About a month ago, one reader emailed me and asked this question: “Can you provide a list of your favorite books, so I can get a glimpse of what influenced the Oracle?” On the one hand, that’s a very flattering question. On the other hand, that could also be a nicer version of this question from Tommy Boy:
I’ll choose to be flattered by that question. And it’s not a book, but Tommy Boy has definitely influenced me.
This is the 36th installment of The Labyrinthian, a series dedicated to exploring random fields of knowledge in order to give you unordinary theoretical, philosophical, strategic, and/or often rambling guidance on daily fantasy sports. Consult the introductory piece to the series for further explanation.
My Personal Influences
This is a bit self-indulgent of me, but I’m going to reprint here my response to the question above regarding my textual influences. For one, if you spend a chunk of time reading my work, it would be good for you to have a sense of whose work I read. Also, all of this is on the way to a larger point about something relevant to DFS.
Thanks for writing in.
It’s really hard for me to say what books are my favorites, since I feel as if I know so little and also try to read as much as I can. It might be easier for me to list authors/creators.
Harry Potter — not an author, I know
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Nate Silver (I find him highly actionable)
E.O. Wilson (an old ecologist from Harvard)
Finance (Stock Market Theory): Classic Value Investors
Almost anything from the 90s
Almost any type of rock music
Almost any classical composers
Woody Allen (although I feel guilty about that)
Lord of the Rings
I know that’s a lot, but that probably gives a really good representation of the stuff I’ve read (or pretended to read) in the last 10 years.
Thanks again for reading my pieces and emailing. Let me know if you ever have any ideas for potential article topics.
To this list I should also probably add four more works: LSAT prep books, Game of Thrones (the HBO series, not the books), Parks and Recreation, and the Bible.
LSAT Prep Books, Game of Thrones, Parks and Recreation, and the Bible
At one point in grad school, I thought that I might want to go to law school — or I thought that at least I might want to have the option of doing so — and consequently I prepared for the LSAT ravenously, taking every practice test I could find. I actually really enjoyed the experience and found the studying very instructive.
By the end of my LSAT preparation, I was incredibly sharp, like the logical version of Valyrian steel — “Valyrian Steel,” new band name, I call it. (Nailed it.)
As for the Bible, I should say in full disclosure that I haven’t actively read it in years. At the same time, it was a text that I knew very well as a child, and at a minimum it’s an interesting historical document that’s full of aphoristic wisdom and still culturally informative. It yields a great deal of influence.
Harold Bloom: Professorial Curmudgeon, Defender of the Canon
As a young man who just read whatever books he happened to come across, I read as an undergrad quite a few of the books written by Harold Bloom, the Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale. Bloom has been a member of Yale’s English Department since 1955, when he graduated from that same institution with a Ph.D. That Bloom upon receiving his doctorate was hired immediately by the people who had just spent four years training him signals two facts:
- He was an incredibly impressive young scholar. Almost never does an elite school hire one of its own graduate students, especially before (s)he has worked elsewhere.
- He was a product of a bygone era. Almost never anymore does an elite school hire one of its grad students — but it happened much more frequently in the 1950s than it happens now.
Throughout academia, no one denies that Bloom is (frustratingly) brilliant and immensely knowledgeable. If there’s one criticism that is constantly thrown at him it’s that he’s essentially of a bygone era.
He is out of touch with the realities of modern textual and cultural theories and criticism. Of all the respected scholars in the world who have some modicum of influence, he is the one who is most vocally opposed to the current method of analyzing and teaching texts not from an author-centered perspective but from a social and historical perspective — what Bloom refers to as “The School of Resentment.”
For instance, in 1994 Bloom published the book for which (outside of academia) he is most known, The Western Canon, in which he not only surveyed the major, foundational texts of Western Civilization but also argued vehemently that feminist, Marxist, New Historicist, and other “-ist” readings of major texts are almost worthless. Essentially, he argued that one should read in order to achieve aesthetic pleasure and deeper self-knowledge, not to improve society.
Of course, in his book Bloom seemed totally unaware of the extent to which his perspective had been informed by his circumstances and everything else that modern literary scholars analyze. His perspective was exactly what you might expect of an older, cultured, white, male Ivy League professor. It’s pretty easy to say that literature exists only for pleasure and oneself when one has led a largely pleasant and self-centered life.
And yet what’s most notable about Bloom is not his antiquated perspective per se. It’s that, even though the academy almost universally believes that Bloom’s writings and ideas are now irrelevant, almost every major literary critic today will still make the effort of denouncing Bloom whenever his name is mentioned. Even in relative ignominy, Bloom is a strong literary critic against whom other academics have been raging for decades.
The Anxiety of Influence
The book for which Bloom is most famous in academia is The Anxiety of Influence, published in 1973. Informed by the work of Sigmund Freud, this book uses a psychoanalytic lens to explore a theory of writing in which poets, inspired and yet threatened by precursors (as sons theoretically are by fathers), must strive to produce original work amid the anxiety of influence they feel as a result of their poetic fathers.
