Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competiti

by Stefan Fatsis (BOOKRAY) | Biographies & Memoirs |
ISBN: 0142002267 Global Overview for this book
Registered by grover3d of Charleston, West Virginia USA on 3/25/2003
Buy from one of these Booksellers:
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15 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by grover3d from Charleston, West Virginia USA on Tuesday, March 25, 2003
This book was my favorite read of 2002 - it is wonderfully written and truly compelling look at....yes, it's true, the world of the serious tournmanent SCRABBLE players and how the author became enmeshed in the game himself. You would be hard pressed to find a more interesting group of characters, and you DON'T need to be a Scrabble player to enjoy (but I'll bet you'll want to go buy a board afterward!).

From the back of the book:

"SCRABBLE may be truly called America's game. But for every group of "living room players" there is someone who is "at one with the board." Stefan Fatsis, journalist and self-described "word freak," explores the underground world of colorful characters for which the SCRABBLE game is life. Playing competitively in tournament across the country, all are members of diverse subculture whose stars range from a vitamin-popping standup comic to a burly, unemployed African American from Baltimore's inner city to the three-time national champion who plays according to Zen principles. Along the way, Fatsis chroncicles the story of how the SCRABBLE game has grown from a diversion invented by an unemployed architect during the great Depression into the hugely successful, challenging, and beloved game of today. More than a book about hardcore SCRABBLE players, WORD FREAK is also an examination of notions of brilliance, memory, language, competition, and the mind that celebrates the uncanny creative powers in us all."

I enjoyed this book so much that when I passed along my well-loved copy to my mother, my next thought was I MUST get this on BookCrossing, so I bought this copy especially for a book ring. Hope you enjoy!

Journal Entry 2 by grover3d from Charleston, West Virginia USA on Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Signups are on-going. List order may change until March 27. After that time people will go on the list in the order the request is received. ****PLEASE USE DELIVERY CONFIRMATION (from USPS, 55 cents) IF MAILING US ADDRESS TO US ADDRESS****

I hope all participants will sign their BCID, location and the date somewhere in the book. Rather than release the book at the end I'm going to have it come back to me and we'll auction it off (maybe at a BookCrossing convention?) for the benefit of the site. Enjoy!


Signups are on-going. List order may change until March 27. After that time people will go on the list in the order the request is received. Enjoy!

1. tamarabk - Everett, WA
2. Cpetersky - Bellevue, WA
3. moogyTee - Sacramento, CA
4. StillHot - Carmichael, CA
5. bookcookie39 - Newbury Park, CA
6. sgscarcliff - San Francisco, CA
7. idioteqnician - Montreal, Quebec, Canada***
8. AmusedOne - Owings Mills, MD
9. kalipriestess - Tallahassee, FL
10. bunzrun - Wirtz, VA
11. greedyreader - Oakland, NJ
12. MaryZee - Taneytown, MD
13. Pencilpush - Lancaster, PA
14. Libby2 - Omaha, NE
15. stinalyn - Springfield, MO
16. salemmouse - Byron, MN
17. debnance - Alvin, TX
18. lavatea - Huntsville, TX
19. IACBY - Cave Creek, AZ
20. swejeety - Seattle, WA
21. djf1968 - San Ramon, CA
22. yazi - Chicago, IL
23. karoda - Louisville, KY
24. sejent - Louisville, KY
25. nikel27 - Ginsheim, Hessen, Germany
26. Hero - Dublin, Ireland
27. fflloorr - Lisbon, Portugal
28. Myntti - Tampere, Lansi-Suomen Iaani, Finland
29. suzen - Montreuil, France
30. Sarah-Melbourne - Melbourne, Australia
31. linnefaulk - Wesley Chapel, FL
32. phillycarol - King of Prussia, PA
33. baronreads - Sugargrove, IL
34. minerswifebb - Greenwood, British Columbia, Canada
35. cestmoi - Toronto, Ontario, Canada
36. jenny-lou-who - Kingston, Ontario, Canada
37. stardustnf - St. John's Newfoundland, Canada
38. alsomama - Seattle, WA
39. annulla - Brooklyn, NY
40. Lizanne - Madison, NJ
41. skcreader - Roanoke, VA
42. Pinewood21093 - Towson, MD
43. lightwavz - Detroit, MI
44. WittyJean - Fort Collins, CO
45. LFL676 - West Springfield, MA
46. passiontree - Portland, OR
47. JDT - Pleasanton, CA
48. gnissorckoob - Miami, FL
49. Roadrunner - Spring, TX
50. Herrundmeyer - Buer, Westfalen, Germany
51. mojitopt - Munich, Bavaria, Germany
52. LeapingLizzards - Fort Meyers, AL
53. uofigirl - Chicago, IL
54. avanta - Little Rock, AR
55. kafka - Phoenix, AZ
56. LeighBCD - London, England
57. talkland - Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK
58. jkate - Pleasant Hill, CA
59. geniedances - Houston, TX
60. robotti - Princeton, NJ
61. CurtAngel - Oklahoma City, OK
62. FutureCat - Christchurch, Canterbury, NZ
63. Genevalove - Bethesda, MD
64. 16stepper - Gilbert, AZ
65. fly46 - Kingsville, OH
66. pammyBABY - Burlington, VT
67. celticoracle - Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
68. gumshoe007 - Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
69. fuji - Sydney, NSW, Australia
70. grover3d - Charleston, WV (home)

