I finished Friday Night Lights, a book I have been meaning to read for more than two decades, as part of my goal to read 40 books from my own bookcase. Thanks to the recent 25 year anniversary, my experience was not as outdated as I initially feared.
I expected to read about high school football as the center of the community and how this was/is a great thing. However, what I read was both exciting and horrifying.
In Odessa, Texas, at 16-18 years old, these boys were treated as heroes, flying to games on chartered jets, and playing in venues like the Sun Bowl. What most of them were not doing was regular schoolwork or concerning themselves with life after football or high school. This was not their fault because this town condoned the “football above all” mentality from early childhood.
Despite these and other issues I had with the situation depicted, I did enjoy the author’s embracing the nostalgia associated with high school team sports, especially the last “big game,” something many of us remember whether it ended in glory or not:
“There was no other moment like it, and anyone who has ever played high school football could still recall it with perfect clarity, that emotional peak, that time in life when all energy was concentrated on a single point and everything was crystal clear. Whatever happened afterward, whatever success, or failure, or happiness, or horror, it could not be forgotten.”
The edition I read contained an Afterword with updates at 10 years later. (A newer edition has been released: Friday Night Lights, 25th Anniversary Edition: A Town, a Team, and a Dream.) This update along with an article in last year’s Sports Illustrated added greatly to my experience.
The book touched many people on many levels; it inspired some and angered others. The author couldn’t visit Odessa on his book tour because he had been too honest about the flaws he saw! (Most towns of course have flaws on some level, especially when exposed at this level.)
Bissinger said he took on the project anticipating something along the lines of Hoosiers, “a portrait of the way in which high school sports can bring a community together” which he found, along with “ugly racism, misplaced educational priorities” and a “town that had lost the ability to judge itself.” I appreciated his honestly in the book and in the interviews I read afterwards. Although I would have found Odessa maddening on many levels, I also know I would have made lifelong friends there, as he did.
The movie is mostly well done, putting the themes together in a nice little package. Some storylines were the way you wished they would be; some were worse than they were. This is the reality of making a book into a movie.
The new(er) Sports Illustrated article shows the author’s relationship with these players, some obviously closer than others, and even now he visits one in prison. If you have read this book, I highly recommend this article.
Overall I appreciated my Friday Night Lights experience and am glad I pulled it out of my bookcase after all these years.