For a Romantic poet like John Keats, a poetic father figure against whom he must exert himself could be John Milton. For a Renaissance poet like Shakespeare, a precursor poet whose influence must be overcome is Geoffrey Chaucer. In Bloom’s terminology, the poets who are derivative of their precursors and never able to escape their influence are “weak.” The few poets who are able to overcome this influence, create original work, and themselves become precursors to future poets are considered “strong.”
There’s a certain irony that Bloom’s most theoretical work, which happens to be about younger writers/thinkers striving to overcome the influence of older writers/thinkers, is the one most accepted (and thus not even discussed) by literary theorists. The books of Bloom’s that people even bother to mention are those that they hate. I’m not sure if this makes Bloom an academic precursor or anti-father figure. What I am sure about is that it’s time to get to DFS.
Making Your Own DFS Decisions
In 2007, the Battlestar Galactica series released the movie Razor, which gives the backstory of the Battlestar Pegasus. The movie opens and closes with voice-overs delivered by the movie’s heroine, Kendra Shaw:
You’re born, you live, and you die. There are no do-overs, no second chances to make things right if you frak them up the first time — not in this life anyway. . . . Like I said, you make your choices and you live with them. And, in the end, you are those choices.
I don’t think that Razor is great — most BSG fans think that it’s awful — but those opening and closing lines have always stuck with me. Ultimately, in life and in DFS, we are the choices we make.
Many people suffer from an anxiety of influence, which impacts their decisions and prevents them from being as original as they could be.
Many DFS players read work from and use the tools of many sites on a daily basis. For a few people, those who are extra-human (or “strong” in the Bloomian sense), this multitude of influences is not a detriment. It might not be helpful, since many sites provide comparable analysis and there’s a steep diminishing return, but at least for these few independent thinkers the increased noise does not inhibit their ability to locate the singular signal.
For others, however, those who are merely human (or “weak,” per Bloom), the influence of many DFS sites is downright deleterious. They create noise that prevents you from finding the signal for yourself. They situate you in a stone courtyard enclosed by ivy-covered walls. In such a place, you can convince yourself that all you need you already have. Of course, it’s easy to have that perspective when all you can see are the walls that you’ve willingly placed between you and the rest of the world.
The best writers, philosophers, poets, teachers, parents, friends, and DFS sites are those that not only influence but also inspire and enable us.
The writer who tells you precisely how life is, the philosopher who closes the doors of possibility, the poet who employs only one form, the teacher who instructs from only one perspective, the parent who tells children what they can’t be, the friend who discourages others from believing in dreams, and the DFS site that tells you only “this guy is a good play” — those are not the influences that enrich our lives and empower us to make original, informed decisions. Those are the influences that turn us into automatons of dependence.
We each of us must make our own decisions — DFS and otherwise. If we cede our choices to others, then they (not we) are the ones living our lives.
The Influence of FantasyLabs
I am influenced by the organization that is FantasyLabs. I have long been a fan of founders Jonathan Bales and Peter Jennings. Their work has influenced me. And, in all transparency, the money they now pay me is also an influence. I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit that.
But I also put myself in the position to accept their money because I believe that FL’s influence is the kind that inspires and enables. It enriches (often quite literally) the lives of those who rely upon it. It empowers you as a DFS player to be yourself in an original way.
For instance, if you play MLB DFS then you can use our Trends tool to gain insights that are uniquely yours, especially with our new Advanced Data. You can sort through all sorts of batting data — such as average distance of balls batted, exit velocity, fly-ball percentage, ground-ball percentage, line-drive percentage, and hard-hit percentage — to create personalized trends, the values of which are immediately presented and quantified (through our Plus/Minus and Consistency metrics) via backtests against our database of historical information. And if you want help in learning how to create trends, you can always consult our Trend of the Day series or tutorial videos.
And you can use our Models tool to create your own individualized models, weighing to whatever degree you wish Bargain Rating, Upside, or any other factors you might value. With your custom models, you can construct optimal lineups and build hundreds of lineups with specified thresholds of exposure. Like the trends, these models you create are instantly backtested and assist you in making informed DFS decisions. They are not the ends, but they are a powerful means.
At FL, we view ourselves as less of a provider and more of a partner, because we believe that you can be the best version of your DFS self only if those who influence you appreciate that you are smart enough to make good decisions.
The Hard Pitch
If it seems like I am making a really hard pitch — MLB pun intended — it’s because I am. Each day, we put out articles that show you the power of our tools and provide you with strong, actionable information. This doesn’t need to be one of those articles.
Often, the hardest part about doing something is making the decision to do it. Making the choice.
The people who are already using the FL tools successfully don’t need me to attempt to influence them. But we have subscribers who don’t truly avail themselves of our tools. These are the people I am trying to influence, inspire, and empower. In this instance, the greatest influence I can exert is in simply convincing you to act, not in illustrating for you how you should act.
True influence is not in transforming a wilderness into a garden for the benefit of others. It’s in encouraging others to discover for themselves the garden that the wilderness hides.
The Labyrinthian: 2016, 36
Previous installments of The Labyrinthian can be accessed via my author page. If you have suggestions on material I should know about or even write about in a future Labyrinthian, please contact me via email, [email protected], or Twitter @MattFtheOracle.