I can't tell you how many books I've read not by seeing the movie first, but by learning first of the existence of a movie. John Grisham? I heard about the film adaptation of The Firm and how it was going to be a huge blockbuster and that's when I started reading him. I've since stopped, but I stayed with him for a number of years and releases. William Diehl's Primal Fear? I saw the previews for that movie and read it before I saw Ed Norton's brilliant performance of a reasonably good novel.
My first reaction to the television previews for the film The Blind Side was not to see if I could buy it from Sony's eBookstore. It wasn't until a friend of mine, BC's own Jay Skipworth, told me it was based on the true story of Michael Oher that I went and did some research of my own. I learned that A) yes, it was available for $9.99 from the eBookstore and B) was written by the same man who wrote Moneyball.
There are two stories being told in The Blind Side and one of them is much more compelling than the other. I'm a hardcore football fan and I love to learn about the history of the game, the strategies that have won, the men who devised them, and the players who executed them. I love learning about what to watch and what to look for in a game so I can understand it in even greater depth. That said, the football history portion of this book and the Xs and Os is a lot less compelling and interesting than the human drama and the mystery of Michael Oher.
Lewis tries to connect these two threads and he does on some levels, but you don't need as much of the football tutorial to appreciate the Oher story. I found myself frustrated by the segues from one to the other. While it is interesting to learn how the left tackle position became one of the highest-paid positions in professional football and what football teams were willing to do to find someone who could play that position well, Oher's earning potential is only a small part of what makes this story interesting. Every year another athlete becomes the highest paid at his or her position or in his or her sport. The evolution that made the left tackle position is interesting for football fanatics, but the detail with which it is chronicled in The Blind Side is unnecessary for this story.
The Michael Oher-portion of the story is what makes this book worth reading. The inspiring story of a young man overcoming seemingly impossible odds has been told many times throughout history, but Oher's story seems even more impossible than some. Athletic prowess has been a savior for young people time and again. In the case of Oher, an obvious physical talent was nearly missed by everyone. This is one of the places where Lewis' attention to the evolution in pro football is essential to the story. Tens of millions of dollars are spent trying to find someone just like Oher. How, in this day and age, could someone like him be missed? That's the mystery Lewis' book tries to unravel.
In addition to the mystery of the young man himself, Lewis gives insight into the confusing and often-corrupt process of recruiting in major college athletics. Confusing rules with Oher-sized loopholes and questionable commitment to ethics are exposed. Despite the fact that most sports fans know how this story ends, Oher's success seems anything but inevitable. Every step forward is met by a new challenge that seems sure to derail him as well as his new extended family and his new setting.
One of the great things about reading this on my Sony pocket eBook reader was being able to easily bookmark a few of my favorite passages to read to my wife. We do that a lot in our house. My wife is a more avid reader than I am and she's constantly dog-earing pages in her books to read me funny or interesting passages. With my eBook reader, I was able to bookmark a few places with the touch of a single button. At the time this book was written, Nick Saban was head coach at LSU. He's now the head coach at Alabama. His brief mentions in the book illustrate why he was so successful at LSU before moving on to the NFL's Miami Dolphins and now in Tuscaloosa with the Crimson Tide. The other great thing about the eBook experience was the easy portability of the pocket reader. Physical books are still great but they aren't always easy to manipulate on the go. The eReader is, and it's one of the reasons I've become such a big fan of these devices.
The eBook edition of The Blind Side contains an afterward in which Lewis discusses how he became aware of the story and the reaction he's gotten to it. Almost as depressing as some of the obstacles that could have derailed Oher's ascent is that a story as inspiring as this can't be universally celebrated. It's not surprising some people in the book don't love the way they were portrayed. It's also not surprising some political and activist groups have seized on this story to bolster their particular world view, but it is disheartening. To borrow from our sixteenth president, you should be able to please all the people some of the time. Oher beat the odds, and The Blind Side is a well-written account of that triumph. I'm not sure if the movie can deliver the way the book does. The good news is it doesn't have to. My copy of The Blind Side is still safely tucked away on my eBook reader, bookmarked and ready to be read again — and it will be.