Go ahead, and don’t believe me when I say I actually ended up ENJOYING a book about football! Okay, the main story line was about the stories behind the football team and games, but still!
I went to a huge football college (Go Florida State Seminoles!), but I enjoyed the tailgating and school spirit more than watching the football games. If a game is on TV (unless it’s against FSU’s rival, the Gators), I would rather eat the chips and dip and receive occasional updates on the score than watch what’s going on.
So, yes, I was actually surprised myself when I realized that I enjoyed reading “Muck City: Winning and Losing in Football’s Forgotten Town” by Bryan Mealer. This book is very much outside my comfort zone and usual genre, but I was drawn to the side stories of the players and the city where they reside.
This nonfiction read tells the story of the city of Belle Glade and the Glades Central Raiders, focusing much more on the town and individuals than football itself. I grew up in a town called Wellington, which is just west of West Palm Beach and east of Belle Glade by about 40 minutes. In between Wellington and Belle Glade is a long stretch of highway, along which you might see an alligator on the side of the road, and pretty much nothing else.
Before reading “Muck City,” I knew what most people from Wellington know about Belle Glade: At one point, the city had the highest percentage of AIDS, the town is extremely poor, there is a high rate of crime, drug use, and gang affiliation, and the classic “you just don’t go to Belle Glade.”
In between freshman and sophomore year of college, I took a community college course which was only offered at the Belle Glade campus, and I distinctly remember having to convince my parents to let me take the class there. I was a minority in the class for sure, but I made two friends from the class (although I think it was partly because I was an anomaly: white, Jewish, and from the stereotypically preppy town of Wellington). The students in the class worked hard, harder than most college students I knew, because these students were working towards their only escape from poverty. I gained a high level of respect for them.
“Muck City” provided more than just the stereotypical Belle Glade information. I found out about a devestating flood that destroyed most of the town and is ranked the “second most deadly natural disaster in American history” (p. 17). I also learned that Belle Glade and neighboring Pahokee provide college teams and the NFL with a disproportionately high number of football players.
The Belle Glade history was what drew me to the book “Muck City,” and what kept my interest. About 25% of the book focused on specific football games and plays, which went way over my head and I had to force myself to read through. But the other 75% told the story of Belle Glade’s history and the individual stories of the students there, mainly football players but also including their families, cheerleaders, and coaches.
I wish that Mealer would have provided dates more often in the text. His story sometimes skips back and forth among years and decades, which keeps the book interesting, but I found that I lost track of when certain events occurred due to the lack of dates in some sections.
Bryan Mealer is a great writer, who described the surroundings of Belle Glade football in a way that kept me interested throughout the book (minus the descriptive football game plays) because of his conversational tone and valid information.
“Muck City” is less about football itself and more about the city and lives of those that football in Belle Glade touches.
What book have you read that was outside your normal set of genres, that you ended up enjoying?