am 12. Mai 2000
Like all great books about sports, "Friday Night Lights" is really about life. Specifically life in a football-crazed small town in Texas. But before any of us outsiders start feeling superior, we should reflect that the book is really about America and the way we overvalue athletic ability. The people of the town felt betrayed when they realized that author H.G.Bissinger was going to tell the whole story, warts and all. But he has written a masterful social history and one that has many implications beyond the gridiron.
am 12. März 2000
H.G. Bissinger, an investigating reporter for the Chicago Tribune, feels the necessity to write an entire book on the traditions and segregation surrounding a single season with the Permian Panthers of Odessa, Texas. Being from a similar size school with a modified version of football madness, I felt a connection with the subject matter, but that is where my connection ended. Bissinger's background as a reporter is highlighted in his writing. The basic who, what, when, where, and why is covered in great detail. Bissinger sets out to prove some monumental point about the insanity of West Texas football but finishes with an extended new article. I left the book feeling let down as well as shocked by the actions of the town. Bissinger has done his research. With interviews with what seems like everyone in town, the reader has a better understanding of the feelings of all people. Everyone from the first Mexican- American school board member to the coaching staff is interviewed.I appreciate his throughness on such sensitive subjects like the obvious racism of the town. However, this style does not lend itself to an engaging plot. Bissinger has also uncovered an interesting side of what may seem to be a passionate oil town. Bissinger chose not to ignore the obvious racial undertones of Odessa. As a former Permian All-State running back commented on the destruction of the "Mojo" school spirit, "I blame it on the niggers' coming to Permian. People say you can't win without the blacks, but we did." This comment was made not in the 1960s but in 1988. The school was not actually integrated until the early 1980s. A divided community can only rally around one thing, "Mojo" football. This idea is beaten into the reader's mind by Bissinger's somewhat repetitive writing. Bissinger also chronicals the football season, game by game. He explains, hit by hit, the triumph and defeat of the players. I was amazed by his ability to cover all aspects of the game. Even when the events happen simultaneously. Bissinger records the Coaches' firery half time pep talk and the band's "hell- bent rendition of 'Gee, Officer Krupke'". I'm not sure if this made Bissinger a track star or if it hurt his credibility in the eyes of a reader. This book was interesting for me because it has been my brother's, a high school and college football player, favorite and revealed an exaggerated version of my own high school experience. This is not a book for everyone. The journalistic style did not grip my interest as other books have. If football isn't a topic of choice for you, or if you enjoyed Bissinger's newspaper style, try a Jon Krakauer book. (My personal favorite is Into the Wild.) Despite his blunt presentation, Bissinger effectively chronicals the life of a town, a team, and their dreams.
am 18. Februar 2000
I finally got around to reading this book just recently; I wish I had read it when it came out in 1990. "Buzz" Bissinger pulls no punches in telling it like it is, how a high school football team can be the main rallying point of an otherwise isolated community, several hundred miles from the nearest large metropolitan area; a community whose residents are deeply religious, God-fearing, and shamelessly prejudiced and intolerant of non-whites.
I remember the controversy this book caused shortly after its release. Having read it, I now understand why: In a community where there's otherwise "nothing to do," a local high school football team can unite people of all races, incomes, cultures, etc. I should know: I used to live in Lubbock, not too far from Odessa; the townfolks share the same conservative beliefs and euphoric passion for football. Bissinger's metaphor-rich style of writing really made me feel as if I was back in West Texas. The similarity of the two cities was uncanny. I began to read in search of something startling and controversial; instead it brought back a lot of memories. As I learned, the people of Odessa and Lubbock are strikingly similar (except Lubbock also has collegiate football, from Texas Tech University, to root for, as well as a few local high schools). I found Bissinger's descriptions totally accurate, if not downright eerie.
In the end, I couldn't help but feel for the 17- and 18-year-olds who had to endure the pressure to produce one victory after another, and the supporters' shameless win-or-else attitude. Bissinger's ability to empathize with America's appetite and obsession for winning really drove home the point. When I finished reading it, I cried. This book was THAT soul-stirring.
