Friday, December 09, 2005

Booknote: Fried Twinkies, Buckle Bunnies, and Bull Riders

Title: Fried Twinkies, Buckle Bunnies, and Bull Riders: A Year Inside the Professional Bull Riders Tour
Author: Josh Peter
Publication Information: Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 2005
ISBN: 1-59486-119-6
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Sports
Pages: 238

What little I knew about bull riders I pretty much caught watching television. I have been caught flipping channels and watching the OLN broadcasts of bull riding competitions. Therefore, when I came across this book, I was curious, and I picked it up. I am glad I did. Josh Peter spent a year with the PBR Tour, getting to know the riders and their stories as well as the politics and folklore of the PBR organization. In the process, he is on a quest to find a deep fried twinkie, a treat in some concession stands at fairs and other events.

This book is a moving and at times humorous account of the lives of the riders and other people involved in the PBR. By other people, I mean the contractors who provide the bulls, the safety people who distract the bulls to keep riders safe (formerly the rodeo clowns, but they do not wear white faces or clown outfits anymore), the administrators and officers of the PBR, the fans, and the buckle bunnies, who are the groupies that follow the riders. We also learn about the bulls themselves, and they are as important to the event as the riders. You can't have one without the other. In fact, the bulls compete for a Bull of the Year Award, which nets some financial bonuses for the owner. The riders compete for a one million dollar purse and the championship buckle, but it is a long and arduous journey to even get to the finals.

The book is interesting and engaging. It gives good details of the events and the rides, and it also tells the stories of the riders in the tour. Riders from around the world come to the United States to compete in the PBR: Brazilians, Australians, and Canadians amongst others. They compete out of passion. Some compete out of college; others never went to college. When compared to other sports, the pay is extremely poor, and the risks are extremely high. Risks range from bad injuries to paralysis to even death. Peters provides details of the various injuries the riders endure, and very often the riders ride with lesions or injuries. The details are so good that at times readers may flinch in pain. As for the riders, they are all looking for a good 8 second ride. I learned in reading this book that 8 seconds may not be a long time, but it can be an eternity for the riders as they strive to stay on their bulls. What emerges from the narrative is a very human portrait of these folks from the riders who are very spiritual to the ones who are, shall we say, more worldly. We also get a glimpse at their families and what they endure as the riders chase their dreams. Often they have to pay out of their pocket to travel to the competitions, and if they do not win, they barely make enough to make it to the next event.

This is one of the best books in nonfiction I have read this year. Readers do not have to be fans or even know much about professional bull riding to enjoy it. However, I think that people who do follow the PBR will likely enjoy this book as they read about stars like Justin McBride, Mike Lee, and Jody Newberry. It has a good pace, so the book moves along. Before you know it, you are done. As for the fried twinkies, he did find them, in a very interesting place.

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