This “marvelously absorbing” book is “a walk on the wild side of words and ventures into the zone where language and mathematics intersect” (San Jose Mercury News).
A former Wall Street Journal
reporter and NPR regular, Stefan Fatsis recounts his remarkable rise through the ranks of elite Scrabble players while exploring the game’s strange, potent hold over them—and him.
At least thirty million American homes have a Scrabble set—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 earned 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 the author himself, who over the course of the book is transformed from a curious reporter to a confirmed Scrabble nut.
Fatsis 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 farther, 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, “a can’t-put-it-down narrative that dances between memoir and reportage” (Los Angeles Times
Funny, thoughtful, character-rich, unchallengeably winning writing.” —The Atlantic Monthly This edition includes a new afterword by the author.
“Drama, strategy, controversy, pathos. The rich panorama of emotion. Synchronized swimming? No. Scrabble. Who knew?” —Bob Costas, NBC Sports broadcaster and author of Fair Ball
“An engrossing, inside look at the strange and rarefied world of competitive Scrabble. It’s a pleasure to experience vicariously a level of play that I’ll never achieve!” —Will Shortz, The New York Times
crossword editor and master of NPR’s Weekend Edition SundayPuzzle
“As they say in the Scrabble world, Fatsis got great tiles when he set out to write this book—a slew of memorable characters, and a competitive subculture as bizarre as any I’ve ever seen in sport. I really enjoyed WORD FREAK.” —Frank Deford
“‘Word Freak’ is a fascinating look into a thriving, cultish world that’s best admired from an armchair.” —The Christian Science Monitor
“Succeeding, like its author, at everything it tries to be, this funny and engrossing book (it really is hard to put down) is as much about competition and the beauty of words as it is about the quirky and . . . often pathetic subculture of word freaks.” —Book Magazine
Stefan Fatsis is a staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal
and a regular commentator on NPR’s All Things Considered
. He has written for the Associated Press, the Village Voice
, and P.O.V.
magazine, as well as appeared on Good Morning, America
to discuss the 2000 National Scrabble Championship. His first book, Wild and Outside
, about minor-league baseball in Iowa, was described as “an altogether balanced, revealing and enjoyable study” by Kirkus Reviews
. In search of a story idea in 1997, Scrabble amateur Fatsis challenged the head of the National Scrabble Association to a game and won. He has since traveled the country playing in Scrabble tournaments and achieved “expert” status, ranking in the top 10 percent of tournament Scrabble players nationwide.
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