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Textual Chocolate: The Official Smark Henry YES! Book Review

Last Friday, someone suddenly alerted me to the presence of Daniel Bryan’s book, YES! My Improbable Journey to the Main Event of WrestleMania, around these parts. Apparently, Fully Booked BGC had dropped it earlier than it was supposed to, and I didn’t realize—or maybe had just forgotten, as I always do—that it was dropping here that early. Even though it wasn’t in my plans to get the book, I impulse-bought it the first opportunity I could (read: later that day) because 1) it was a book, and 2) it was Daniel Bryan’s book.

Even in this age of tell-all podcasts, there’s still something special in reading about a wrestler’s story on a page, which is why I’m cultivating a small, yet growing collection of wrestlers’ autobiographies.

Here’s the thing about these books, though, for those who don’t know: it’s normal for wrestlers, athletes, and celebrities in general—basically, non-writers—to have ghostwriters helping them out. In fact, the practice is so widespread and generally-accepted now that the ghostwriter isn’t even a ghost anymore, having a smaller billing on the book’s cover under the subject’s name. For example: Daniel Bryan’s book is actually written with the help of a writer named Craig Tello.

But what does it all mean, Basil?

Well, other than the obvious fact that the non-writer had help from the writer (no shit, Sherlock) it generally means that the autobiography lacks a certain distinguishing voice and tone, which should be the actual subject’s, because it’s lost in translation. It’s because the subject, in most cases, just hands over all the details and facts to the ghost for the latter to write in a way that’s fit to print. And because the ghostwriter is not the actual subject, he or she can’t exactly tell the story of the subject’s life the same way the subject would.

(If you want to see the difference, read Edge, Chris Jericho, and Mick Foley’s autobiographies, then go read someone like Shawn Michaels’s or Batista’s. There’s a certain blandness that runs through the words of the latter, while the former are bursting with actual wit.)

Bryan’s book is no different from the run-of-the-mill wrestler autobiographies. It’s obviously written to take advantage of the guy’s downtime after he got injured in 2014; what better way to start telling his story than to have the climax be the biggest moment in his wrestling career so far?

WrestleMania XXX and the week leading up to it actually form the crux of the book’s narrative. Each chapter begins with a small tidbit of Bryan’s (final?) days before the big show, which is usually a glimpse into how he spends time with Brie Bella, his real-life wife, or a glimpse of how he does his scheduled media appearances as a big part of the show.

While I understand that someone might have thought it was a good idea in pre-production, I have to say it did nothing for me; it even took away from the experience. These parts are written in third-person by Craig Tello, which puts the fact that there were two guys writing this book (or even one guy really writing the whole thing) further into the spotlight. I didn’t feel that these parts offered a lot of insight because 1) it was all coming from a guy who was merely following Bryan, and 2) it seemed to have been written in kayfabe, maintaining the illusion that Bryan and Triple H actually did hate each other—even though Bryan talks about how well he worked and got along with Hunter. It wasn’t really intelligence-insulting, but the difference in tone was just too jarring, and ultimately pointless.

The parts about Bryan’s early life were a bit too condensed for me; actually, I wished everything was drawn out a little more, because the book was too short at a little under 300 pages. It would have been great if Bryan told more stories, getting a bit deeper into how life was really like in the indies. And because somebody had to ghost for Bryan, the writing ended up being bland (not to mention riddled with minor editing errors that are unacceptable for a project like this). By the latter part of the book, which were mostly about things I already knew about Bryan’s career, reading became a chore.

But the reason I kept reading was, well, I wanted to know Bryan’s story. It’s the reason why I like reading nonfiction—the stories are real. I’m actually glad that whoever from the WWE was in charge of overseeing the book allowed Bryan to keep his honest criticisms and thoughts of certain people and the WWE itself, including Triple H and Vince McMahon. He doesn’t let up on how messy and whimsical things could get backstage; while all wrestlers have written about plans changing and whatnot, Bryan’s comments accurately reflect the IWC opinion on things like the insanity that was the first NXT season or being made to job to Sheamus in 18 seconds.

One good story to follow as well was the story of his relationship with Brie Bella. I know a lot of people, myself included, have wondered how he got a girl like Brie Bella to marry him, and it turns out Brie is apparently very much like Bryan. That’s the kind of thing I love learning in books like these—that what people are like when we see them onscreen is never usually how they are in real life. (For example, did you know that Big Ryck is apparently a giant douchebag?)

(One last important observation: there was no mention at all of Connor “the Crusher” Michalek, and I found that very disappointing. Bryan talks about his dad’s passing, but doesn’t even have one word for Connor. Even though Connor wasn’t family, Bryan was the kid’s hero and he celebrated with him at the title win. He doesn’t even mention him in passing when he talks about that celebration. What gives, guys? Even if Justin Roberts had a point in saying that the WWE was milking Connor for good PR, wouldn’t that only mean he would have had a ton of mentions in the book?)

So should you buy this book? Well, if this were a video game and we could rent them from Data Blitzes here like they do in the States, I’d rent it from my suki game store. Hardcore Bryan fans (or hardcore wrestling book fans and collectors)—and I am both—should have it, but it honestly isn’t worth its retail price. I can’t even give it a B+, man. B- at best.

Photo from WWE


Romeo Moran (@roiswaris the Editor in Chief of Smark Henry and one of the three hosts of the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast. He gets by in this hard knock life through working in publishing. Smark Henry was his and Stan Sy's original vision of a watering hole for local wrestling fans. He roots for the undersized guys who hit hard, but really hates Davey Richards with his entire soul.

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