The Onion AV Club, where all serious hipsters, such as myself, go to learn what they think about everything, has an ongoing feature called "Better Late Than Never." In BLTN, AV Club staffers watch a movie or read a book that pretty much everyone except them has already watched, read, discussed and disposed of. It is sort of Jim Gaffigan's bit about watching the movie Heat come to life. Since the AV Club tells me everything to think (although I don't think I should be blamed since, by and large, the movies they like I like and the movies I hate they hate), I'm going to steal their bit and talk to you about a book that came out when I was still in elementary school. That book is Friday Night Lights by H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger.
Despite the absurdity of an adult going by the name Buzz or Mr. Bissinger's rather cantankerous views on blogs and the Internet, I was thoroughly impressed by his book. I am now sporting a bruise from hitting myself in the forehead so often in exasperation as to why I did not read it earlier. However, as I have thought about it further, I think that maybe now is the best time for me to read the book.
There is nothing normal in this book. It is mind-bottling that in 1988 a high school spent $20,000 to fly its team to an away football game. It is similarly mind-bottling that high school teams did - and still do - play a 16-game season if they get to the state championship; that a team from a dusty West Texas town could compete at such a level with such consistency for so long; that some of the people in the book espouse attitudes that would have sounded racist in 1888, let alone 1988; that anyone could care as much about anything as the people of Odessa did about Odessa Permian football.
But what Bissinger does - and any good sports book does - is tell a story that is really not about sports at all. The idea of "sports as a prism for society" is a theme of almost every sports book that gets published, however, in most instances it is so nakedly presented and wildly misplaced and misunderstood as to be ridiculous. However, Bissinger weaves his tale seamlessly.
Despite my best attempts to fake it, I have difficulty reading books that are dense and boring. (Unless I'm being paid to do it, in which case, my abilities improve greatly!) As a result, I find sports books quite inviting, and my favorites are those that can tell me something more than just who caught a winning touchdown pass. And I think in the case of Friday Night Lights, it is the greatest sports book I have ever read. SI ranked it number four, but for me it is number one. (That is a great list. By my recollection, which is poor, I have read 4, 6, 7, 8, 10, 13, 20, 25, 31, 48 and 70. Not bad, but not great)
I have never watched FNL the movie or the television show, although I have heard they are good. But this book needs no dramatic rendering - it is ceaselessly dramatic. The reason that I am glad that I waited to read the book is that it allowed me to think about my own high school experience now a decade gone by. I am thankful that I didn't have to attempt to succeed in the kind of environment that existed at Odessa Permian and I cannot understand the actions of the adults who condoned it. However, for those who survived and definitely those who thrived under the lights, it must have created amazing memories.
While reading the book I was thinking that now these high school characters I was reading about are old. They turn 40 next year. They are nothing like those characters: physically, mentally or otherwise. They were a cog in a machine they did not understand, that they may never understand. Bissinger's writing does not make fun of them for being cogs. He merely relates what it was like to not have to go to class, to get free candy in your locker, to be a hero every day and especially on Friday night. Even while understanding the sheer stupidity of certain decisions and the clearly misplaced values, it can summon feelings from the past. It can make you exclaim "Oh, to be a cog!"
Today's Arizona Adventure!
3 years ago