Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive ScrabblePlayers Hardcover – Jun 9 2001
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Like a cross between a linguistic spy and a lexicographic Olympic athlete, journalist Stefan Fatsis gave himself a year to penetrate the highest echelons of international Scrabble competition. Word Freak is the account of his journey. It's a wacky grab bag of travelogue, history, party journal, and psychological study of the misfits and goofballs whose lives are measured out in Scrabble tiles.
Fatsis gives us all the facts about Scrabble--from the story of the down-on-his-luck architect who invented the game in the 1930s to the intricacies of individual international competitions and the corporate wars to control the world's favorite word game. He keeps the reader turning the pages as we get involved in the lives of the Scrabble obsessives: men and women who have a point to prove against the world and have chosen Scrabble as their playground and their pulpit. As Fatsis goes on his own quest to attain the coveted 1600 rating, we actually get obsessed with him as he lies awake at night pondering moves and memorizing lists of words. For anybody who is interested in words, Word Freak provides an entertaining and absorbing read. --Dwight Longenecker, Amazon.co.uk
From Publishers Weekly
It takes a special kind of person to be able to rattle off all the words that start with the letter q but don't require a u or to immediately recognize that the same letters used for the word "troutmania" can also spell "maturation" and "natatorium." These talented individuals are the subject of Fatsis's tell-all on the professional Scrabble realm's inner sanctum. The Wall Street Journal sports reporter (and author of Wild and Outside) began simply as a curious journalist but was soon obsessed, befriending dozens of experts in his passage from "living room player" to the continent's 180th (or so) best player. The book entertainingly and admiringly portrays the irreverent crowd that lives, eats and breathes Scrabble, interspersing mini-profiles with updates on Fatsis's progress and historical facts about the game. Among the cast of characters familiar with words like "eloiners" and "loxodrome" are "G.I." Joel Sherman, who directs the Manhattan Scrabble Club despite his dental problems, asthma attacks and lactose intolerance; Matt Graham, a stand-up comedian who let Scrabble fill the void when he got fired from his gig at Saturday Night Live; and Steve Williams, a Harvard grad with psychiatric problems, also the winner of the 1977 New York City championship. Fatsis gives an in-depth Scrabble history, too from portraying Alfred Butts, the game's meticulous Depression-era inventor, to explaining how Hasbro manages to sell over one million sets a year with minimal advertising. Journalistic, expressive prose helps transform this potentially dry account of some word-obsessed oddballs into a funny, albeit vertical, glimpse at one of America's quirkiest special-interest groups. (July 10)Forecast: Are there 25,000 hardcore Scrabble fans out there? Hard to say, but Houghton Mifflin is counting on it, and in order to reach them, the house is taking an NPR sponsorship (Fatsis is an NPR contributor) and sending the author on a six-city tour. He is booked on the Today Show.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
I would have loved this book a lot more if I enjoyed the writing, which I mostly didn't. I simply don't like Fatsis's style. His tone is uneven, he seems to write for teenagers, and the book is not well organized or conceived. But he's a remarkable researcher and is not afraid to tell it like it is, so I admire him for that.
Reading this book sent me back to my own Scrabble board, which had been gathering dust for some time. Thank you, Mr. Fatsis, for that. Until the obsession again dies down, the words will swirl in my head, and I'll be daydreaming, looking for tags and triple-triples.
At first, the inhabitants of the Scrabble sub-culture are endearing, however over the nearly 400 pages of this account, Fatsis' title tag of "freak" ultimately (and truthfully) rises to the surface. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is the author's own personal journey - from an outsider and Scrabble neophyte (how's that for a word!) to an "expert" ranked player whose obsession with the game nearly rivals the top pro players. It is truly a case of the reporter becoming an integral part of the story as Fastis becomes a full-fledged citizen of this peculiar world. I would guess that this Wall Street Journal sports reporter is still playing competitively these days.
Whether readers who do not have a passing knowledge and interest in Scrabble would enjoy this book is hard to say. For a Scrabble fan such as myself, even I was overwhelmed at times with the minutiae of tournament life and word play. Nevertheless, this is a quite entertaining and readable book. That said, I will happily return to the ignorant bliss of amateur Scrabble where ditching a "z" to spell "zoo" for a measly 12 points is a cool move.
Most recent customer reviews
Stefan Fatsis does an excellent job of describing the characters he meets.
His own Scrabble games are less interesting. Read more
Now a documentary film, this book will make most casual hobbyists who consider themselves pretty good at Scrabble reevaluate their definition of "good. Read morePublished on June 16 2004
"For a moment I wonder, like Roz, what my obsession is proving. Maybe nothing. Maybe more than I care to admit. Read morePublished on April 25 2004 by Dallas B. Koehn
The acquaintance who recommended this book told me it would renew my interest in and excitement about playing Scrabble. Wrong! Read morePublished on Jan. 2 2004 by Amazon Customer
It's amazing to think that something like Scrabble could lead to an all-consuming obsession. I'd always been an avid amateur player and enjoyed the game, but I'd certainly never... Read morePublished on Dec 12 2003
I'm 25, and I can count the number of books I've read since High School on one hand. And this is one of them. Read morePublished on Nov. 23 2003
I haven't played Scrabble in years (& then only as a hobbyist) but you don't have to play Scrabble to like this book. Read morePublished on Nov. 14 2003 by frumiousb
I enjoyed Word Freak tremendously. It is not the kind of book that you have trouble putting down or can't wait to pick up again, but, nonetheless, informative and entertaining. Read morePublished on Oct. 17 2003
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