Book Group, Books

Book 79: Friday Night Lights – H.G. Bissinger

I thought Friday Night Lights was going to focus solely on football (like the movie) but it didn’t. It was about so much more.

I read this book as part of a new book group, Books into Movies, I found at my local library. The book group itself was interesting enough, regardless of the book read. It was a mixture of 55+ individuals and about four of us in our 20s/30s. One guy pontificated, one woman knit, and the rest of us just sort of meandered about. I’ll definitely go back as I enjoyed the diverse opinions and perspectives, but I also like the idea of comparing books and films.

Prior to reading the book, I knew nothing about the story other than the film and the film was incredibly stunted compared to the book. In thinking about the book and what it means, Bissinger provided a perfect description of the book,

“Permian football had become too much a part of the town and too much a part of their own lives, as intrinsic and sacred a value as religion, as politics, as making money, as raising children. That was the nature of sports in a town like this. Football stood at the very core of what the town was about, not on the outskirts, not on the periphery. It had nothing to do with entertainment and everything to do with how people felt about themselves.” (237)

And it was this, the incomprehensible fanaticism the people of Odessa, TX have for Permian football, which provided the focal point of through which Bissinger dissects small town life. From learning the dreary history of Odessa to facing the extreme racism (and presumed racism) in Texas politics/education system, Bissinger created shared an honest but harsh view of small town America.

What bothered me most about the book was the movie adaptation.I didn’t mind the narrative jumping back and forth between individual stories and football games. And I didn’t even mind Bissinger’s somewhat overly florid writing. What bothered me most was the films complete whitewashing of the racial tension of the time. Chapter five, Black and White, and chapter fifteen, The Algebraic Equation, were two of the most interesting chapters and the focused specifically on this and the incredibly questionable tactics of the educational system and elected officials.

I understand the film’s point was to sell tickets and to tell the story and I’ll definitely need to watch it again, but from what I remember they reduced the minority players into mere bit-players and focused solely on the white players.

Recommendation: If you’re interested in football, Texas, or small town America then you should read it. If not, it’s probably not worth your time.

Opening Line: “If the season could ever have any salvation, if it could ever make sense again, it would have to come tonight under a flood of stars on the flatiron plains, before thousands of fans who had once anointed him the chosen son but now mostly thought of him as just another nigger.” (From the prologue)

“In the beginning, on a dog-day Monday in the middle of August when the West Texas heat congealed in the sky, there were only the stirrings of dreams.” (Actual opening line)

Closing Line: “People everywhere, young and old, were already dreaming of heroes.” (Not whited out as this is a work of nonfiction.)

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