Journal Entry 3 by tamarabk from Lynnwood, Washington USA on Monday, March 31, 2003
How exciting!! Word Freak arrived at my office today and I will start reading it tonight. I know there is a long list for this one and I will send it to the next person this week, as soon as I am finished. Thanks, grover3d!!

Journal Entry 4 by tamarabk from Lynnwood, Washington USA on Tuesday, April 01, 2003
This was an fun and informative read. Word Freak does for Scrabble what Midnight For Good and Evil did for Savannah. The book gives us not only the story, but the story behind the story of the game and of the obbsessive and eccentric group of people who play it at the professional level.
There is almost no money in this game - not even for the World Champions - so it was amazing to me that so many people choose Scrabble as not just recreation, but vocation, and a way of life.
This book introduces us to a cast of colorful, real - life characters who live, eat, and breathe for the game. People who, in my opinoion, have actually transcended the game to become not just players, but artists.
Equally fascinating to me, as a word lover, was the use of words that have almost no utility and certainly no recognition in real life. Words in professional Scrabble are regarded as entirely seperate from their meaning. The important thing are the letters that you string together, thus enabling you to play the game. Perhaps this is why the Scrabble community was in an uproar when the powers that be disallowed certain offensive words and racial epitaphs. In professional Scrabble definitions are irrelevent.
A fun, quick interesting read.
I am sending this today to cpetersky in Bellevue, WA - I hope she enjoys it!!

Journal Entry 5 by Cpetersky from Seattle, Washington USA on Thursday, April 03, 2003
I can't believe I'm just number two on the list for this bookring, and the responsibility for reading it quickly already is pressing upon me. Luckily (?) my daughter is home sick from school today, so I may get enough sofa time to be able to dig in.

Journal Entry 6 by Cpetersky from Seattle, Washington USA on Sunday, April 06, 2003
One thing that struck me very hard throughout the book is that I am convinced that most (if not all) of the expert players described in the book have Asperger's Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism. While the author doesn't go out and say this specifically (twice he makes a reference to Rain man, the closest he comes), there's just too many signs of AS in these people: the prodigious memorization skills, some notably can't make eye contact, the obsessive and single-minded focus on the game, the eccentricities, the inability of many of them to deal with other human beings, even the divorce between the words as meaningful and as being the means to the game -- the list goes on. Since I've got family members with AS, I am familiar with what these people can be like. I am curious if anyone else who reads this book agrees.

I'll be sending the book on to moogyTee.

Journal Entry 7 by moogytee from Sacramento, California USA on Tuesday, April 15, 2003
Word Freak has arrived! Yay! I am all set to start digging into this book tonight. Cpetersky enclosed another book as a RABCK with this one -- what an unexpected treat. Bookcrossers are the best!

Journal Entry 8 by moogytee from Sacramento, California USA on Friday, April 18, 2003
I'm only on page 75 and I've already played my best game of Scrabble ever -- 330 points. Woohoo!

Journal Entry 9 by moogytee from Sacramento, California USA on Sunday, April 27, 2003
I finished this book late last night while the stray kitten who followed me home on Wednesday slept on my lap. :)

I really enjoyed this book. It also helped me improve my Scrabble strategy, though certainly not at all to the extent of the champion players profiled in the book. I was especially intrigued by the discussion of why the vast majority of expert Scrabble players are men, particularly that single-minded devotion to something essentially inconsequential that men are so capable of ... LOL.

I PMed StillHot a few days ago; still awaiting a response. Will send the book as soon as I hear back.

Thanks, grover3d, for sharing this book. I look forward to reading of its travels.