To Stephanie, a Permian High School grad who wrote a review of this book in May 1998: I'd advise you to read "Turning The Page - '88 Permian team still can't escape glare of 'Friday Night Lights,'" by Dave Caldwell (The Dallas Morning News, November 24, 1999). You called Bissinger "a liar," but Jerrod McDougal, whose loud Bon Jovi music was mentioned in the introduction, said "The Book [as it's known in Odessa] painted a pretty ugly portrait of the town, but there's not a lie in it." And Randy Ham, a Permian grad who works at a bookstore in Odessa, mentioned, "It is a bitingly accurate portrayal of the town. It really is."
Mike Wallace, the "60 Minutes" correspondent, said that "'Friday Night Lights' reads like fiction; unhappily, it is fact." I feel that's all one needs to know to prepare for this truly incredible read.
am 25. November 1998
You will love it or leave it. You will appreciate if not understand what "MoJo" is. If you're still reading after the first chapter, find a comfortable spot - it's hard to put down. My fourteen year old daughter bought this book for me but I couldn't wrestle it away from her until she read it first (which didn't take long). Keep in mind that Bissinger wrote this book using his personal biases, perceptions and opinions. I found no fault with his interpretations of the issues and facts as presented other than the racial issue was not as severe from my personal experience. If you have kids playing football (or any competitive sport), if you played high school football, if you are a coach or if you just love high school football - this is must reading. I'll leave it at that. You form your own opinion, but you will appreciate the game in a different "light". I was born in Odessa at the same time Hayden Fry was playing there. I know all the "characters" in the book, although by different names. Yes, they are are all very real. I played football at Rankin (Red Devils) and later in Louisiana. Rankin is just south of Odessa about 56 miles and football there was intense, also. Intense football is prevalent in west Texas. Bissinger made it so real that the familiar taste of so long ago became noticeable in my mouth as he described the boys throwing up before the games. The smell of the locker room became real. I could feel the pain in Boobies knee (from my own seven knee surgeries). I was actually sore the day following finishing the book as if I had played the game, too. The book will have you cheering one moment, shaking your head in disgust one moment, and your eyes will tear from sadness the next moment. Prepare yourself for an emotional roller coaster. I was on a transpacific flight when I read this book in its entirety. It was pitch black outside and in the cabin, also, save for one single reading light - and that was me reading this book. Everyone else was asleep. Keep in mind what Bissinger says at the end in the Acknowledgements: "I remember the first time I saw them in the field house, with no idea of what they would be like and how they would take to me, or, for that matter, how I would take to them. And I remember how I thought of them at the end, as kids that I adored." So, some are critical of his presentation, but note that at the end and now - he adores those kids. You will not forget this book. And, as I read the sports section today, there are the Permian Panthers in Division 1 5A in the state play-offs. They just clobbered a team in El Paso and advanced. The MoJo continues today in its own unique and unparalleled way! The town, the team, and the dream are all still alive. Read the book and live it yourself.
am 20. November 1998
I read Friday Night Lights by Buzz Bissinger approximately three years ago. I have just re-read it after having finished "Our Guys" by Bernanrd Lefkowitz, the tragic tale of a town where the star football team members rape a retarded woman and how it's dealt with (or perhaps more accurately -- all but denied) by the town.Lights is a compelling read that makes it easy to hang on to even if one isn't the greatest fan of football. In reading a number of other reviews on this book, I view many of those as defensive reactions from people of the town or from some who know people of the town. This is sad because Lights isn't an indictment of Odessa, Texas. It is EVERYTOWN, USA. There is a great deal of U.S. universality to the story. Yes, one town was spotlighted. Often this is how we learn our greatest lessons in life... by observing human behavior in one setting and considering how it applies to ourselves and the places we live -- to our little world.Bissinger didn't betray the citizens of Odessa. He was not an "undercover" agent spying on them. The people of the town knew he was a reporter; apparently quite a likeable one. Why they expected the lionization of their town and their team as a result of the fact that the reporter was a nice guy is beyond me. Bissinger has proven himself to be an outstanding and objective observer of the culture of Odessa. And, while I don't personally know him, he had nothing against Odessa as a town and probably still doesn't (although he did receive death threats as a result of the book so I don't if that has by now changed his view at all.)Bissinger did what a good