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on February 18, 2016
read it in 1 sitting
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on October 17, 2012
Stefan Fatsis does an excellent job of describing the characters he meets.
His own Scrabble games are less interesting. Many of his plays are bluffs, so the strategy is not enhanced by knowledge.
The book convinced me that I will never enter a tournament, but it would be fun to go and watch!
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on June 16, 2004
Now a documentary film, this book will make most casual hobbyists who consider themselves pretty good at Scrabble reevaluate their definition of "good." An insider's look at the quirky, eccentric and colorful world of competitive Scrabble, amateur wordsmiths' jealousy and awe may be tempered after the players' lives are described. Many are mono-maniacs who put themselves on elaborate regimens of herbal and energy-boosting supplements, but not all are so focused. Some have other interests, some spend most of their time inside poring over word lists and memorizing strategies. While it is tempting to label these players crazy, we should remember that all passions to some extent lead to madness, if you pursue them to the highest level.
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on April 25, 2004
"For a moment I wonder, like Roz, what my obsession is proving. Maybe nothing. Maybe more than I care to admit. With the board and tiles and word books splayed across my living room, and my regular circuit of tournaments, and leaving work early on Thursdays to get to the club on time, I have managed to reorder my life so that I can play a board game. This doesn't seem healthy, especially because I still suck. But it doesn't seem avoidable, either. I entered this world because it was a curiosity, a good story. Then it became an infatuation. I'm having trouble typing these words, but right now Scrabble is the most important thing in my life."
Stefan Fatsis sets out to report on the world of competitive Scrabble and ends up getting sucked in beyond what he'd intended for his story. As expected, this book is very much about the game, and between the stories of the people he meets, the strange drama of the national and international tournament systems, and the history of the game itself, Fatsis has put together an intriguing little story. A strange story, to be sure, about strange people, but an interesting little diversion--if that's all he'd managed.
But somehow, in examining this quirky subculture of which he becomes a part (and himself as he becomes a part of it), Fatsis exposes far more universal truths about personal validation, self-identity, and the realities we create around ourselves. I'm not even sure he means to, so absorbed is he in his quest for 'the total game.' Sometimes he's a bit tedious about this or that anagram or the possibilities for such and such word combination--but that's what 'those people' do. I'm left haunted by the uncomfortable suspicion, though, that most of the rest of us are similarly off-center, almost as unbalanced, and just as desperate for validation in our own misfit little portions of the world.
Fortunately the individuals portrayed are sympathetic characters more than pathetic ones, and it's not so bad to feel connected to most of them. I'm pretty sure there's a lesson implicit in Word Freak about life involving luck side by side with choices and skill, and being all you can be, and even something about how you play being more important than how you rank against others. But seeing as how such sentimental melodrama makes me sick, I think I'll just stick with "Great book! It's about these people who are REALLY into Scrabble."
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on January 2, 2004
The acquaintance who recommended this book told me it would renew my interest in and excitement about playing Scrabble. Wrong! The message I took away from this read is renewed belief that human beings can pervert just about anything.
Another reviewer mentioned her offense at the author's denegration of "blue hairs," as he likes to call female senior citizens. He also seems to disdain "fat middle aged women," whom he refers to several times and whom he is humiliated to lose to. Later in the book, he deigns to devote a couple of pages to female Scrabble players and explains that, although they outnumber male players in tournaments, they are not competitive at the highest levels -- mostly because they have lives apart from Scrabble (like jobs, family, friends) -- unlike the obsessive male Scrabble players who dominate the book, several of whom seem to be genuinely mentally ill.
If I had any ideas of joining a Scrabble club or doing anything more than playing occasionally with my sister, this book squelched those desires. And perhaps it's just as well. As a fat middle-aged women about 10 years short of a blue-hair, I am probably better off sticking with quilting and needlepoint where I can be with my own kind.
I have rated this book 3 stars because Fatsis does have a way of drawing me into the book. Just when I'm ready to set it aside, either because the technical detail is boring or because I'm offended by his treatment of women, he manages to recapture my attention. It's not a page turner, but I feel compelled to finish reading it.
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on December 12, 2003
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 spent hours combing the dictionary for new words. Yet in Fatsis' book, we get an opportunity to take a brief glimpse into the worlds of those who do, and to witness Fatsis' own growing compulsion to reach the somewhat dubious goal of Scrabble perfection.
That said, I'll admit that I had a copy of the Official Scrabble Player's Dictionary (or the OSPD, as it's referred to among the hard-core players), some word lists, and a stack of flash cards by the time I was done reading the book. The intensity of the prose and the obvious enthusiasm of the people involved drew me into their world whether I had intended to go or not. After all, how could I not admire the foreign players that routinely play words that I'd never consider getting on the board, even though they have no clue what they mean? How could I not respect the acumen of those that pick typos out of the Oxford English Dictionary, or even notice that the older Scrabble boxes show tiles with the wrong point values, or anagram a paragraph of text at a time? From the first page to the last, the book offers a view of a unique subculture, in which it is impossible to escape the allure of the words. When I reached the appendix, in which Fastis lists all of the words in the book that were not Tournament-legal, I could tell how his report on this topic had drawn him in. When I went to verify some of the book's stranger words in my copy of the OSPD, I realized how successfully he had drawn me in as well.
An excellent read, but make sure you have some free time to deal with the inevitable obsession.
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on November 23, 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. Given to me by my sister-in-law (who knows I play scrabble online) I was hesitant. When I started reading I found I could not put the book down. Even when i was done with it I bookmarked certain sections (tricks the author or players use) to read them at a later time. The book can get a tad bit technical at some points, but the story behind it is definately clear.
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on November 14, 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. It's a terrific read for anyone who's ever been competitive and an interesting meditation on the roles that both discipline and talent play in becoming really great at something.
Fatsis starts off wanting to document people who are obsessive about Scrabble and ends up obsessive himself. An interesting and seemingly honest look at his own journey while at the same time a good portrait of the Scrabble-playing world.
Suitable for many people on your gift list, I should think.
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on October 17, 2003
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. While I do not have blue hair (although I'm probably in that age category), I took offense to his obvious abhorrence of blue-hairs (I don't think I've seen blue hair since the early '50s)and the connotation was used all through the book. I almost trashed it 20 times, but being such a good read, decided to finish it, and glad I did.
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on October 10, 2003
This was about scrabble, but it could just have easily been about chess or horseracing or even golf. The portraits of personalities are fascinating. I hope that someday he'll write a follow-up book, a whatever-happened-to accounting of the participants. I don't play scrabble either; but I understand the universal compulsion toward obsession. A great read!
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