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Authors in L.A.: Buzz Bissinger, Richard Ford and Joe Pantoliano

May 28, 2012 | 12:15 pm


The writer Buzz Bissinger, who appears in Pasadena on Tuesday (details below), has one of those names that feels made up for a superhero comic book.

Over the years, however, the quality of his work has made him one of the finest narrative nonfiction writers we have. Bissinger, whose full name is Harry Gerard Bissinger III, is the author of three highly acclaimed nonfiction books — “Friday Night Lights,” “A Prayer for the City” and “Three Nights in August.” He’s written for Vanity Fair, the Daily Beast, Sports Illustrated and the New York Times Magazine and was coproducer and writer for the ABC television show "NYPD Blue." As a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, he shared a Pulitzer Prize for a series of stories on that city’s court system. He’s also been a Nieman Fellow at Harvard. 

He’s probably most famous for “Friday Night Lights,” his book on the Permian High School Panthers of Odessa, Texas, and how that town’s devotion to its football team shaped the community and the players. That book, which has sold nearly 2 million copies, was the basis for the hit movie and television show.

My own favorite, “Three Nights in August,” is one of the more fascinating works on baseball to come out in recent years. Bissinger had tremendous access to the St. Louis Cardinals and their now former manager Tony LaRussa. Using the prism of a three-game series against the rival Chicago Cubs, Bissinger captures the strategies and nuances of one of baseball's most successful managers.

In his latest, "Father's Day: A Journey Into the Mind & Heart of My Extraordinary Son," Bissinger leaves narrative nonfiction behind to tell the story of his relationship with one of his twin sons, Zach, a savant, who was born three-minutes after his brother Gerry (both were premature) in 1983. The book traces their relationship against the backdrop of a cross-country road trip. The book has received praise from Susan Orlean, who called it “blunt, tender, sometimes harrowing, and always affecting,” and J.R. Moehringer, who called it “a fiercely honest memoir about the complex hard drive of a son’s brain and the balky software of a father’s heart.”

Our weekly roundup of writers coming to town also includes Richard Ford (who also admires Bissinger’s book) and actor Joe Pantoliano.

As always, we suggest you check with the specific venue for changes in start times or late cancellations.

Tuesday, May 29, 7 p.m. Buzz Bissinger discusses and signs “Father’s Day: A Journey Into the Mind and Heart of My Extraordinary Son.” Vroman’s

Tuesday, May 29, 7:30 p.m. Mark Dery discusses and signs his essay collection “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts.” Skylight Books.

Wednesday, May 30, 7 p.m. Bethenny Frankel signs her novel “Skinnydipping.” Vroman’s

Wednesday, May 30, 7 p.m. Joe Pantoliano presents his memoir “Asylum: Hollywood Tales from My Great Depression: Brain Dis-Ease, Recovery, and Being My Mother’s Son.” Barnes & Noble, 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica

Thursday, May 31, 7 p.m. Novelist Richard Ford in conversation with Michael Silverblatt at L.A. Public Library’s Mark Taper Auditorium as part of the ALOUD series.

Thursday, May 31, 7 p.m. Cherene Sherrard-Johnson discusses her book “Dorothy West’s Paradise: A Biography of Class and Color.” Eso Won Bookstore

Thursday, May 31, 7 p.m. Claire Bedell Smith, Kristen Weber, Rebecca Rasmussen and Claire LaZebnik discuss the anthology “Wedding Cake for Breakfast: Essays on the Unforgettable First Year of Marriage.” Barnes & Noble, 3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica.

Thursday, May 31, 7:30 p.m. Launch party for Gary Phillips' book "Monkology: 15 Stories from the World of Private Eye Ivan Monk." Mysterious Galaxy Books, Redondo Beach

Sunday, June 3, 4 p.m. Nell Freudenberger discusses and signs her novel “The Newlyweds.” Book Soup.

-- Jon Thurber, book editor

 Photo: Buzz Bissinger, left, with son Zach. Credit: Robert L. Smith