Sunday, October 24, 2010

Book Review: God & Football

For God & Football: Faith and Fanaticism in the SEC, Chad Gibbs decided to undergo a season long tour and see a home football game for every SEC team during the 2009 season. If that sounds slightly familiar, well, it should, since that's exactly the conceit behind Clay Travis's Dixieland Delight, written about the 2006 season.* Of course, Gibbs couldn't just write Dixieland Delight Version 2, By Some Other Guy, which meant he had to find a separate hook.

That hook, as you might guess from the title and subtitle, is that the SEC just happens to be located in the South, where 84% of the population self-identifies as Christian. How do Christians like Gibbs square their devotion to their alma mater's gridiron achievements (or lack thereof, see, e.g., Vanderbilt and Kentucky). For his tour, Gibbs spends his time meeting with students who are part of organizations like Campus Crusade for Christ and speaking with local preachers, many of whom tend to be just as fanatic in their football devotions as Gibbs and just as conflicted as he.

As far as hooks go, I am none too religious by personal avocation, so the conflict Gibbs writes about is one I don't personally feel. Nor, I admit, did I find it deeply insightful into other areas. There are no great answers at the end of this book, which I view as being primarily because there really aren't any great and easy answers, and there shouldn't be.

Given that, how does it compare to Dixieland Delight? Travis's book was much more a tale of drunken debauchery, because that's more who Travis is and not who Gibbs is (at least in terms of their authorial presentation). Like Travis, Gibbs is a generally pretty good writer and God & Football does have some amusing moments, though I recall Dixieland Delight being more consistently funny. I did, however, get cranky at Gibbs occasionally, for joking references to the reader to look things up on the internet if they wanted to know something, or (and yes, I freely admit this may be me being cranky) calling a piece of music the 2001 theme (it's called "Also Sprach Zarathustra", which even a cultural philistine like me knows). Travis's book also benefited from more "recurring" characters, as he tended to travel to games with people he already knew. Gibbs does attend games with his college roommate and his wife, but, as mentioned, he's meeting with the local religious establishment, and they're simply not on stage and don't have enough of a relationship with the author for any sort of distinctiveness to stand out.

Anyway, now is the point at which I tend to say something about who should read the book. Unusually, I don't have what feels like a suitable pithy recommendation and will simply state res ipsa loquitur, the thing speaks for itself. I guess I should also note I read God & Football as a library rental, and there are a couple typos, only one of which bothered me (Ole Miss QB Jevan Snead is referred to as "Javon" at one point).

For more on Gibbs and God & Football, see his website. He's also on twitter. If you want to read the book and talk about it, he has a list of discussion questions for each chapter posted on that website.

*-Unless I missed it (and I did look), at no point do the phrases "Clay Travis" or "Dixieland Delight" appear in God & Football. I'd be extraordinarily surprised to learn Gibbs hadn't read and been inspired by Travis, and if he didn't know Delight (published in 2007) existed before writing this book, he didn't do his book prep properly.

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