journalist does; he told the story of his objective observations. Unfortunately, from this reader's perspective, not a fun or loving or wonderful story. More accurately, I see Lights as a tragic flaw in the culture of our country. When we take kids, encourage them in what I consider one of the most violent sports we consider legitimate, turn them in to "legends" -- albeit only temporarily (while they're playing and winning), we collaborate in physical and psychological damage to our young people. When it's over, most of them have trouble putting it all in perspective -- some never do. They are forever wandering looking for the exhiliration of the attention, the cheers, the fans and the rush they experienced while a member of a winning football team. That we allow this in the midst of one of the most sensitive and critical periods in a human being's life -- adolescence -- makes it even more dangerous, with greater psychological than even physical risk, in a very physically dangerous sport.I tend to disagree with Bissinger that Football became so important for almost every member of that small down because of all that they had lost they needed something to hang on to.This story is an upper, middle and lower class story. It is every town. It is every high school and college that offers Football.I think the lessons we need to consider as a result of this masterfully narrated story are deep annd important ones. What should -- not what is -- be important to the educational and socialization process for the young of our society. For me, I've come to the conclusion that if we continue to allow Football to be played in this country, we need to change the rules. We need to much more intensively educate teachers, coaches, parents and kids themselves on keeping the "sport" in proper perspective. I'm not personally convinced it's doable. I have to conclude that while we have some nice catchphrases to describe this sport (among others in the same category) and its values -- teamwork, competition, physical fitness, working with others, discipline etc... and on and on, IT'S ALWAYS GOING TO BE ABOUT WINNING. After the "win," I'm convinced there's a degree of cultural addiction to the violence in this game. Go to any football game and watch the fans instead of the game; any observer will see a very significant number in attendance who are screaming for more aggression, more violence -- and are taking some very significant psychological satisfaction from it. Exactly what needs are being met in this vicarious manner likely depend on the individual. Yet, what I have the most trouble with is a large majority of our society meeting their own needs for aggression through small groups of very vulnerable younger members of our society. This is unconscionable, it in my personal view is deeply immoral. If we're looking for a better human being in our generations to come, it might be well to consider how to address issues of violence. That this is regulated violence makes no difference at all. We can't keeping using kids to meet unmet needs that we ourselves may have. This is a paricularly urgent lesson for parents. Far too many parents are using/abusing/allowing their offssspring to be physically and psychologically abused in order to try to relive their own "glory days" or in trying to finally attain through their kids, the heights, they themselves were unable to reach in their earlier lives and now regret. We have names for this from the simple word scapegoating to more complex psychological diagnoses called Munchaussen's by Proxy where a disturbed individual uses someone else, quite often their own children, to deliberately cause physical harm to as a result of their own deeply disturbed self imaages. Maybe it's time to stop and consider education and socialization a little more carefully and consider what's best for kids and the society of tomorrow. I can only help but conclude that part of the solution would involve immediately cutting Tackle Football, Ice Hockey, Boxing and Competitive Weight Lifting. While there may be some ostensible higher order of value to any of these sports, generally the realization of that expected "value" is most often forsaken in the need to win, in the domination that occurs and with the more likely result of often permanent physical and psychological damage -- both for men's and women's teams.Thanks Bissinger, you've offered a real eye opener to any of your readers that may work toward a better society for tomorrow. Outstanding!
am 11. Mai 1999
As a three year member and starter of the varsity squad of my High School in Chesapeake Virginia, the stories from this book were all too familiar. The small Virginia town in which I played was similiar to that of Odessa, Canton, Penn Hills, and others across the country where High School football is the main focus of attention and entertainment. This book made me think back to all of the great times I had, the great friends I made, and the many memories that I will never forget. Bissinger brought out the many "behind the scenes" views of the sport. All the problems and events that happen in the Permian locker room, coaches office, halls, classrooms, and in the lives of the players, occur everyday in schools everywhere.
