Today's Book Review is provided by fellow Husker blogger Brandon Vogel of Hi-Plains Drifter:
I have a theory about the SEC when it comes to relative conference strength: college football fans would be a lot more likely to admit that the SEC is the best conference in the land if their fans weren’t so damn insistent upon proclaiming it themselves.
That said, the SEC is still pretty intriguing from an outsider’s perspective. Enter Clay Travis, a Sportsline.com columnist and author of the new book Dixieland Delight: A Football Season on the Road in the Southeastern Conference. It’s perhaps the most comprehensive and modern view of The Conference that Shall not be Trumped to date.
Travis set out on the Dixieland Delight Tour—abbreviated as DDT - in homage to Jake "The Snake" Roberts—to "experience SEC fandom as no one had ever done before." It would’ve been easy enough to rest on press credentials and write from the press box but Travis takes the fan’s perspective, procuring his own tickets each Saturday, doing his best to record the entire game day experience at each stop along the way and, as far as I can tell, wearing flip-flops and aviator sunglasses for the duration of the tour.
For those readers unfamiliar with his columns, Travis is well schooled in the Simmonsian tradition: heavily humorous vignettes and asides liberally sprinkled with popular culture. Upon completing the book, you may know as much about his Vanderbilt Law cronies, jean shorts and ‘Bama Bangs as you will the state of football in the SEC, but in the end this turns out to be a good thing. You can’t blame the author for playing to his strengths.
If nothing else, Travis remains brutally honest throughout. He rips almost every part of the famously Southern Jefferson-Pilot Sports broadcasts of SEC games and, most shockingly, claims that "most (Florida) girls seem to be packing about six to eight extra pounds on the backs of their arms," a fact that is attributed to the higher proportion of Yankees in the UF student body. The author states up front that he’s a Tennessee fan but to his credit that bias never appears to influence his writing. (Okay, he’s pretty hard on the Gators.)
Disappointingly, it’s when Dixieland Delight stretches out and tries to become, well, a book that it begins to bog down. The DDT started as a series of columns for Sportsline.com and you can almost feel the icy voice of a Harper Collins editor saying, "Yes, Clay, this is all fine and funny, but what does it mean?" Near the end of each chapter Travis tries to bring it all home with compelling ruminations and the strain is obvious. For example, take the final paragraph of the Alabama chapter:
"By the end of the night, Alabama and Auburn fans have come together in the bars of Tuscaloosa...The anger, aggression, and distaste have been washed away and, at least for one night, the two warring armies of Alabama fandom have lain down their weapons. By the end of the night, the state of Alabama is once again one nation, under God, undivided by bare fore-heads. Long live ‘Bama Bangs."
Too heavy-handed? Too neat and tidy? That’s for the reader to decide, but it’s clear that Travis is at his best when he’s free to riff and rip at will.
Luckily, he spends the majority of Dixieland Delight doing just that. Is it a perfect book with a clear narrative from start to finish? No, but as a series of essays on what football means to the South you’ll be hard pressed to find anything as entertaining as what you have here.
I guess you could say Dixieland Delight is a lot like the conference it’s devoted to: pretty intriguing and unquestionably good, but it would be nice to arrive at that determination on your own.