When I open a book to read or start to watch a movie, I try to have an open mind and hope that whatever I am getting into will be good. I try to keep my expectations level. With books, I often forget what they are about since I have a huge book stack. By the time I get to a book, I usually won’t remember why I even put the book on my list. I don’t read new books all that often. However, I decided to make an exception to that rule by taking a gander at Matthew Berry’s Fantasy Life. I tried to keep an open mind, but my expectations were not very high. While I have always enjoyed Berry’s writing and used to listen to his ESPN podcast on a daily basis, I knew there would likely be some things that would bug me about the book. I was right, but there were also some surprising parts that I really enjoyed.
Let’s get the negative things out of the way. The biggest problem is half of the book was crowdsourced from people writing in their crazy fantasy stories: bad beats, unusual trophies, zany league rules, etc. One of the things about fantasy sports that I noticed early on when I started to play is that no one else cares about your team or your league. Like your workout routine, your co-workers habits, and your dreams - no one but you cares. And that’s how I felt about half of this book. I understood why Berry included these stories in his book (it would have been 75 pages without them), but I think there were way too many and they often felt like they were just lists. Perhaps Berry wanted to make sure that he had a readership of the dozens of people in the leagues he mentioned.
My bigger and more philosophical problem with the book was that Berry does what many people do: he takes something that he enjoys and tries to make it more important than it is. Many people enjoy fantasy sports and they are a nice hobby, but to say that they save families and lives is putting fantasy sports on a level that no hobby (except maybe stamp collecting) should rest upon. It reminds me of the video sometimes found on DVDs in which Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood talk about how important movies are. It is implied that movies are this important to everyone since they document history. However, the video always strikes me as completely self-serving. Of course, Scorsese and Eastwood think movies are important: they’ve spent their lives making them (and making plenty of money off them). I had the same kind of feeling with Berry advocating for fantasy sports. This would be like me writing that reading Hoops Manifesto is very important for everyone because how can you appreciate hoops otherwise? (By the way, the opposite of this is how Jimmy Smits won the presidential election in the last season of the West Wing. “Don’t vote for me!”) Well, I do have a point, but I don’t feel it is my place to tell you what to do.
The best part of Fantasy Life is Berry’s own story, which he intersperses with the tales of other people’s fantasy leagues. While I had read much of the story before since I have often read his columns, I think he added quite a bit of depth in the book. He left college in pursuit of a dream of writing in Hollywood. Berry had a fair amount of near-successes, including his crack at writing Crocodile Dundee 3 and the problems that stemmed from that. Per his usual, he is very open about his frustrations, his transformation from just another writer into the most well-known fantasy expert. Berry does note that he didn’t appreciate some of the backlash he endured when he signed on with the Worldwide Leader, but many people just like to pick on ESPN. I don’t know that I’d say that I found Berry’s story inspirational, but it was honest, well told, and evoked sympathy. This part of the book was a nice surprise and makes me think many people will enjoy the book.
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