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Hardcover Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players Book

ISBN: 0618015841

ISBN13: 9780618015849

Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players

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Book Overview

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...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Is it love or obsession? Who cares?

Years ago at a friendly kitchen table game of Scrabble my dad excitedly mentioned that they have tournaments for this sort of thing. I thought he was nuts, but a few months later he had won his first tournament in the fifth division at New Albany. When he showed off his winnings, one (frankly goofy) mug, I knew it was all down hill. I watched with a bemused and frightened kind of admiration as he flew cross-country to play in tournaments and memorized world list after word list and his ranking improved. He'd come to visit and tell stories of racks, plays, opponents, wins and losses. None of which I really understood or cared about. But I nodded encouragingly like any good daughter ought to. When my friends talked about how dorky their fathers were, all I had to do was mention my dad plays Scrabble competively and is really pretty good at it. They resigned to my dorky dominance. I always realized my dad was part of some bizzare sunculture, but Word Freak made a few things clear: 1. My dad is execptionally normal in the grand scheme of Scrabble things. 2. He is nowhere near alone. 3. The subculture is much more bizzare and much more developed than I ever knew. I don't read nonfiction, but I felt obliged to read this and I really, really liked it. These characters--these (real) people--are unbelievable and yet believably real. Fatsis does an amazing job of not only presenting them as real (obessed) players, but explaining the profile of a competitive games player. He even makes the history of Scrabble interesting. (How that's possible is beyond me.) It's chracter-driven, entertaining and well written. In short, I loved it.

Fissate Fiestas Satisfy Fascist

The title is all the 7-letter words that can be formed from Fatsis and a blank. Okay, I'm a little biased. .... But seriously, having spent a fair amount of time with the author for the last four years, I can say I was tremendously impressed by the breadth of his research, the depth of his devotion to the subject as well as his own personal quest, and the honesty of his characterizations not only of many people I know well but also of himself. I learned things from this book that I never new about the history of Scrabble despite having been involved for nearly half of the life of the competitive association and having read as many publications as I could that have been generated within its community. I learned things about my fellow players that endeared me even more to some of them. I learned things about Stefan that made me feel we must be somehow related even tho I know we don't share any genes. And wouldn't you know it, on top of it all, I also found out the sonofagun can really write!I have to warn casual players (and readers) that parts of this book may appear to bog down in detailed explanations of how players study word lists and other apparent trivia. But when you reach one of those passages, please remember this is a work of non-fiction, and as such it has a duty to be informative at least part of the time. So skim past the slow passage, and you'll find more rewarding characterizations, beautifully chosen metaphors for the game and the author's struggle to master it, and narration that runs the gamut from poignant to weird to downright hilarious. The great majority of the book is as entertaining as it is informative, so don't stop til you reach the end -- I didn't, and I hadn't finished a book in years.

Work Freak Succeeds on Several Levels

The story of personal achievement in competitive tournament-level Scrabble and trying to place that achievement into context forms the backbone of Word Freak. The result of writing about such an endeavor regarding a board game would most likely result in a slim volume; however, Word Freak is broad in scope. Who knew that a substantial book of 360 pgs could be written about Scrabble? Even as a tournament player of several years, with plenty of my own strategies & stories to tell, I was a bit skeptical at first. Fatsis makes Word Freak succeed by entwining game history, anecdotes, and the stories of very interesting people with his individual achievement of growing from a Scrabble novice into an expert. The result is a very readable book that switches gears every couple of chapters to maintain reader interest. Of particular interest is the history of the Scrabble game, how it changed owners, and how that, in turn, affected the realm of competitive Scrabble players. The book is thorough in representing the types of Scrabble players, including the board blocking blue-hairs, the idiot-savant experts, and even those with normalized social skills. One weakness is that the book occasionally wanders off into detailed strategical explanations, perhaps losing the interest of everyday players. The ultimate reason that Word Freak succeeds is because the story comes back around to the personal experience of the writer, the fact that Scrabble is only a game, and that friends met and challenging one's self along the way is reason enough to be obsessed with Scrabble perfection.

A strange tribe among us

Fatsis spent time with avid scrabble players. Here are his observations. He relates through several dozen loosely linked narrations how the game has been transformed since the 1950s into a community that is strangely both exotic and familiar. This witty book celebrates scrabble as our national mental pasttime. Everyone who likes the game will find her or himself in these pages. With a fresh writing style, he shares a huge amount of information about the way the game is seriously (if not addictively) played without the reader feeling burdened. (Did you know that in any random selection of 7 tiles, there is a 12% chance of a seven letter word appearing?) Fatsis delves in an anthropological way into the life styles of noted participants in the competitive game. Some of these people are poster children for the saying that you either succeed in art or in life but not in both. The author knows how to approach even the most difficult personalities with wit and compassion. He takes the reader to visit lonely geniuses in ill-kept apartments, clubs in New york City which spawned top competitors, competitions in Reno and elsewhere. He recounts the tussles between player associations and the manufacturers as unhappy, comical scenes from a lifelong dysfunctional marriage.Fatsis is, I take it, a sports writer for the Wall Street Journal, and you should take that as an indication he knows how to bridge chasms. Lurking underneath the surface of his prose, I sense a belief in the power of play to discover value in our lives, and what more exquisite play is there but with words? Is it coincidental that during the decades of scrabble's dominance as a pasttime, one of our leading poets, James Merrill, used a Ouija board to help compose poems? There is a genre of books and films which focus on wierd, outcast personalities. Fatsis does spend time in his book at the edge of society. But this is not another story about loners. Fatsis himself is a semi-competitive scrabble player. By projecting himself both as participant and observer, he brings us along to the extent that many readers will find something of themselves in an antic life of competitive play. If you like scrabble, and if you are are curious about how creativity occurs in the world of play, and especially if there is a Walter Mitty crouching inside you, buy this book.

On the Money

As a mid-expert level tournament Scrabble player, I know the game and most of the people who populate this book. I greatly enjoyed this literate and entertaining account of the nature of the game, the often eccentric nature of its top players, and the personal quest of Mr. Fatsis to obtain a degree of mastery of this game which fascinates so many of us.I would think this work would be an interesting read for non-players or less serious players as well--but I may obviously be biased in this regard. Mr. Fatsis was not a "natural" at the game, and had to struggle mightily to conquer both the strategic and word knowledge challenges and his own psyche--struggles with which every competitive Scrabble player can identify. The struggles with his own psyche make compelling reading. . .and could be a metaphor for the difficulties faced by anyone attempting to gain mastery of any competitive endeavor. I suspect the "obsessiveness" required to approach the top of the Scrabble tournament scene is no greater than the obsessiveness required to achieve world class status at any other sport or game.There is probably no subject which can not be made interesting by a talented writer. Mr. Fatsis has turned his considerable skills to a little known competitive sub-culture and produced a riveting tale which runs the gamut from farce to high drama.
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