Toe to Toe: Friday Night Lights

America loves its Friday nights on the gridiron. Small towns showing up to the stands in droves as they cheer on their teams of young boys with big dreams. It’s quintessential Americana. It loves it so much that, when a nonfiction book was published about it (along with many other sociological themes) in 1989, a movie by the same name premiered 15 years later and a TV show two years after that. They both starred the great Connie Britton, so you know they have reach and power.

Yes, Friday Night Lights and everything it represents and demonstrates has become ingrained in American culture. Clearly, we’re all a little obsessed with high school football. But with three types of media focused on this theme, which one does Big Little Literature love most?

Although I’ve also watched the television series, that was five years ago, and my memory necessitates more time to relive the show than the movie. So we’re going to narrow our focus a bit. Friday Night Lights, it’s time to go toe to toe: book versus movie.

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Don’t Let my Dreams Run Dry

I very distinctly remember a Friday night when I was 11 years old like it was yesterday. The cross-town rival was playing my sister’s high school’s football team on a rainy, dreary, and cold night in late fall. I went to the game with my dad and brother, and we along with my sister had been talking up this game all week. This was the year Herculaneum High School was going to beat the Festus Tigers under those Friday night lights.

Due to the nasty weather, the game was delayed. My father, trying to be a responsible parent, said we should leave after waiting for what felt like hours for it to begin. Dressed in ponchos yet still drenched, we reached the parking lot when we heard buzzers and beeps announcing that play would begin. The three of us looked at each other, smiled, and said, “Let’s do it!” We ran back to the bleachers to watch the Blackcats pounce the Tigers. I didn’t go to either school but could still feel the excitement wash over me as the rain poured down and the ‘cats clenched the W.

The year was 2003, and I was obsessed with Blackcat football and all of the “hot” players on the team that year. I seriously wrote their names on my notebook as if someday I would have a chance with one of them. (Trust me, I too laugh at this now.) But these types of memories are the ones that build up football programs with an urgency, power, and nostalgia that other sports and other aspects of small-time life just cannot compete with. And this was with small schools in the Midwest. Can you imagine the fervor if it belonged in a West Texas community? You don’t have to because H.G. Bissinger gives us exactly that in one of the best sports books ever written: Friday Night Lights.

Friday Night Lights

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2019 Resolution Review

Let’s look at my specs for the year. In 2019, I:

  • Read 10,904 pages across 31 books — thanks, Goodreads!
  • Averaged 351 pages per book.
  • Explored 10 different genres with contemporary fiction winning most popular.
  • Only read one author more than once — Kristin Hannah.
  • Read five two-flame books (more than the number of the previous year-and-a-half) and six three-flame books.
  • But I also had the joy of experiencing 11 books with four flames, and nine garnered a whole five flames. I’d call that a success!

But how did I do with the resolutions I set for myself in January? Let’s see how I scored (and check out the books I said I’d read at the beginning of the year in the picture below and compare them to my fully ranked list of 2019).

2019 Resolutions

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A Lot of Fight Left in Me

  • What: Educated
  • Who: Tara Westover
  • Pages: 334, hard cover
  • Genre: Memoir
  • Published: 2018
  • The lit: 1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px of 5 flame

Educated was one of those books that I was a wee bit hesitant to read. Since it was released in February 2018, I’ve seen it everywhere: in the windows of bookstores, every time I log into Amazon, on all of the lists, and even on Ellen.

Could a book really be this good? You know I’m a skeptic! Furthermore, could a memoir be this good? Then, I wondered if I’d had a change of heart about the genre. Before Educated, I had read three memoirs in a little over a year; that totaled the amount I had read in the previous 10 years. With Michelle Obama’s, Tiffany Haddish’s, and The Glass Castle now in my repertoire, did I want more, or did I prefer to not take the risk (I had been choosing the best of the best in the genre after all)?

