Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life Hardcover – Jun 16 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Tennis champion Blake, who has appeared on Oprah and The Tonight Show, shares his string of hard-won successes both on the court and in his personal health. A child of a black father and white British mother in Fairfield, Conn., Blake hooked into serious tennis playing by age 11, when he was paired with coach Brian Barker, who remained his gentle mentor for the duration of his career. Having turned professional by his sophomore year of college at Harvard in 1991, Blake had mixed success on the pro circuit for the first few years. Sustaining confidence seemed to be Blake's biggest challenge, as he struggled to follow the advice of his father, Tom, who was fighting a losing battle with stomach cancer: You can't control your level of talent, but you can control your level of effort. At age 23, he decided to shave his trademark dreadlocks. Soon after, he ran into a steel net post during a practice game in Rome, fracturing his neck vertebrae. Blake was later diagnosed with paralyzing zoster, or shingles. His memoir is an inspirational account of overcoming the odds to return to competitive playing by 2004. (Aug.)
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“The grace and dignity that James has shown during some very difficult times has been a source of great inspiration.” (Andre Agassi)
“Blake is a championin every sense of the word.” (Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue)
“I’ve known James since early childhood...James’s rise to international success is as stunning as it was predictable.” (John Mayer)
“Through Blake’s commitment and passion, he tells the story of the life lessons he learned while facing difficult personal challenges.” (Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, wife of the late Arthur Ashe)
“[James Blake] has inspired young people everywhere with his story of courage and determination.” (former president George H.W. Bush)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com
It seems the book was written to capitalize on James' successes in the 20005/2006 season, when he came to proeminence mainly due to the great match against Agassi in the 2005 US Open. That year, his rowdy and supportive organized fans called "The J-Block" began to be noticed also. Suddenly, James was being called to interviews with Oprah, Letterman, everybody, when it became known aout his problmes, be it: death of his father due to stomach cancer; an impact against a net pole in Rome which could have made him paralysed and an attack of herpes zoster.
Well, I knew about it before buying the book, and in no way I was going to read it to be upflifted by his will power or whatever. Don't need that. All the things he have passed, a lot of people have suffered or worse (mainly, unfortunately, the loss of a family member to cancer - including myself). Also, situations that may threaten a career. I bought the book to read about tennis and tennis life on the Tour and also, of course, because Blake's style of playing was fantastic in my opinion: aggressive, straight shots, big serve, one-hand backhand.
But here was so little of it. Blake claims that the suffering made himn realize how he was fortunate to be a professional tennis player, because the players live ina bubble and don't know about the reality of it. But this is not very clear in the book. In no way it seems that James was "lost" personally. On the contrary, he says over and over again that his parents always put things in perspective, including how study wa so important (James went to college befeore turning pro).
Maybe he did not want to bore readers with descriptions after descriptions of countless tennis matches but, after the zoster thing, the book seems to be an endless "thanks" to his friends, to the point of becoming repetitive.
As James says, a tennis match is not unlike life, itself. It's packed with victories and losses and all the drama that accompanies it. For James, a serious neck injury, the death of his father and being diagnosed with zoster (or "shingles") all in one year would drive anyone underground for a time. On top of all of that, James reveals he was born with scoliosis (curvature of the spine) and had to wear a back brace for years. James is lucky, though, to come from a close, loving family, have a coach, Brian Barker, (who is as much a mentor as anything else) and have dozens of friends who support him in his darkest hours. They form the basis of J-Block, the chief rooting section for James. Shining above anything or anyone else, though, is his dad. Thomas's fatherly advice is well-taken by the young tennis pro and it serves him well as he struggles with his own illnesses and some of the psychological barriers that hold him back on the court. He refers to his Dad as "Superman" and the elder Blake's death from cancer is the harshest blow for James.
This book plumbs the depths of an inner life filled with joy and sorrow but the great news is the rebirth of James Blake. And the ways he comes roaring back onto the court and takes control again over his own life make this book a fascinating look at one of the outstanding tennis players of our day and one of an inspirational young man who happens to play it. James's creed is "get better" and he does step by step and day by day. He is truly the comeback kid. I highly recommend "Breaking Back" for its honesty and courage.