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Stefan Fatsis, a Wall Street Journal reporter and National Public Radio regular, recounts his remarkable rise through the ranks of elite Scrabble players while exploring the game's strange, potent hold over them -- and him.
Scrabble might truly be called America's game. More than two million sets are sold every year and at least thirty million American homes have one. But the game's most talented competitors inhabit a sphere far removed from the masses of "living room players." Theirs is a surprisingly diverse subculture whose stars include a vitamin-popping standup comic; a former bank teller whose intestinal troubles earn him the nickname "G.I. Joel"; a burly, unemployed African American from Baltimore's inner city; the three-time national champion who plays according to Zen principles; and Fatsis himself, who we see transformed from a curious reporter to a confirmed Scrabble nut.
He begins by haunting the gritty corner of a Greenwich Village park where pickup Scrabble games can be found whenever weather permits. His curiosity soon morphs into compulsion, as he sets about memorizing thousands of obscure words and fills his evenings with solo Scrabble played on his living room floor. Before long he finds himself at tournaments socializing -- and competing -- with Scrabble's elite.
But this book is about more than hardcore Scrabblers, for the game yields insights into realms as disparate as linguistics, psychology, and mathematics. WORD FREAK extends its reach even further, pondering the light Scrabble throws on such notions as brilliance, memory, competition, failure, and hope. It is a geography of obsession that celebrates the uncanny powers locked in all of us.
"Surprisingly, one pleasure of reading this I-was-there journalistic account of total immersion in competitive Scrabble playing is also the main pleasure of reading most novels. For in WORD FREAK reporter Stefan Fatsis introduces us to various characters, all fervent professional Scrabble players, who are neither good nor evil but just strange enough to make excellent temporary companions for readers."
Molly McQuade, Washington Post Book World, 08/12/2001Review:
"Fatsis is a wonderful writer, and one of the charms of WORD FREAK is his ability to analyze the workings of obsession even while recognizing it in himself."
Patricia T. O'Conner, New York Times Book Review, 08/26/2001
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