The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling, David Shoemaker

“So the next time you hear somebody say, ‘You know wrestling is fake, right?’ you can tell him that yes, you know. That’s exactly the point.”

I get asked that a lot. It’s unusual for me to like wrestling; I often describe it as my most out-of-character character trait. But there it is: I like wrestling. Love it, actually. Some of my earliest memories are the nWo and Stone Cold Steve Austin. I can recall exactly jumping out of my chair with joy when Eddie Guerrero finally won the WWE title at No Way Out in 2004 and the depths of sadness I felt not two years later when he died.  They sounded the ring bell ten times and played a video package set to the Johnny Cash cover of “Hurt.” And it did. That’s what it does. Wrestling has always been a part of my life, always brought me joy and sorrow, except for a few years when it was in the background.

I can’t tell you why I stopped watching (although I have a few theories) but I can tell you the moment I started again. I watched a video of the Monday Night Raw after Wrestlemania 30 – just to watch it. And the crowd chanted at this guy named Daniel Bryan, who’d won the title the night before, they chanted “you deserve it.” 

And just like that, I was back in it. I remembered. From there, I started watching Raw and Smackdown, started going to the pay-per-views at South Common, started watching NXT. Right now I’m obsessed with Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and Chikara, and it’s only a matter of time before I go down the rabbit hole of Japanese wrestling. I’ve seen a little bit of Bullet Club, and I want more. Plainly: wrestling makes me happy. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.

So, there you have it. Dorothy Roberts, Wrestling Enthusiast. And this is the best book about wrestling I’ve ever read.

David Shoemaker is a really, really, really good writer. He writes long form essays about wrestling for Grantland. They’re always great, and it’s fantastic that he wrote this whole book about wrestling because nobody has written a book like this before. It reads like a series of essays about dead wrestlers, because that’s what it is. And that could be depressing, except that he grounds it in an understanding of guys like Roland Barthes and Geert Hofstede, and instead of reading like simple biographies of dead men, it provides a deeper understanding of wrestling’s mythology and how it tells stories. Of how the line between fiction and reality blurs. It’s sad, sure, but it’s never self-indulgent. Any discussion of the Von Erichs is going to be sad. But Shoemaker’s writing is just plain smart, enabling him to skilfully toe that line.

The quote I shared up there is important. People ask me why I like wrestling, always with this tone of surprise, and then they ask me if I know it’s fake. The Squared Circle provides a rich portrait of wrestling’s origins and characters that answers that latter question as well as it can be answered. It doesn’t matter. That’s not the point. It never has been. The point is the way it makes you feel.

Books read: 19




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