Word Freak, by Stefan Fatsis

I picked this book up a while back, started reading it, and then forgot about it in favor of made-up stories. Word Freak wasn’t boring, exactly, but it wasn’t as exciting as other books that I had piled up, and so off to the side it went. And then I discovered it was due back to the library, with no chance to renew it, and the book proved its interestingness by popping right back into my hands rather than going back to the library unread.

I picked this book up because it promised, right on the cover, to be about “Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive SCRABBLE Players,” and I am nothing if not a giant nerd for all things words. I don’t play Scrabble very often, but I used to play the Yahoo! Games version constantly in high school and I’ve always been a pretty okay player against my friends, largely because I know a lot of words.

But dudes. I would have no chance against any of the players in this book, even the author. I sort of knew that there was a competitive Scrabble community, but I did not realize the extent of the memorizing and calculating and sheer mental strength having that members of said community possess. Playing upwards of 10 games in a tournament on a fairly regular basis? I would be bored after, like, three. All of which I would have lost due to not knowing really really really obscure words and anagrams and how to manage a rack or the board or my brain.

Fatsis plopped himself into this world ten-ish years ago, first to write this book and then because he was obsessed. So about half the book is Fatsis talking about other players and their strange, Scrabble-obsessed lives and the other half is him talking about omg why is his rating so baaaaaad? Which it’s not, of course, but people who are really good at things are also really good at thinking they’re bad at things.

I think the best parts of this book were the games themselves; I enjoyed seeing strange words score lots of points and especially to see an interesting board layout. But I also thought it was interesting to see what sorts of people are the high-rated experts in competitive Scrabble… Fatsis focuses on some of the craziest people, though he insists that there are sane people who are good at Scrabble. These crazy people tend to have no jobs or lives outside of the game, and yet somehow their weird quirks and whatnot start to seem normal as the book goes on.

And now I’m itching to break out my Travel Scrabble set, except that those tiles are so hard to pop into the little holders! I should really get a real board.

Recommendation: Read this if you like to read interesting stories about oddly interesting people, or if you think you’re good at Scrabble, because you’re probably not.

Rating: 7/10
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