Monday, December 29, 2008

Book Review: "Word Freak"

Stefan Fatsis' Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players (Houghton Mifflin, 2001) chronicles a year of the author's life as he sinks deeper and deeper into the mindset of professional Scrabble. Not content with observing the culture from the outside, Fatsis jumps in with both feet, determined to earn an "expert" rating from the National Scrabble Association. You'll have to read the book to find out if he does that, but his adventures along the way make for amusing (if somewhat esoteric) reading.

For those of us who enjoy the occasional casual game of Scrabble with friends or family, some (or many) of Fatsis' anecdotes may be a bit of a shock. It's difficult to imagine being so dedicated to the game as to spend years memorizing "good" words (of a certain number of letters, containing a given number of consonants, &c.), but many of those at the top of the game's professional hierarchy do just that (of course, many of them also seem to do little but play Scrabble). The rules for professional play are a little different than those we amateurs are used to (a timer? blech!), and the obsession with ratings and points and missed opportunities all seems a bit mad to me. But then that's why I'm not a professional game-player, I suppose.

Mixed in with the personal quest and the tournament anecdotes are a history of Scrabble's checkered past (no pun intended), plus commentary on the great lexicographical debates over acceptable words and other such matters. I was glad Fatsis threw these in, since I got a bit bored with his recaps of specific games and memorization methods.

If you're a Scrabble fan, I recommend this book. If there's any danger that reading it might cause you to quit your job and start making flash-cards of all allowable five-letter words, though, maybe you'd better leave it alone.

1 comment:

jgodsey said...

you are freaking me out my boy
have you been peeking at my bookcase?