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Happy Birthday, Buzz Bissinger!

Welcome to my second author’s birthday post!  Buzz Bissinger was born on November 1, 1954 in new York City.  He is, I think, most well-know for his book Friday Night Lights, a piece of literary journalism that explores the impact of high school football in Odessa, Texas in 1988.  The book was eventually turned into a movie and a television show.

In addition to Friday Nigh Lights, Bissinger is also a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist and author of two other books — A Prayer for the City and Three Nights in August.

I just started A Prayer for the City for my literary journalism class, and so far the book does not disappoint.  Bissinger narrates Ed Randall’s first term as mayor of Philadelphia, a city on the brink of failure when he took office in 1992.  To write the book, Bissinger was granted exclusive access to both the mayor and the mayor’s chief of staff, David Cohen, during the entire term.  Bissinger does a lot with that access — he has a keen eye for detail and characterization that really brings the conflicts Randall is dealing with to life.

Early in the book, Bissinger is describing Cohen as he packs up his office at a law firm and moves into his new chief-of-staff office at the capitol.  On the very first page of the book Bissinger states that Cohen is brilliant.  I immediately thought, “How lazy Buzz Bissinger — you’re supposed to show not tell!  That’s the first rule of narrative journalism!”

How silly of me, because right after that Bissinger goes into a whole biography of Cohen that illustrated, beyond a doubt, just how brilliant Cohen actually is.  My favorite was this example, from the night of Randall’s inauguration party:

Amid the pulsating swell of the music, one such job seeker came forward to ask Cohen whether he had recieved his covering letter and resume.  Cohen listend to the name thoughtfully and then politely offered acknowledgement: “Buff-colored paper with a signature on the left-hand side.”

It had been buff-colored paper.  The signature had been on the left side.  How could anyone have remembered that?  Why would anyone have remembered that?  “That’s right,” said the man with a strange look on his face.  Cohen gave a modest shrug.  After all, why wouldn’t he have remembered the resume?

There had been only four thousand of them.

Bissinger does this throughout the section of the book I’ve read — giving you something that looks like opinion, then backing it up with a litany of well-crafted and well-written examples.  I’m looking forward to going back to A Prayer for the City very soon.  But without further ado…

Happy Birthday, Buzz Bissinger!

This post is part of National Blog Posting Month for the month of November. You can find out more about NaBloPoMo here and view my NaBloPoMo profile page here. Thanks for reading!

Photo by flickr user dan taylor

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Louise November 1, 2008, 2:46 pm

    Thanks for an interesting post about a person I had never heard about. I wish I had time for books like these (about journalism), but I guess it is a question of priorities anyway.

    Like I mentioned in another post then I am currently back in “school” after having worked full time for years. I finished a Bachelor in Egyptology long time ago and also finished and passed every course on the Masters Programme in Egyptology, except the thesis. As I was about to write that thesis, I got a job offer I couldn’t resist and that job took me to new places, it took me abroad and it took me to yet another job, which I also could not turn down. While working I was freelance writing for some popular science mags and one of the large papers here in Copenhagen. I also wrote two travel guides and slowly I became interested in a writing career. In order to get a good writing job, decent salary and better benefits and blah blah, in Denmark you need at least a Master Degree, so I went part time this October, where I got a part time job in written communications at a large travel agency. So now I try to get the thesis out of my way, which has proven harder than I thought. I am enrolled at University of Copenhagen and while they are patient, I do need to finish SOON! But I spend way too much time blogging and stuff ;o) It is just so much harder to get into the swing of writing scientifically than the popular style I have used in my work for the past 5 years. Oh well. There goes a part of my life story again…..

    I find your blog highly interesting because of your field of studies (journalism) and your book-blogging!


  • Care November 2, 2008, 4:47 pm

    Happy November! Happy Birthday Buzz!

  • Kim November 2, 2008, 2:36 pm

    Louise: That’s exciting, congrats on heading back to school!

    Care: I can’t believe it is November already… where did October go?