Many years ago, when wrestling legend Mick Foley was unsuccessfully shopping his first of what would end up being multiple New York Times Bestseller books, he was told by one rejecting publisher, “wrestling fans can’t read”.
That book, Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks, may not have proven that wrestling fans can read, but it did prove that wrestling fans will buy books. Foley has gone on to write a total of nine books, most of them bestsellers, including four memoirs, three children’s books, and two novels.
Flash forward more than a decade, and it has become clear that Foley’s first memoir opened the floodgates to a burgeoning new book market of wrestling autobiographies. The same publishers who laughed Foley and his original handwritten 800 page memoir out the door, were now green lighting mostly ghost written life stories of just about every wrestler with any semblance of notoriety. Browse Amazon or the sports section of any Barnes & Noble these days, and you will find a bevy of wrestling autobiographies, ranging from good (Ric Flair, Eddie Guerrero) to bad (Hulk Hogan) to laughably bad (Chyna) to legitimately great (Chris Jericho, Terry Funk, Lou Thesz).
What sets Booker T: From Prison To Promise apart from nearly every wrestling book on the market, is that Booker T’s book is not about wrestling.
Booker T Huffman (yes, ‘Booker T’ is his birth name, which ultimately became his wrestling name when a promoter in the early days of his career told him “I couldn’t come up with a better name than Booker T if tried”) grew up in a rough part of Houston. While an infant, his father passed away of natural causes, leaving a single mother to raise eight children. By the age of 13, Booker’s mother was also dead, due to complications of surgery after a freak household accident, leaving the Huffman siblings to raise themselves.
Despite the fact that most of the Huffman siblings eventually found trouble with the law, this is not your typical story of an inner city family without direction. This family was torn apart by tragedy, with hard working parents who passed away, leaving young adults and children to raise each other. Despite well-intended efforts by his older brothers & sisters (one of which, Lash “Lane” Huffman, also went on to have a successful pro wrestling career as ‘Stevie Ray’), Booker veered down some dangerous paths.
The most interesting parts of the book detail his time in prison, a five year sentence for armed robbery of several Wendy’s restaurants (Booker was part of a youth crime ring dubbed ‘The Wendy’s Bandits’, a group of former and current Wendy’s employees who robbed multiple Houston area restaurants). While behind bars, Booker reflected on the wisdom of his mother, and vowed to turn his life around. A model prisoner, Booker was released from prison after serving 19 months of his five-year term.
The post prison stories in the book detail his efforts to stay straight, under the guidance of his older brother Lash, who turned Booker on to bodybuilding and helped him land several jobs. A lifelong wrestling fan, the story of how Booker acquired the cash to pay his wrestling school tuition is an amazing one, which I will not spoil here.
Overall, the book is refreshingly honest and a raw tale of how one man overcame quite a bit of adversity, some of which was bad luck, and some of which was self-induced, to become a success. If you are looking for wrestling stories, there is very little of that to be found. The book briefly takes you through his early days on the local Texas circuits, and ends just as he receives his first big break with WCW. Clearly, Booker is saving the story of his career for future books, something he admitted to this reviewer in a podcast interview at virtualsportsnetwork.com and voicesofwrestling.com.
However, the story of his early life is equally interesting, and the book makes for a quick, engaging read. I can recommend the book to non-wrestling fans, as well as wrestling fans, assuming of course, that they have learned how to read.