Journal Entry 10 by moogytee at Postal Release in Sacramento, California USA on Friday, May 02, 2003
Released on Friday, May 02, 2003 at Postal Release in Sacramento, California USA.

Media Mail to StillHot ... enjoy!

Journal Entry 11 by StillHot from Carmichael, California USA on Wednesday, May 28, 2003
I read this book as part of a book ray (or ring, I've forgotten which it is!) I originally signed up for it because it sounded interesting-the world of competitive Scrabble! Also, since the author is a well-known Wall Street Journal journalist, I had read some of his writing before and had been impressed by him. I was not disappointed. This book, rather technical at times, nevertheless was fascinating, dealing with a community I did not know existed. The characters and situations were well described and very vivid in my mind. This is made all the more so interesting in that it is factual, about real events and real people. To read of Scrabble competitions and the persons attracted to that world, could be dreadfully boring, but Stefan Fatsis made this definately a better read-one I'd recommend to others.

Journal Entry 12 by bookcookie39 from Simi Valley, California USA on Friday, June 06, 2003
Just came in today's mail - thanks to StillHot! I'm excited to be part of this HUGE bookring and have been looking forward to reading this for awhile, after seeing so many great reviews of it and recognizing the author from NPR (he's on "All Things Considered" most Fridays). I know what I'll be doing this weekend....

Journal Entry 13 by bookcookie39 from Simi Valley, California USA on Sunday, June 22, 2003
First, many thanks to grover3d for starting this bookring! I really enjoyed this book - so much that I have bought a keeper copy and two copies to give away. One of those has already gone to my Scrabble-hobbyist dad, but I'm not sure who'll get the second yet...

I found nearly every aspect of this book interesting - the history and development of the game, discussions of word lists and player strategies, accounts of tournaments, and the author's personal mission to go from novice to expert rating in a year. The descriptions of the "subculture" of competitive Scrabble and portraits of some of its participants were the most fascinating to me, though. I worked for the American Contract Bridge League for six years, which is larger then the National Scrabble Association but performs similar functions - sanctioning club play, overseeing tournaments, maintaining and tracking player ratings and ranks. It was interesting to note the structural similarities, and to see that the highest ranks of competitive play in both games are home to no small number of "eccentrics."

This book is great on so many levels, and while one might appreciate it more if one is at least a casual Scrabble player, it's not necessary.

I'll be sending this book north to scarcliff tomorrow.

Journal Entry 14 by bookcookie39 from Simi Valley, California USA on Saturday, July 12, 2003
Just wanted to report that the bookring has hit a bump in the road. "Word Freak" is on its way back to me marked "return to sender." The reason for this has been resolved, and I will re-send the book to sgscarcliff as soon as I get it back.

UPDATED 7/17/03: The book came in today's mail. I'll send it back out on Saturday.

Based on this experience, I really want to urge all of the US participants in this bookring to pay the extra 55 cents for Delivery Confirmation when you mail the book within the US! (End of public-service announcement)

Journal Entry 15 by bookcookie39 at via postal mail in Newbury Park, California USA on Saturday, July 19, 2003
Released on Saturday, July 19, 2003 at via postal mail in Newbury Park, California USA.

Sento to sgscarcliff in San Francisco - hopefully it will arrive safely as intended this time and the ring can keep moving forward!

Journal Entry 16 by wingsgscarcliffwing on Friday, July 25, 2003
THE BOOK HAS ARRIVED!!!!! After a postal problem the book has arrived at my Mail box (that I got just because of the problem this book (and other mail since) have had with either our neighbors or our mail carrier). I will read it as quickly as I can to get it on its way. I hope to mail within 2 weeks (with the time i have for reading, this will be fairly quick). I will post and send it air to the next person.

Journal Entry 17 by wingsgscarcliffwing on Monday, August 11, 2003
I have finnished and mailed it off to idioteqnician by airmail to make up some of the lost time while the book was traveling to me.

There was so much to competitive scrabble that I never knew about. I have decided that half of the words played are not really words. The scrabble players are an interesting group of characters. I think "Geek" describes them well.

It is to bad that the developer of Scrabble did not benifit from the enarnings.


Journal Entry 18 by idioteqnician from Oxford, Oxfordshire United Kingdom on Saturday, August 16, 2003
AUGUST 16: I'm pretty happy to see this book as I've been looking forward to it. Nice to see so many positive reviews above too! Sgscarcliff sent this along with a RABCK - thank you so much. I've already started reading it.

AUGUST 24: Just an update for those curious about this book's progress: I'm more than half done and reading it quite quickly now. This is pretty good and quite a page turner. It reminds me a lot of the movie Spellbound, a documentary about the eccentric children involved in the American Spelling Bee.

