"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

11.26.2005

fall reading

My reading habits tend to run in phases. These phases have no rhyme or reason and vary from the post-Holocaust Jewish fiction period I went through at age 20 to the Southern history kick I was on for most of my time up north (okay, so there's probably an explanation for that one). This fall, I've been in a bit of a football-reading mood. It probably has something to do with the Longhorns' run for the Rose Bowl. Anyway, without further ado, here are the best books on the subject I've read of late:

The Only Game that Matters: The Harvard/Yale Rivalry by Bernard M. Corbett and Paul Simpson

Corbett and Simpson attempt to chronicle the history of The Game, one of college football's oldest rivalry matches played on the Saturday before Thanksgiving every fall in Cambridge or New Haven. Both authors have Boston ties and the text seems to favor Harvard ever so slightly, but let's all remember that Yale leads the series 64-49-8, last Saturday's unfortunate triple-overtime incident nonwithstanding. Anyway, unless you're a die-hard fan of meaningless Ivy League football and ridiculous details about Depression-era matches between Dartmouth and Cornell, the book is most interesting for it's recounting of the history of the development of modern American football. Yale and Harvard more or less created the game (I'm sorry, but that New Jersey nonsense about 1869 is just ridiculous. Princeton and Rutgers played soccer, not football.) and Yale's legendary coach Walter Camp developed most of the rules we play by today. It's an enjoyable, if somewhat ridiculous read. Statements like this are a little bit hard to handle once you've experieced big-time college football:

"...to Harvard and Yale, The Game represents much more than just a couple of mediocre teams battling for position in the bottom half of the nation's football landscape. It is living history -- two of the country's most storied schools defending their honor."

Where Dreams Die Hard: A Small American Town and Its Six-Man Football Team by Carlton Stowers

I picked this up because my mom is from a six-man town and I have always loved small-town football. Although Stowers doesn't write as well as H.G. Bissinger, this story of very small town Texas football is just about perfect. Stowers follows the Penelope High team through one of its many rough seasons and does a beautiful job of explaining why football is so important to Texans and how it can become one of the few things capable of holding a dying community together.

And of course, the obligatory nod to
Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by H.G. Bissinger

The classic Texas football story. Permian's MoJo versus the world. If you've never read this, you really, really should. We used to drive by Ratliff Stadium on the way to and from Andrews when I was little and I never could get over how a stadium for a high school team could be so big. Bissinger gets it with absolutely poetic prose. Including this excerpt from the afterword of the tenth anniversary edition, which says to those people who think that The Game is the be-all, end-all of the sport all that can be said: "Brian [Chavez] looked at the east coast with a combination of curiosity and anthropological interest, as if he were studying a different species, and he concluded that it was no place for a human being to actually live."

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