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Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, And A Dream (2004)

Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream (2004)

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4.1 of 5 Votes: 4
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0306814250 (ISBN13: 9780306814259)
da capo press

About book Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, And A Dream (2004)

This is a fantastic book. I felt sick to my stomach reading it.I played football in high school in a place where there was much more than high school football for most people to do on a Friday night. I can relate to some aspects of the story: football games were the only sporting events in my school where admission was charged, they drew probably five times the attendees of any other sport, and we wore our jerseys proudly to school on pep rally days and were probably afforded more attention as a result of being on the team. I can recall all the feelings the author describes as a player, from fear/dread of an unknown opponent to the drive to smash someone on the opposing team, not just to tackle them but to make them feel pain and fear and not want to line up against you the next play. (High school boys are basically emotional basket-cases, what with all the hormones and the expectations they heap on themselves.)But it just makes me feel sick inside to read about these kids who come from a nothing little town in the middle of nowhere, kids who have, with a few exceptions, little going for them whether or not their season ends in championship or ignominy. These kids (and at seventeen or eighteen, they are absolutely children) are lifted up as the focal point for an entire town, are worshipped and glorified and girded for battle as if their conquests mean something. And the really terrible thing is that they fundamentally don't.That's not to say that I think sports are meaningless when growing up--nothing of the sort. I played in lots of sports as a kid and I think they teach you incredibly valuable lessons about working with others, dealing with stress, anticipation, frustration, victory (yes, that's challenging too) and defeat, and they develop camaraderie, mental resilience and lots of other important character traits. But, crucially, they do those things whether you end up as the state champion or at the bottom of the standings, provided that coaches, parents and kids keep their focus in the right place.The story of Permian high is so clearly one where everyone, from the school administrators and teachers to the parents to the local businesspeople and boosters to the college recruiters to the former players to the kids themselves have completely lost sight of what the goal of student athletics should be--building the student (as a person), not the trophy case. The least of the blame falls here falls on the players themselves...I just don't know how anyone could expect them to behave otherwise when every aspect of their upbringing has been preparing them for this moment, and everyone, in ways large and small, has been telling them all their lives that winning isn't everything, it's the only thing. It's a wonder that several of them made it out to conduct relatively normal lives.What is absolutely terrifying to me reading this book is how many people, the author included, seem caught up in the spell of what is at its heart a completely meaningless event. I say this as someone who loves sports--loves watching them, loves playing them, loves arguing about them--: sports are meaningless. It's one of the reasons we can love them so much in the first place, because they are the one place in life we feel totally free to be irrational. (As in, I hate the guy on the other side of the field because his jersey has a different logo on it than the logo that I like best.) Sports appeal to our basest instincts, to identify with a group and pit ourselves against "not-us", whoever that might be. I can't tell you how many times I've been on a team, be it baseball, football, track, soccer or anything else and we've found ways not just to oppose the other team, but to revile them--to question their motives, to accuse them of poor sportsmanship, to look for any character trait or action which will let our team feel like it has the moral high ground. That's not just a feature of organized sports either--it happens in pickup games of basketball and in random pool games at the bar. We love to demonize the people we play against.And we love to invest meaningless competitions with an almost sacred significance. What difference does it make to the US economy or world peace or anything else of lasting significance if my kids beat the neighbor kids in tag football at the local park? Nothing. But there is fundamentally no difference between that and the Super Bowl, except that we've all agreed that it has significance, so much so that it generates billions of dollars in economic activity around the world every year.The same public religion is on display in the book, except that in Odessa, TX where the book's events take place, football is a preoccupation that consumes the whole town every year during football season and beyond. It's heartbreaking to read the several direct quotations from Odessa residents who say, effectively, "Without Permian football I wouldn't have a reason to live." It crowds everything else out to where education is an afterthought, and no matter how the last season ends, everyone is left reminiscing and wishing for just one more hit of the adrenaline drug, the taste of glory. The fact that it's set against the backdrop of objectively one of the least desirable places to live in the United States just makes that sense of futile longing even more pathetic. (Pathetic in the sense of pathos--I feel terrible for just about everyone in this story.)I don't really know what else to say about this book. The writing is excellent. The author touches on issues of race, class, divisions within the city, impacts of the mid-80's slump in oil prices on the town's economy. Putting aside football, the race issue is disturbing in itself, and he unflinchingly reveals the prejudice and outright bigotry that existed in that community at the time. (It must be said that this is clearly not just a feature of Odessa, TX in 1988.) The economic story is interesting as well, but ultimately I found it less compelling--there are lots of places in the US that have experienced economic downturns, and they didn't turn to cult worship of the local high school football team. What a petty, pathetic god before which to kneel.Anyway, I feel like I got rather preachy with this review, but this book disturbed me so deeply. So, kudos to the author. I understand why the town (and probably most of West Texas) hated the book, but sometimes a mirror can be an ugly thing to look at.

