The Bookshelf: Joseph Monninger on Football and Fighting the Odds

Feb 5, 2018

Joseph Monninger.
Credit Peter Biello/NHPR

This is the Bookshelf from NHPR. I'm Peter Biello. This Super Bowl Sunday, people all over the country turned on their televisions to watch the New England Patriots face the Philadelphia Eagles. Among those watching: New Hampshire author Joseph Monninger. He's a Pats fan, but he says he can't believe he still watches football.


"It is a wickedly violent game. I watch it and I kind of close my eyes. And politically, the amount of money we as a country spend on building stadiums and putting out police forces and flying jets over stadiums is problematic to me."

We spoke at his home in Warren, New Hampshire, where he lives and writes. His latest novel is called Game Change, and it's the story of a young man named Zeb who is tapped to start in the football game that could earn a state title for his team, the Rumney Raiders. For Zeb, this could mean a football scholarship to college. It could lift him out of a life of poverty. 

"I'm really interested in rural poverty, kids who are maybe fighting against the odds, and Zeb is one of those characters. He comes from a tough background and this football chance is an opportunity for him."


Game Change follows Zeb the week before the big game. The town makes a huge fuss about him. He's written about in the Union Leader. Everywhere he goes, people want to talk about the big game. It seems as though the town's hopes, its pride, its image of itself, all rest on Zeb's young shoulders. Through it all, Zeb seems to wonder: is this what I want?


"Even playing football for him is, in some ways, against his best interests, because he's spending his afternoons practicing what is essentially a meaningless game, when he should maybe, you could argue, be making a living doing odd jobs or doing other things. So football is a questionable pursuit for him, although he loves it."


For Joseph Monninger, football was not a way out of a life of poverty, though he got a football scholarship to Temple University. Here in his writing studio in Warren, he still has a couple of old football plaques and statues from his high school days in New Jersey. He says that back then, high school football was huge. Thousands of people would show up to the games. "We had one of those legendary coaches who won like a hundred games  and lost two, and it was always a surprise if he lost anything at all. It was great. It  was a wonderful experience playing football as a boy."


That's Joseph Monninger. His new book is called Game Change. And you can find a list of the top five books on Joseph's bookshelf, as well as our conversation about his previous book, The Map That Leads to You, at


We're always looking for reading recommendations from listeners like you. You can send them by email. The address is Tell us your name and your town and a few lines about the book you like so much.  Remember you can also tweet us @nhprbookshelf. This is the Bookshelf on NHPR. I'm Peter Biello. Thanks very much for listening.