Sunday, June 10, 2012

Book Review: After Friday Night Lights

Over my recent vacation, I had the chance to read "After Friday Night Lights", the new ebook from Buzz Bissinger. Bissinger's original "Friday Night Lights" is firmly in the cannon of books for People Who Give a Shit About Sports (if not for People, full stop), so a follow up to it is right in this blog's wheelhouse.

The follow up focuses squarely on Bissinger's relationship with Boobie Miles, the highly touted tailback from the original FNL who is injured in a pre-season game- and promptly discarded by the football team, the school, and the entire community. Bissinger relates what Boobie's life has become after football; a string of meaningless jobs, a nomadic existence, a few brushes with the law. Bissinger also reflects on his continuing relationship with Boobie, which has included bailing him out on more than a few occassions.

Bissinger has become more radicalized since he wrote FNL. That's understandable, I guess; he famously had some dustups with the coaches and schools he covered in FNL after the book came out, and as the new book demonstrates, he's had to watch Boobie's life curdle from a very close spot. Bissinger acutely understands the plight of someone who's been used up and spit out by the Football Industrial Complex, and wants you to do the same.

Which is, of course, a laudable goal, but the fact is, Bissinger pulled that off- quite deftly- in the original FNL. Indeed, he already told us the story of Boobie Miles in that book, and while the specifics of Boobie's life after football obviously weren't there, the general arc was clear. To add on to it is just gilding the lilly.

Moreover, the book is told in the context of Bissinger's relationship with Boobie, which just feels self-indulgent. At it's worst, it feels like Bissinger is just bragging about how much of a Friend To The Downtrodden he is, with a few caveats about how maybe it isn't wise for him to continue this relationship (which kinda feel just as yucky as Bissinger's paternalism). At it's best, it's still a Who Cares? situation.

What's unique about this book is that it's short (Just 42 pages on my iPad) and cheap ($2.99). In other words, it wouldn't have been feasible to publish this book even five years ago; this could only work now, with ereaders and digital books storming the marketplace. Does the low investment of time and money mitigate the problems with the book? Not completely, but at least I don't feel ripped off. And if this is a harbinger of things to come- if the rise of ebooks means we can get some more medium-scale sportswriting, longer than an article but shorter than a novel- well, that's alright. The more formats the better, I should think.

And of course, anything that gets people rereading (or hell, reading for the first time) the original Friday Night Lights- or checking out the decent movie and the incredible TV show- is okay with me. I just wonder if some kind of anniversary edition and book tour wouldn't have served the same purpose, without adding so much detritus to the story.

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