I didn't grow up in a football-watching family. My father, who apparently loved the game, passed away when I was young. My mother was much more interested in baseball, and had coworkers with season tickets, so I grew up going to the Kingdome to watch Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Joey Cora, Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner, Dan Wilson... I even spent my high school prom night at Safeco Field, watching Freddy Garcia pitch a great game against the Yankees (who he'd eventually join, years later, sigh) instead of going to the dance. My high school football team certainly wasn't any good, and had I'd known that my college football team (Hofstra) would eventually a) have so many pro-level players, and b) get entirely nixed a few years after I'd graduated, I might've gone to more than one game. Maybe.I came to football late in life, and have grown to love the game for any number of reasons. My knowledge of football certainly has a ways to go, still, but I do admit to being a total sucker for player stories and backgrounds - it's part of the reason why I fell in love with the Seahawks when Pete Carroll and John Schneider came along and shook things up - they found themselves a bunch of guys who were hungry to prove themselves, who'd been told over the course of their careers that they weren't good enough. If you saw this year's Super Bowl, you know how that worked out.I say all of this because while I love football now, if you'd have told me a few years ago that I'd fall so in love with a book about football, I probably would not have believed you. But the thing is that the television show version of "Friday Night Lights" has a lot to do with why I opened my eyes to football to begin with, because much like Friday Night Lights the book - it's about so much more than football. Friday Night Lights takes place in Odessa in the '80s, which becomes its own sort of character - an oil-boom town that never quite recovered from the bust, full of people living it up, thinking they were invincible... but then that whole business in the middle east was sorted out, and gas prices dropped off, and millionaires and banks in Texas found themselves broke.Odessa was also dealing with its own particularly stagnant brand of race relations in the '80s, so much so that they had segregated schools for so long that eventually the government came in and said, "No, really, you can't do this anymore." But of course, once they realized that Black people were good at football, they were far more accepting, and drew town lines based on what demographic of people lived where (so that Permian could get more Black people). Yikes.Most of all, Friday Night Lights is about the team and the coaches of Permian - the character traits and flaws that brought them failure and success, the single moments in games that came to define them, the dreams they held of greatness and the reality of life post-football, the toxicity of being held on a pedestal at such a young age contrasted with the question of, if they hadn't had football to be great for, then what?Even though I totally understand why Bissinger uses the distinguished H.G. at the front of his name, a part of me wished he used his nick-name, "Buzz," because it perfectly describes his prose. His writing is just teeming with energy, with life, like the humming of a street light or a telephone wire. Bissinger shines when he's writing about people - their hands, the way that they eat, the look in their eye - you feel as though you've met them before.I also was a bit sad by the fact that the most recent time I remember Bissinger being in the news was when he wrote about his shopping addiction - it made for a rather depressing juxtaposition when he was writing about issues of class and economics in Friday Night Lights so gut-wrenchingly well. At the same time, though, there's clearly something in him that deeply identifies with some of the bigger picture issues here - the striving for something seemingly greater, wanting to fill some kind of void. If he uses designer suits instead of football, I suppose that's just his poison of choice.Whether your interest in the sport falls at zero or 100%, Friday Night Lights is an incredible look at the role that sports play in a community - the good and the bad - and an incredible study of Odessa, the '80s, the educational system, high school kids... so much more than just football - but plenty of that, too.Update, Oct. 28: Continuing my "watching the movies of the books I've read this year" project, as I'm also a big film lover, I watched the movie adaptation of this, though I'd seen it before. The main problem is that this book is about so many things - the history of the town, the lives of the people in it, and obviously, football. To distill the book to just the football portions is to miss a lot of the point - which is by no means the movie's fault, since that's the most adaptable aspect. But, having read the book, I can see why making the film was not totally satisfying for Berg, and why he went on to make a TV show about it - there's just too much under the surface to get into during a two-hour film. The movie is much more faithful to the book than the TV series, which is more "inspired by" the people and the place as it is loyal to the story of anything that actually happened. Still, even though it's not connected to the story in the book at all really, the TV show does capture the same spirit, the idea that football is what gives this run-down town a purpose and a dream, what gives these people hope and possibly a chance to escape, or at least gives them glory days to wax poetic about when they've put away a six-pack...