I’m thrilled to say that Tara Westover’s devastating yet uplifting book about her unorthodox upbringing and her even more unorthodox rise to success and happiness fell right into line with the above-mentioned books. I’m also happy — yet still slightly weary — to report that Educated has shifted my opinion of its genre. My negative feelings toward memoirs are a thing of the past, and I think I’m onboard — or at least in line to board. Let’s be honest: I’ve always been a little late to the party.

Educated

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Own Every Second

About a month ago, Kyle and I were having a date at our favorite rooftop bar. We were on top of a Jersey City hotel sipping cocktails and looking out at the best view of NYC. Suddenly, I was overcome with gratitude for living and working in such a beautiful city and for experiencing everything I had these past five years.

I relayed this emotion to Kyle and asked if that feeling of “Wow I can’t believe I live here” ever hits him because it sure as hell hits me from time to time. We were definitely in agreement on this one.

It’s this emotion and experience that is the point of a book like Tuesdays with Morrie, a nonfiction account in the same vein as The Last Lecture. The book stresses the importance of reveling in every single moment and illustrates that the simple things in life matter most. When death comes upon you — like it does to the main character, Morrie — you’re reminded that your time on Earth is too short to be distracted by money, success, vanity, and pride. Just like I need moments such as the one overlooking NYC a month ago, I need books like Tuesdays with Morrie and The Last Lecture to remind me of everything that’s important. I’m pretty sure we all do.

Tuesdays with Morrie

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Eye of the Tiger

My Instagram bio reads “Book blogger | Sports enthusiast and cat lover | Travel addict | #MizzouMade.” Basically, I was destined to read Gary Pinkel’s autobiography. After all, this is the man who led the Mizzou football program that created that very hashtag in my bio.

Some of my best college memories stem from football games at the ZOU — and I don’t just mean from the pregame. I really got into games, sometimes so much so that my moods directly correlated to the team’s success. And even though I no longer live in Missouri, I still try to follow the team as much as possible.

While reading his book, I was excited to relive some of those memories through Coach Pinkel’s perspective. I also loved reading about his personal journey long before he moved to Columbia, Mo. and became the winningest coach in university history. However, I couldn’t help wondering if I enjoyed his book simply because of the nostalgia it gave me. On deeper reflection, The 100-Yard Journey didn’t contain the best writing; it certainly won’t win any awards. Maybe this is a book only Mizzou and/or football fans can truly enjoy. Well so be it.

I’ve always said good books can transport you to another place and time. When they take you back to a fun and important time in your personal life, they get bonus points — even if the book itself doesn’t blow you away.

Gary Pinkel

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Storied: Dark and All Too Quiet

When bright-eyed 18-year-old me started journalism school in 2010, I had zero idea of what kind of magazine journalist I wanted to be. I never really envisioned what writing for a magazine actually looked like. It could have been sports, travel, or anything, though for the world’s sake, probably not makeup or fashion; it didn’t matter as long as I was writing.

Then I took my advanced writing capstone with a truly talented professor and writer (thanks for everything, Dr. Hinnant!), and I realized my future belonged to long-form, which I didn’t even know was a thing until the first day of that class. I became enthralled by the works of Jennifer Gonnerman, Tom Junod, Anne Fadiman, and Robert Sanchez (#humblebrag: I actually interned at the same magazine as the latter). I didn’t just admire them; I wanted to be them.

OK fast forward six years, and that clearly didn’t happen. I’ve never forgotten the impact it had — and still continues to have — on my life though. I still love reading long-form and still appreciate all the time and effort that goes into turning real-life events into the most-fascinating stories about the human experience. It’s why I can now add one more name to that list above: Truman Capote.

In Cold Blood sits on a certain pedestal and rightfully so. Capote clearly defines everything I love about long-form in this book: the details, the emotions, the power to force us into uncomfortable but necessary gray areas, and *swoon* the storytelling. His craft is unmatched, and it’s no wonder that this book is often considered quintessential long-form journalism — even if its journalistic integrity has been called into question a time or two.

In Cold Blood

Source: Kyle Magee.

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