This is the first of two book reviews today. Both are nonfiction. I think that may be a record for me, as I hardly ever read nonfiction. As in, ever. But here I am, reading nonfiction. And mostly enjoying it.
Friday Night Lights was the book that started it all. It sparked the movie, and then the television series. And a bunch of backlash against Bissinger, but that’s another story.
I had watched the TV series this summer. Well, seasons one to four of it. I have season five left, though I suspect it’ll be an activity sometime soon on break. I love the series. I love all of the “I don’t want to know these people in real life though I adore them as characters on TV” people: Matt Saracen, Tim Riggins, THE TAYLORS… Eric and Tami and Julie…
Anyways, I love that. And I knew I’d be biased going into this book because of that. I knew that it’d be creative nonfiction, and I wasn’t sure how the author, H.G. Bissinger, would translate that. And now after reading the book, I’m still a little confused.
Let me start from the beginning. The premise of the book: A writer named H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger got word of this town in Texas, Odessa, that was obsessed with football. As in, the whole town revolved around it. So he got permission to use the 1988 season to follow the team and research the town and write a book about it. And thus, Friday Night Lights was born.
The book weaves back and forth between the stories of the football players and their feelings (gathered, presumably, through interviews during the season) and other background about the town and research that Bissinger did. I like this style in general, as Rebecca Skloot used the same in her incredible creative nonfiction book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (which I reviewed here). However, I don’t think it worked as well for Bissinger.
First of all, there were too many story threads. I found it a bit of a challenge to follow the stories of all of the football players. Sure, some of them were very distinct, especially Boobie Miles and Brian Chavez. But the majority of the other players that Bissinger profiles blend together. I can clearly conjure the idea he wants to give of the stereotypical Permian High School football player. I don’t need three confusing extra profiles to do that.
Second, the obviously deeply-researched tangents that Bissinger went on did not help enlighten me. There were some great adjoining stories, some interesting comments by townspeople. And I don’t know if this happens to anyone else, but if an author mentions someone at the top of one page briefly and then goes for two or three pages without reminding the reader of who they are, I get confused. Like, what are they doing here? Huh? Bissinger did that several times.
My favorite part character-wise was either the mid-book portrayal of Brian Chavez or the coach’s wife at the end. The coach’s wife had a fresh, fascinating perspective. It was eloquent, well-written, and tense with stress in a way that made the reader feel sympathetic to it.
Don’t get me wrong, I did like this book. I found it a very complexly woven example of creative nonfiction. The best thing it helped highlight was the boom-bust cycles of the town, which may have been over-talked about because I remember that in a stronger way than some of the football ties.
I could find certain connections to the TV series. I could tell where they drew some of their character ideas and plot points. And sure, those are tailored and not real people that producers created, but Bissinger also could’ve done a better job deepening and highlighting his football players too.
I give FNL three and a half stars. Reasons to read this book: Great introduction. Boom-bust profile. Realizing that your town’s fanaticism can’t possibly be as bad as this. Feeling bad for someone who was written about in here, or the town in general. A pretty good example of a creative nonfiction book (even though I’d say to read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks first). You get a free copy in the mail from your dad that’s a used hard cover, like I did 🙂 Reasons not to read this book: Confusing at times. Less plot and suspense than expected. Not what you want to read if you expect the TV series in a book.
I will follow this with the next book I read, Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M. by Sam Wasson. I’m currently in Give and Take by Adam Grant, which is marvelous.
More to come!