SEPTEMBER 2: My goal was to have this book read before school starts up again. It's 1:30am and I have to get up for my first class in six hours - perfect timing! I enjoyed this book quite a bit. It took me a while to start appreciating Fatsis' writing style, but after that I really liked following the frightening geniuses at the centre of this story. The book did seem to go on a bit too long (I spent the last 75 pages ready for it to be over), but it was fun following Fatsis' rise to the (almost) top and to have a peek in on what seems to be an exciting-yet-nerdy (nerdy-yet-exciting?) sub-culture.

I especially enjoyed reading about 1999 World Champion Joel Wapnick, as he's a professor at my school. Click here to read a little blurb about him from when he won the Championship (it's the second story on the page that opens up). Joel is also the handsome fellow at the top of this journal entry.

NOVEMBER 22: I just thought I should write a note that I did send this book on. Whether the next on the list got it or it has disappeared into the postal system, I don't know.

Journal Entry 19 by AmusedOne at Controlled Release in Charleston, West Virginia USA on Saturday, January 10, 2004
Release planned for Monday, January 12, 2004 at Unknown - recipient's house in Charleston, West Virginia USA.

Journal Entry 20 by grover3d from Charleston, West Virginia USA on Monday, February 02, 2004
This book is back home for a pit stop. It's starting to look a bit road weary, and I'm guessing that the one copy isn't going to make the entire round....keep me updated on its condition and I'll replace when necessary (keeping the first copy with all its signatures, of course).

DC# 0303 2460 0000 0733 6207

(Please don't forget to use Delivery Confirmation for all US to US addresses. Thank you!)

Journal Entry 21 by bunzrun from Wirtz, Virginia USA on Wednesday, February 11, 2004
Well, this book finally arrived! So far I have read the Author's Notes (explaination of Scrabble rules) and the first chapter. I think I will enjoy it. Perhaps I will even learn a bit of vocabulary in the process.

It does look a bit travel worn, but grover applied tape to help it along. I will read as gently as I can.

Will try to report back in a week.

Journal Entry 22 by bunzrun from Wirtz, Virginia USA on Sunday, February 22, 2004
Well, it's a little more than a week but I am 2/3rds through with Word Freak. I too am enjoying the account of the 1999 World Championship games in Melbourne.

Being a word fanatic and math enthusiast myself, I have enjoyed the book. Like others have said, it is a bit fascinating how the words are turned into "letter strings", fully separated from the meanings. (I myself enjoy the meanings and etymologies of words.)

Now I want to go out and purchase a Scrabble program for the computer and start playing again. Either that or get working on some good crossword puzzles. (While growing up our newspaper of choice had two crossword puzzles. My brother & I would each work on one till we exhausted our personal word power. Then we would trade and add to what the other has supplied. Then back and forth until we got as far as we could. We had a good time chiding each other with, "I thought for sure you would get that one!" It was a great vocabulary builder and helped being more flexible with words.)

Any good suggestions for books on crossword enthusiasts? I already want to see the movie Spellbound that idioteqnician suggested.

Journal Entry 23 by bunzrun from Wirtz, Virginia USA on Wednesday, February 25, 2004
I really did enjoy this book. It could have been a bit shorter, as someone else mentioned, however that would have left out the "thrill of victory and the agony of defeat" in some ways. Also, we would have missed the reference to Martha Stewart >:-)

On to MaryZee in Maryland.

Journal Entry 24 by bunzrun from Wirtz, Virginia USA on Wednesday, February 25, 2004
I also wanted to add that I enjoyed reading about the implications of an Orthodox Jew playing in a tournament on Saturday. Had never thought about a clock being a measuring device in that way. Or that separating tiles that make up words as "breaking" something.

Just an observation.

Journal Entry 25 by wingmaryzeewing from Taneytown, Maryland USA on Wednesday, March 10, 2004
Just received this in the mail today. I'm almost finished with a quick read, so I'll be able to start on this today or tomorrow.

Journal Entry 26 by wingmaryzeewing from Taneytown, Maryland USA on Wednesday, March 24, 2004
Just finished this.

I thought this story was the perfect length, and was glad he covered his full progression as a player, but the beginning did start out a bit slow, while I tried to get a grip on all the "characters".
I thought the history of Scrabble was very interesting - esp. in that none of the big game companies were very interested in Scrabble.

