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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive ScrabblePlayers » User review

A "Paper Lion" of the logophiles

  • Oct 6, 2007
A friend loaned me this book about the time we were attempting to create an intraoffice Scrabble tournament (and she was in the process of proving how very much better she is than I am at this game). The most obvious thing Stefan Fatsis' skilled reporting demonstrates is the vast gulf that exists between casual players like us and the handful of top players for whom the game can be a time-consuming, even life-consuming, obsession.

It's a world that's hard for me to understand, in part because my competitive gene is relatively underdeveloped. What makes "Word Freak" particularly interesting, however, is watching the author himself slowly transforming from outsider into one of the inner, obsessive corps of championship-level players. Unlike, say, "Wild and Outside: How a Renegade Minor League Revived the Spirit of Baseball in America's Heartland," in which Fatsis was able to retain reportorial objectivity, here he becomes part of his story -- "new journalism," of a sort, and Fatsis makes several references to George Plimpton and his sojourn in the NFL.

On the whole, "Word Freak" is a fairly remarkable piece of writing -- part memoir, part history, part nature journal. The author paints memorable pictures of his central characters, one that made me want to look them up and see how they're doing (or even if some of them are still alive) five years after the fact. Equally memorable is his portrayal of himself, and his ability to retain a certain distance from the change he's undergoing while, at the same time, experiencing it fully. For the reader, the ride can be simultaneously entertaining and disturbing as we see Scrabble as both a game and a mania. It's a combination that makes for a book most readers, I'd expect, won't soon forget ... particularly since so many of us probably have a Scrabble set of our own gathering dust in a bookshelf or closet.

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Andrew S. Rogers ()
Ranked #362
Mostly, I'm a moderately prolific Amazon.com reviewer who's giving Lunch a try as another venue for my reviews.
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About this book


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 Freakis 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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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ISBN-10: 0142002267
ISBN-13: 978-0142002261
Author: Stefan Fatsis
Genre: Entertainment
Publisher: Penguin
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