really bad. And if writing is not easy, what comes next could very easily be worse. Watching it being taken apart by someone who only looks at the words on the page, not lifting up his/her eyes to understand why the author wrote what he/she did… Very rarely does an author, who is in the grip of his/her Muse, write pages that can escape without a red mark.

The Thin Red Line

As an editor, I find the duty daunting. Terrifying. Am I trampling the author’s voice, or am I helping it speak louder, reach further? It’s a very thin line between editing and destroying. Cut too fine and the author’s voice will bleed, be too liberal and let cliches walk away unscathed only to be waved away by readers who find the cliches disgusting, clunky, awkward…

Coming back to Open, I won’t have spoilers in this review, but I must say that there is a certain amount of repetition of a certain idea in the first few pages. I decided that this was overdoing it. Till I reached the last word and realised that emphasising the theme of the book, may seem a lot like repetition, but it isn’t. It’s a creative technique. And it works. Sometimes. Sometimes it is annoying. Switching tenses, inventing new languages, doing away with punctuation… it works for some stories, it bombs in the hands of some writers. Literary devices are mean that way. They ask a lot of the reader. They expect the reader to be patient, work it out by themselves. I guess it all depends on the story. All the verbal gymnastics in the world are worth nothing, if the reader doesn’t care about the people in the book.

The Celebrity Tell-All

But I am not talking about any old book. This is an autobiography. By a celebrity. Who rebelled against so many things that whatever he did became news, instantly. This book helps Agassi settle many scores, set down a fitting reply to people who humiliated him, made him out to be a ‘punk’ or a ‘paragon’. So people have had ‘expectations’ from this book. Revelations, secrets, private conversations replayed. That’s hot stuff! The thing is, how does one read a book that’s so loaded? What if you don’t like tennis, never loved Agassi, or what if you hated Agassi? Should you read this book?

I liked Agassi. But, you don’t have to. The book works even if you thought you were reading about just another anti-sports sportsperson who won several prestigious tournaments even as he lost spectacularly sometimes. While reading the book I remembered the Agassi I used to watch when I was in school (I lost interest in the sport and in him years ago). I was madly in love with him them. What was there not to love? He was a bad boy who cursed and wore denim and jewellery and played like a wild animal! But now I know why he looked that way. It’s not what I expected.

What Open is about

The writing style is crisp, hard, clear and carries you at a brisk pace through 386 pages. It’s not all about tennis, it’s not all about Brooke Shields, it’s not all about his hair. It’s about having choices made for you that you can’t fight or change. And having to live that life, and wanting to love it, but being filled with self-loathing, anger, frustrations that pummel you when you are trying your best. It’s about someone who believed that he didn’t deserve good things, and was scared that the good things he did get would soon be gone. All of this is so recognisable, so well-written, that it’s difficult to keep the book down.It’s a good story.

I wonder what it is like to write an autobiography. To be painfully truthful when you write about people in your life and not be afraid of the consequences. It must be a liberating feeling to speak the truth, no matter what it is interpreted as. To be able to finally say what was stuck in your throat all the time. To be Open… that’s an example of a brilliant play on words that’s all over the book.

There’s a lot to learn from the book too. About taking care of the body and the mind. Some people will find this book in bad taste, they will wonder at his audacity to name certain well-known tennis players and criticise them. But hey, isn’t that what people are paying to read? Some extremely well-written passages in the book, I am sure, will be quoted, and be used to define lives.

I guess Agassi had one really good collaborator in J.R. Moehringer, the Pulitzer Prize winning author, maybe that’s why the book works.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

sonia July 21, 2010 at 12:14 pm

I am not a sports person either. Nor an Agassi fan. Though yes, I did notice him too on TV when I was in school. I wouldn’t have picked up his autobiography and tried to read it. But now I will. You have ignited that first spark of interest that will not let me walk past that book when I see it!

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Shravani Karve August 11, 2010 at 9:57 am

Wow, I had no idea how much a review can influence a person’s interest in anything- be it a book or a movie or anything worth reviewing. But you have definitely made me want to pick up the book and give it a look.. Next on my shopping list..

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