I don't play Scrabble often, but since reading this, I'm looking forward to trying it again. Lots of good info on how to improve your game. But I don't think I could ever lose myself in the game like the author did - after all, I'm the wrong sex. However, that said, as a computer programmer, I thought the parts about the development of Maven and the analytical, numerical side of the game were an interesting new way to look at the game.

This will be sent off this Saturday to PencilPush, in Ohio.

Journal Entry 27 by wingAnonymousFinderwing on Wednesday, March 31, 2004
My first time in a Book Crossing "book ring". I received this book from the book ring. I have several books ahead of it so I need to see what I have to do and who to send it out to next. Will post comments and opnions when I have read it.


Journal Entry 28 by Libby2 from Omaha, Nebraska USA on Friday, May 21, 2004
It's Here! It has arrived a bit travel-worn, and tattered at the edges perhaps, but still it's here! This has to be one of the longest bookrings in Bookcrossing - I am staggered at the number of participants! I am #14, and there are a total of 70 on the list! Well, I am now reading another bookring book, but this one will come next on the TBR stack. Thanks grover3d for organizing this ring. I'll journal after reading. Can't wait to start!

Journal Entry 29 by Libby2 from Omaha, Nebraska USA on Wednesday, June 30, 2004
This is an odd book - it's full of technical and tedious details, yet I found it strangely fascinating as it describes an "underground" world of word fanatics who live for high-stakes Scrabble tournaments. Wow! Talk about obsessive and addictive behavior! Now, mind you, they don't really need to know what the words actually mean, just memorizing the spelling is enough! I did not find it as compelling a read as many bookcrossers before me did. I did have to plow through some parts, page by page. That said, I am glad I read it and it has improved my Scrabble game! In fact, I find myself wanting to play Scrabble much more than I used to! Hmmmm...

This book will be sent to stinalyn this week (and I will be sure to spend the extra 55 cents for delivery confirmation).

Journal Entry 30 by Libby2 from Omaha, Nebraska USA on Thursday, July 01, 2004
Mailed today by media-mail to stinalyn, who now resides in Wisconsin. Fingers crossed that it arrives safely, & I did get delivery confirmation. So many people are waiting to read this particular book - hope it makes it to all 70! I eagerly await journal entries of all it's travels.

Journal Entry 31 by stinalyn from Fort Collins, Colorado USA on Wednesday, July 07, 2004
This arrived safe and sound while I was vacationing back in Missouri. I'll read it ASAP and get it sent on its way. Thanks!!

Journal Entry 32 by stinalyn from Fort Collins, Colorado USA on Wednesday, August 04, 2004
This was certainly an enlightening read. I had always fancied myself a pretty good Scrabble player, considering that I usually win even when playing other Mensans. But according to this book, I'm not even a halfway decent "living room" player, because making a bingo play is still a distinct rarity for me. Reading this book had me oscillating between "Yeah, I could do this. It sounds like fun!" and "Oh. my. god. These people are just too freakin' weird." All in all, I find it a little sad that a fun word game has morphed into such an absurd passion for these people. At the same time, I kind of identify with their quirkiness, which leads them to obsess like this.

I think the book could have been slightly shorter with a little less repitition and more consistent organization. But the author had an engaging style and told his story well. I'm very glad to have had the chance to read this book.

I couldn't find a salemmouse, so I'm thinking salemhouse must be the next reader in the ring, and I've PMed her for her address.

Journal Entry 33 by stinalyn from Fort Collins, Colorado USA on Saturday, August 21, 2004
Well, the USPS seems to have mislaid this one. The guy I talked to on the phone was beyond useless, so I'll be heading to the local Post Office on Monday to see if I can get them to track it down. What a pain.

Journal Entry 34 by stinalyn from Fort Collins, Colorado USA on Tuesday, August 24, 2004
They have located it. It is in California. Yeah, I always stop there on my way to Minnesota. ::sigh:: I can't wait to hear what condition it's in. If anybody can destroy a Tyvek envelope, it's the USPS.

Journal Entry 35 by salemhouse on Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Safely arrived in Minnesota, and, as I'm currently between books, I will start reading this tonight.

Journal Entry 36 by salemhouse on Saturday, September 18, 2004
Thoroughly enjoyable. I especially enjoyed the mental side of Stefan's quest to become expert, how his own thoughts seemed to play such a large part in his success or failure, and how obsession developed and progressed. While I don't think I'll ever be seen studying word lists and memorizing all the bingo combinations, I'm tempted to make my husband play Scrabble with me more often now.

A few of the back pages are getting loose at the bottom, but otherwise, the book is still in pretty good condition.

debnance has already read another copy, so I'm sending this to lavatea.

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