This genre may not look familiar to you on this blog. That’s because I never read books of essays or short stories. I need a plot, people. I need characters playing out those plots — even if it’s non-fiction, and these are actual people. So no, I have not read a book of essays since starting Big Little Literature nearly three years ago, and I wasn’t expecting to read one — not until Colson Whitehead.
He has easily become my favorite writer the past few years. Between The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, his writing has moved me, and his creativity has inspired me. I’m determined to read all of his books, all of which I know will become instant favorites.
Now mix my favorite writer with my city, and it’s not surprising that I read a book of essays. OK, so I no longer live in a New York City zip code, and I don’t pay those astronomical (but beneficial) city taxes. I’m right across the river though. NYC is where I work when a pandemic hasn’t taken over. It’s the city I stare at every day on walks. It’s the city that changed my life for the better. So yes, it is my city still.
I’ve had intense nostalgia since this pandemic started, and not going into the city every day has broken my heart. My favorite writer and my favorite city would surely cure my blues.
Let’s call it how it is. 2020 has been a garbage fire. Phase 1 of COVID preceded a phase 2 of COVID that’s grounded in people basically giving zero f***s anymore. Mix this with an unbearable allergy season. Furthermore, our president is more delusional than ever. And sparked by several recorded incidents of police brutality, social tensions are at an all-time high (or maybe we’re just watching and listening now), which begs the question: Are race relations worsening?
The Black community has always faced prejudice and discrimination in America. They’ve been treated as “others” or less than, and white people as a collective have continually refused to listen and evaluate the role they play in our racist, white supremacist society. The murder of George Floyd seems to be changing the tide: The fog is finally being lifted, the curtain being pushed back on this country’s true history and present reality for people of color.
White people seem more willing to educate themselves on this — myself included. With that comes a bevy of anti-racism literature, most of which has been around for years but is now in the spotlight. This brings me to White Fragility, a book that, although written by a white woman, provides a telling perspective on why it is so difficult for white people to discuss race — which contributes to why white supremacy has reigned for so long in the “western” world — while also providing examples and guidance to challenge it.
When my dad and I recorded an episode for The Biblio Files after we both read Friday Night Lights, we discussed the validity of it being a social commentary rather than just a sports book. Dad didn’t agree with this statement the first time I said it a few months before. At that time, he and my sister had laughed at my conclusion. When we discussed on the podcast, though, he finally saw the light.
It was so intuitive to me that Friday Night Lights said more than just what plays the boys were running, what down it was, and how many yards they had to go. But I’ve always felt that way. To me, sports go beyond the competition. This is one reason why I love them so much and have for 28 years. Sports possess a power that exceeds far beyond their initial purpose. They speak volumes about the time period and location in which a particular game is occurring; the relations between the competitors; the importance of teamwork, selflessness, and trust; and the unbelievable things our bodies and hearts can achieve.
Still don’t believe me after reading FNL and my review of it and listening to The Biblio Files episode on it, all three of which I know you’ve done? Then please pick up The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. You surely will see my point after reading it.
This book, which follows a rowing team from the University of Washington in the 1930s, proves that the finer points of sports have thousands of parallels with real life. And just like in real life, sometimes the underdog wins — making victory that much sweeter.
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.
Source: Mary Steffens
Source: Rotten Tomatoes
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.
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).
- What: Educated
- Who: Tara Westover
- Pages: 334, hard cover
- Genre: Memoir
- Published: 2018
- The lit: of 5 flames
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.
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.
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.
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.
Source: Kyle Magee.