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I'm glad I bought this at Half Price Books so the author didn't make any money off of me. I always read the forward of any book and this one, the author tells you up front he is looking for a sport to bash to be the next "A Season on the Brink" and Texas makes an easy target. The writer tells you he has an opinion of Texas before he heads south and writes the story based on his preconceived notions, not anything he actually saw in Texas. The writer finds negative stories about Texas history and writes like we are against educating our children. OK, public education isn't great in Texas but the same can be said for all 50 states. The writer prints people's responses to his questions as if they came up to him and just started talking. If you read this book, keep in mind it is local people answering a writer's questions after he said he was writing a story about their historic football program. No one knew it was a smear job until the book came out. The writer only covers athletes he can belittle in some way. For example, he barely mentions the biggest star on the team, Lloyd Hill. Hill only gets mentioned because he makes a big play in a big game. Lloyd Hill was a good kid, from a good family, and going to a big time college the writer never heard of, Texas Tech. But since Lloyd Hill was a good kid with nothing the writer could exploit and not going to a college non football fans knew, he wasn't worth writing about. The writer only focused on people he could mold into his preconceived notion of Texas being backwards and uneducated.

So this is probably more of a 3 1/2 star book. I really did love it for the in-depth look at Texas football. I didn't realize it but I lived in Texas when this book was researched by the author during 88/89 and was part of a massive 5A Texas high school. Perhaps that's why I'm obesessed w/ FNL and the whole franchise. The writing was good but I felt trailed off into too much detail about certain individuals or history of Texas/Odessa in some instances. I think some of it was necessary for background but found myself skimming some of this detail to get to the actual football. A great read though that inspired my most favorite TV show of all time. The book as a whole illustrates the mess that high school and college sports have become and how there is just too much put on these kids in terms of performance expectations on the field, and none expected academically. It's just sad. Permian got robbed in '88 and who knows how many other high school teams have been in the same situation because of inconsistency in academic requirements and the enforcement of those rules.

This book is about so much more than American Football. On the surface, it tells the story of the Permian Panthers, the high school football team from Permian High School in Odessa, Texas. It focuses on 6 of the senior players and some of the coaching staff. It gives us accounts of their backgrounds, families and their feelings about school, life and playing football. The season in question (1988) was supposed to be the year where the team were too good, they were meant to win the state championship. They had the players, they had the coach and they had the fans. Twenty thousand fans who queued a week early to get tickets for the local derby. The fans who took more interest in the high school football team than they did in the drop in oil price that was destroying the city. The fans who worried more about the form of their star running back than they did about the education of their children.The story is superbly written. The descriptions of the matches are visceral: you really can almost smell the blood, sweat and tears. This contrasts with the sections about foundation of the city and the background of the families and fans. To someone who played sport at school, I found the behaviour of the fans incredible. 20,000 people watched a SCHOOL match - unbelievableThe priorities in some of these schools seem completely crazy as well: More money spent of medical tape for the football team than was spent on the entire school English department; Teachers doctoring grades in order for players to pass and be eligible to play; Football players barely attending classes to concentrate on training. A shocking indictment of how the US school system was set up to favour the few. I'm not sure it is still the same, but I guess that not much has changed.On the whole, a brilliant book where the characters are engrossing and the story is wonderfully realised
—Neil Powell

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