On the bus ride home from the very last game of my senior year..a tough last minute loss, giving our school its first losing record in 25 years at 4-6. I thought about the two state championships we won in the two years before, and why it had to end like it did, and I thought about the blood, sweat, and tears that we have all spilled on the playing fields. As we pulled away I realized that I'd probably never step onto a football field to play again and that these days are now behind me forever. Then, like so many of the seniors on the bus with me, and the thousands more around the country...I cried.
I sometimes forget why I played football in high school. Three years after my final game I bought this book and read it. It then became all clear to me, and I recalled why I played. I laughed a little, and maybe even cried a little, and you will too.
am 1. Dezember 1997
I found this book totally by accident. I am a New Yorker born and raised. I am from an area where football does not get as much attention as other city games like baseball or basketball. In the fall of 1990 I found myself in a small bookstore in an even smaller college town in Texas. As I was killing time waiting for my girlfriend to register for classes I picked up this book and didn't put it down until it was finished. I never thougt there was anybody out there with the same love for the game as me. After reading this book I realized that I may have been lucky to not have to grow up in a town where a high school sport means so much. But then again I have to admit that I was extremely jealous of all the things I missed out on never having the chance to be a part of something so special. After reading this book I made some life decisions such as following up on my impulse feelings. Every year since I have taken atleast one trip to a major high school football game. This has allowed me to travel all acroos the country doing what I truly love to do. Which is evaluate high school talent and really absorb myself into the culture that is high school football. This book may have had a hand in saving a dead end kid from the Bronx with a love for the game only matched by the size of the state of Texas.
am 24. August 1999
W. Somerset Maugham once said, "The only important thingin a book is the meaning it has for you." With that said, Ihighly recommend this book to future readers because the book was written in great detail that one absorbs inside its plot. H.G. Bissinger wrote a fantastic documentary on this football team. His documentary was written from different perspectives ranging from the fans to the players themselves. His writing on the player's perspective of football was so vivid that I could feel the ups and downs of the team. When the players were happy after winning a game, I felt happy as well. It felt like I was part of the team. His writing was in great detail, explaining what was going through the players' minds, whether it be good or bad. Also, Bissinger wrote from the perspective of the fans and how they experienced Permian Football. Through his writing I understood what football meant to Permian fans; football is not just a sport or about winning, but the fans went to support Permian for the love of the game. H.G. Bissinger will always touch the heart of his readers as well as the people he writes about. There is an old saying that "writing comes more easily if you have something to say." And definitely H.G. Bissinger had something to say about Permian Football.
am 19. Januar 2000
I could hardly care less about football. After one season of playing in the marching band for my high school's games, I dropped out of the music program. I don't watch sports today. But I thought this book was incredible.
The reviewer below who attacked the book for "not really being about football" missed the point. Several reviewers further back who grooved on the memories of playing the game may have missed it, too, but that they were able to do that shows what a fair and rich account this is. The book is really about economic realities, communal dreams, the way adults live through their kids and sometimes use them up even before they've grown, and how people can lose perspective in a crowd.
I grew up on the south coast of Oregon, in a school which did not have quite the football dynasty that Permian does, but took the game almost as seriously (still does). I think people from almost any corner of the country would recognize the landscape in this book. Those of us who were not in the thick of such intensity missed something, yes ... but we're probably the better for it later on.
On top of being rich and affecting, this book is simply beautifully written. It's poetic without being either flowery or preachy. And that's an achievement in itself.
am 19. Januar 2000
I could hardly care less about football. After one season of playing in the marching band for my high school games, I dropped out of the music program. I don't watch sports in general. But I thought this book was incredible.
The reviewer below who attacked the book for "not really being about football" missed the point. Several further back who grooved on the memories of playing it may have, too, but that they were able to do that shows what a fair and rich account this is. This book is really about economic realities, communal dreams, the way adults live through their kids and sometimes use them up even before they've grown, and how people can lose perspective in a crowd.
I grew up on the south coast of Oregon, in a school which did not have the kind of football dynasty that Permian does, but took the game almost as seriously. I think people from almost any corner of the country would recognize the landscape in this book. Those of us who were not in the thick of such intensity missed something, yes ... but we're probably the better for it later on.
On top of being rich and affecting, this book is simply beautifully written. It's poetic without being either flowery or preachy. And that's an achievement in itself.