I got really into Scrabble last year after I installed the Facebook application Scrabulous. Because I’m an English major, everyone assumes I’m better at Scrabble than I actually am; in truth, I pretty much suck at the game. Why? I simply don’t have the dedication. It takes a weird sort of passion to be really great at Scrabble, and it’s this passion that comes through in Stefan Fatsis’s book Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumpth, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players.
Word Freak is a book about the the world of competitive Scrabble. To tell the story, Fatsis chronicles his own quest to rise to the top of the competitive Scrabble field — starting from his novice days of memorizing the two-letter word lists and ending with his competition at the National Scrabble Tournament. It’s a really cool example of participatory reporting, and Fatsis often makes remarks about the process of writing the book in the narrative itself.
Fatsis uses his participatory lens to profile many of the other Scrabble players and the game itself. This gives him a sympathetic and understanding way to explain his characters which I liked. At the same time, we also learn the history of Scrabble like how it was turned into consistently high-selling game and some of the quirks and secret passions behind the world’s best Scrabble players.
At 366 pages, the book starts to feel long near the end, I think at the point where Fatsis stops reporting on others and starts focusing on himself exclusively. I liked reading about the characters that are amazing at Scrabble, people like Joe Edley, the professional Scrabble administrator and zen player of the group, or G.I. Joel Sherman, a professional hypochondriac without a full-time job. The book is best when Fatsis focuses on their stories because, really, he couldn’t invent better characters if he tried.
I think I liked this book so much because it reminds of a quote from Susan Orlean in The Orchid Thief:
I suppose I do have one unembarassing passion. I want to know what it feels like to care about something passionately.
I love to understand what makes people tick, to really know what they are passionate about because I sometimes feel that I’m not really passionate about anything. At it’s best, Word Freak is a book about being passionate — about playing a game, achieving a goal, inventing something new, or just living life doing what makes you feel complete. It’s quirky and weird, but in the end who has passions that aren’t a little bit strange?
Links to Enjoy:
- Word Wars — the official site of the movie about competitve Scrabble
- Word Freak at Google Books
- An interview with Stefan Fatsis by Spike Magazine
- Stefan Fatsis personal webpage, Stefanfatsis.com
If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!