Monday, October 18, 2010

H.G. Bissinger: Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights Mass Market TV Tie-inOkay, so I'd like to say I picked up this book because the author is a Pulitzer Prize winner and I'm just that into literary genius. But no. I picked it up because I have a bit of a love affair with a certain addicting teenage television drama (honestly, season one is some of the best dramatic television out there). Lucky for me, the book happened to be beautifully written.

It's appropriate that I'm typing this on the couch while I tune out Kevin's Monday Night Football on the TV. I don't even like football. I'm the girl who went to graduate school at the University of Notre Dame and didn't go to a single game (I know, I know, it's sacrilege). So how did H.G. Bissinger's Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and A Dream (and the teenage drama, for that matter) draw me in?

It's because it's not really about football. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of football to be had. Bissenger spent 1988 following the Permian Panthers, a high school football team in Odessa, Texas, and he writes about the players, the coaches, and the town with both great empathy and a sharp eye. The upside of intense devotion--the loyalty, joy, and pride the town finds in its high school team--is palpable. So are the racial, social, economic, and educational inequities that are wrapped up in that zealous desire to get to State.

It's impossible to read Friday Night Lights without being struck by the way these Panthers players are run through the system with little thought to their own future, or what their lives will be like in ten or twenty years. They give everything they have to the football program, and in return are given passing grades in school regardless of their effort and are treated like superheroes. But the moment they get injured, or they graduate, they're left alone. And what's left to fall back on? Memories of playing under glorious lights for a crowd of 20,000 screaming fans. Is it enough? How could it ever be enough?

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