Monday, May 5, 2014

The Noble Hustle by Colson Whitehead

I have not been shy in professing my love for Colson Whitehead. I may have mentioned our one-sided love here and here, and he might be the reason I've rejected (thus far) all the convicts Gianna has suggested for dates. Whitehead is a genius novelist--see: The Intuitionist, John Henry Days (a Pulitzer Prize finalist), and Zone One--and one of the reasons I love his writing is that he manages to inject satirical humor into the direst situations. Trapped on an island with zombies? Nerds will know that naming the main character Mark Spitz is pretty perfect. So when my hubby beloved snuggle muffin pal Colson wrote a new book, of course I jumped all over it.
Colson Whitehead, I'm still
single. Call me?

The Noble Hustle is Colson Whitehead's nonfiction account of his journey into the world of sports. The ESPN website Grantland contacted Whitehead about writing a sports piece for their site, but the guy's a novelist; he doesn't play sports. He does, however, play poker. Since college, the author has been playing regularly with other authors--Nathan Englander--and creative types--film maker Darren Aronofsky--but he's never participated in professional tournaments. No problem. Grantland ponied up the $10,000 entrance fee and signed Colson up for the World Series of Poker.

Doubleday created cool posters
to promote the book.
"Anhedonia's native tongue has
fifty-seven words for sad."
I love this book.
On top of the poker tournament, the author's life is also in turmoil. He's recently divorced and between books. He's worried about his relationship with his daughter. Also, Whitehead claims to suffer from anhedonia, the psychological condition characterized by an inability to find pleasure in things most people find enjoyable. See where this is going? It's a fish out of water story told by a genius satirist with a knack for self-deprecation. First line of the book: "I have a good poker face because I'm half dead inside." Tell me more, dear Colson.

Because The Noble Hustle is ostensibly a sports book, Whitehead begins a strict training regiment. He...hires consultants specializing in yoga and meditation to help him focus while sitting for twelve hours. He practices sitting. He finds a poker coach--a middle aged, middle class woman who could have passed as a school teacher. He obsesses over being the first person eliminated from the World Series of Poker. He dons the proper attire. Most of the professional poker players wear corporate-sponsored garb; Whitehead creates a "Republic of Anhedonia" hoodie and is sponsored by a bookstore.
Whitehead at the WSOP,
ready for battle.

As the reader follows Whitehead's journey--what he calls "Eat, Pray, Love for depressed shut-ins"--insights into the culture, game, and idiosyncrasies of this subculture are illuminated. Vegas, baby. And beef jerky, since Jack Link's Beef Jerky sponsors the event. The online world of poker. The weird characters. The intensity of the games. The tells. The chips. The tournaments.

Yeah, this is a book about poker, but you don't need to be a poker player (I'm not) to love it. Here's a book that's both top-level participatory journalism and discovery memoir, but nothing is taken too seriously. It's genius and a ton of fun.

1 comment:

  1. Well, Liz, we watch that show and it does get pretty weird. A few years ago, there was one player who would "Quack, quack" after his play. Another one wore ridiculous sunglasses....he won millions! Needless to say, I'll probably read the book based on that, however, the fact that you are obsessed with Colson will make it all the more entertaining!
    Grabbing my ipad now to order it from amazon.....shhhh, don't tell Gianna that I'm not buying a hardcopy!