When I first move to Texas I discovered that my apartment was only about half a mile from the local high school. I figured this out when one Friday night I was out walking my dog and noticed the bright stadium lights off in the distance, coupled by the sound of a marching band and the roar of the crowd.

In Texas there is little else as sacred as high school football, save religion itself.

Today’s book is Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, and a Dream by H.G. Bissinger. The book (which both the movie and TV series are based off of, and oh, if you have never seen the TV series, get yourself a copy of the DVDs and go watch is now. One of the best depictions of working class America on TV ever.) The book, however, is non-fiction, and is based on a football team, the Permian Panthers, a team from Odessa, an oil town in the West Texas scrubland.

The book, (written in the late 1980s) is a classic of fine American sportswriting. For me, it stands right up there with Seabiscuit in taking a sport and using it as a prism to examine a place and moment in time in American history. Bissinger’s book is about the phenomena of high school football in a town that has few dreams left to hold on to, but it is also about much more. It is about race, class, economic and social status in America (and the issue of race is really ugly. While unsurprising is still jarring to read.) It is about dreams realized and broken. It is about young people who have to live up to impossible hopes that an entire town pins on them, and then how they get torn apart when those dreams are dashed.

Bissinger lived in the town for a year, he went with the football team to every game, he had unprecedented access, and that is what helps the book ring so true. He is also a master of colorful, evocative writing that pulls you along, and he takes time to explain the history of West Texas, along with the different dynamics of the place. All of this allows you to feel as if you are there, experiencing the quest for the state championship with the Permian Panthers.

Its a real team, a real town, a real slice of America. And it’s about football,  but it is also about more than that. This is a fantastic, can’t-put-it-down read and a true American sports classic.

Ciao for now,

Bookish C