This “marvelously absorbing” book is “a walk on the wild side of words and ventures into the zone where language and mathematics intersect” (San Jose Mercury News).
A former Wall Street Journal reporter and NPR regular, Stefan Fatsis recounts his remarkable rise through the ranks of elite Scrabble players while exploring the game’s strange, potent hold over them—and him.
At least thirty million American homes have a Scrabble set—but the game’s most talented competitors inhabit a sphere far removed from the masses of “living room players.” Theirs is a surprisingly diverse subculture whose stars include a vitamin-popping standup comic; a former bank teller whose intestinal troubles earned him the nickname “G.I. Joel”; a burly, unemployed African American from Baltimore’s inner city; the three-time national champion who plays according to Zen principles; and the author himself, who over the course of the book is transformed from a curious reporter to a confirmed Scrabble nut.
Fatsis begins by haunting the gritty corner of a Greenwich Village park where pickup Scrabble games can be found whenever weather permits. His curiosity soon morphs into compulsion, as he sets about memorizing thousands of obscure words and fills his evenings with solo Scrabble played on his living room floor. Before long he finds himself at tournaments, socializing—and competing—with Scrabble’s elite.
But this book is about more than hardcore Scrabblers, for the game yields insights into realms as disparate as linguistics, psychology, and mathematics. Word Freak extends its reach even farther, pondering the light Scrabble throws on such notions as brilliance, memory, competition, failure, and hope. It is a geography of obsession that celebrates the uncanny powers locked in all of us, “a can’t-put-it-down narrative that dances between memoir and reportage” (Los Angeles Times).
“Funny, thoughtful, character-rich, unchallengeably winning writing.” —The Atlantic Monthly
This edition includes a new afterword by the author.