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The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death Hardcover – May 6, 2014
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, May 2014: Every year, thousands of card players converge in Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker, all hauling varying levels of hope and skill with them into the southern Nevada desert. As a regular in a neighborhood game, Colson Whitehead didn’t harbor that kind of ambition—until Grantland.com staked him $10,000 for a seat at the WSOP. Whitehead goes all-in with a Rocky IV-worthy regimen, hiring a personal trainer to prepare himself for the long, grueling table hours and a tournament-hardened coach to navigate the mysteries of Texas Hold’em. When he arrives at the tournament, he navigates using a set of laws essential to any aspiring card sharp: which casino restaurants provide poker-appropriate nutrition; how to hit the bathrooms ahead of the mad rushes of the game breaks; and, of course, the necromancy of a successful Hold’em hand. With its cast of poker-universe luminaries and aspiring misfits, the tournament stuff is fun, especially to this gambling rube. But Vegas is Vegas, and between the notes of the Wheel of Fortune slot machines, one can hear the suck of entropy. Whitehead--whose previous books landed him on the short-list for the Pulitzer, as well as a MacArthur "Genius" grant--has the wry sense of humor to observe the twisted reality of the “Leisure Industrial Complex” without mocking it; he’s the kind of writer who can see the human condition reflected in the windows of a failed Vegas market that sells only beef jerky (and other jerky-like products). Buy the ticket, take the ride.--Jon Foro
Top Customer Reviews
First of all, you should know that I am a total sucker for a good "stunt memoir" (or "participatory journalism," if you want to get fancy). You cooked a Julia Child recipe every day for a year? I want to read about it. Read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica? I'll preorder your book. Played in the World Series of Poker (WSOP) as a reporter for a magazine? I'm all-in, if you will. My fascination with getting a peek into different subcultures is definitely satisfied by authors doing crazy things and then writing about them.
This, however, is not your typical stunt memoir. So for a while I was a little confused--I wanted more of a plot, more of an inside scoop on the scene at the WSOP. Then it finally hit me--he's doing a satire of all of those other stunt memoirs! Gosh, that's clever! Because while I do love those stunt memoirs, they usually are pretty predictable--person decides to do something crazy/unique/ill-advised, does it, writes about it, learns a valuable life lesson and then finds love/a job/a new passion for living. This book is like the anti-that.
And Colson Whitehead flat-out won me over with his satirical sense of humor, witty observations, and terrific writing. Whitehead is an AMAZING writer! His writing is so slick sometimes I almost couldn't stand it. At the beginning, he takes some time to explain the game of poker to those readers who aren't familiar with it:
"To start, when judging a five-card hand of random crap, the highest card determines its value...Whoever has the better stuff wins. Sound familiar, American lackeys of late-stage capitalism?"
Come on, that's pretty funny, right? Well, the whole book is basically like that. I'm not kidding.Read more ›
That, of course, was Jim McManus' great Positively Fifth Street. Take away the murder, stripper, great title, lap dance, celebrities, constructive thinking and journey from lowly satellite seat to the final table and you have Colson Whitehead's interesting slacker version. It's much shorter without all the collateral stuff, and is intensely negative both in the sense accentuating unpleasant aspects of everything and showing more interest in what is missing than what is happening.
The Noble Hustle belongs to an older poker tradition, the gritty decay of The Man with the Golden Arm and The Cincinnati Kid (the books, not the movies in which star power obscures the message).Read more ›
But then again Colson Whitehead feels that doom and humiliation lurk around just about every nook and cranny of life. The looming tournament just adds to his burden.
Mr. Whitehead’s self-deprecating humor is what makes this poker memoir different from others that have gone before. “The Noble Hustle” is awash in pop culture and literary references which also adds to the fun.
Whitehead emphasizes the fact that he lives in a state of anhedonia (or The State of Anhedonia, as he puts it) which means he is unable to experience pleasure. Perhaps he really does have a degree of anhedonia, but he seems to like playing poker, he certainly enjoys eating beef jerky, and he must get a kick out of writing, because he's pretty good at it.
The narrative follows Whitehead, a New York novelist, practicing to compete in the World Series of Poker. He is a casual player but is ramping up his game in preparation to write a magazine article about the World Series experience. He plays in tournaments in Atlantic City to get toughened up. Then it's on to the Series in Las Vegas.
Along the way he meets some characters, such as The Coach, a poker tournament pro who looks like an upper middle class housewife. She gives him pointers and strategies and cheers him on. As something of a fish out of water, she can relate to Whitehead, who is also not the typical Las Vegas pro poker player, with his dreadlocks and lack of a killer instinct. But in his favor, he has an unbeatable poker face, due of course, to his anhedonia.
Whitehead has a light way of writing, even as he maintains his gloomy demeanor. He tells of a player at the World Series who encourages him to check out the "hooker bar," which throws Whitehead, since that seems a bit forward even for Las Vegas. He pretends not to realize that the enthusiastic patron was probably talking about a "hookah" lounge.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I had read whitehead's Sag Harbor and bought this one on the strength of that memoir/novel. Colson did not disappoint. Read morePublished 1 month ago by John R
Entertaining read. Wish there was more on the event and the strategy behind pokerPublished 3 months ago by Mark Davidson
This is an excellent book about the life of a professional poker. I highly enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone interested in this topic.Published 4 months ago by Tahi
Whitehead drew me into the shabby gambling world. Even experiencing it at a distance was contaminating. I'll look for his other books and spend more time under his influence.Published 11 months ago by David Silverman
I wouldn't say it's the worst poker book I've ever read. Could you tell I was bluffing? This is a book about self loathing and sloth by a guy who dipped his foot into the world... Read morePublished 12 months ago by Brett Marcotte
Interesting in the sense that he references a lot of other writers, stories, etc and it's nice to be able to think "I get it, I get that joke". Read morePublished 14 months ago by C. S. Herrera
This is one of my favorite reads in the last few years. The writing is poetic and spectacular, a guerilla philosopher's commentary on fate and the addictive pratfalls familiar to... Read morePublished 15 months ago by JMarchant