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Poker Face: A Girlhood Among Gamblers Hardcover – August 12, 2003

3.5 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Centered on dead-on perceptions of the swirling needs, poses and cruelties of her family, Lederer's debut memoir is less Positively Fifth Street than an alienated New England version of The Liar's Club, and ends up with some of the best of both. Poet Lederer (Winter Sex) winningly tracks her siblings' improbable metamorphosis from New Hampshire private school faculty brats (and occasional degenerates) to world-class card sharks at the Las Vegas poker tables. (The transformation of Katy's father Richard Lederer from quiescent teacher to celebrated author of Anguished English and other language puzzle books happens mostly off-camera.) After parsing the class codes (and anti-Semitism) of her rich peers, young Katy becomes curious about her siblings' mysterious, money-laden reinventions of themselves, eventually following her brother, Howard (with their recovered alcoholic mother keeping his bettor's books), and sister, Annie, to Sin City to stake her own claim. There aren't enough of Lederer's blow-by-blows of learning to play among hardcore pros, tourists and "compulsives," but her descriptive gifts are on display throughout, even in the "ultragibbous" eyes of one of her brother's sports bettor clients. Totaling up her experiences at the $3-$6 tables, Katy chooses writing over poker, but while studying poetry at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, her mother and older siblings' massive accumulation of wealth disappears overnight, with jail looming. Despite loose structuring and too many sketchily detailed events, Lederer hones in on the family's complex relationship to games, money and one another and their efforts to direct the ebb and flow of all three, and will convince even the abstemious of gambling's deep power to alter relationships.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

The youngest of three children, Katy lived with her family in the dormitory of the East Coast boarding school where her father taught English--her modest circumstances contrasting vividly with the other students' old money. During Katy's younger years, her mother drank, her brother policed the liquor cabinet, her sister stole from their mother's pocketbook, and her father did his best to keep up appearances. When Katy was nine, her brother, Howard, took off for New York to become a "professional" gambler, living in sleazy hotels and supporting himself in backroom poker games. Soon after, her mother, now sober, joined her son. While in high school, Katy visited both of them regularly, intrigued by their bohemian lifestyle and cautiously eager to learn Howard's craft. As an English major at Berkeley, Katy goes a different direction, but she reverses course and winds up in Las Vegas, mastering the art of poker at her brother's knee. Like James McManus' recent Positively Fifth Street [BKL F 15 03], about the World Series of Poker, this offbeat memoir will attract both gamblers and literary types. Mary Frances Wilkens
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (August 12, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0609608983
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609608982
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.9 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,409,108 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The book trails through Katy's memories chronologically, although selectively. She has wisely chosen to emphasize her relationship with her family and their poker lives, probably a prerequisite in order to get the book published. The reader is taken into the Lederer family home on an east coast campus, beginning with a focus on the mother's alcoholism. Then, Katy recounts her experiences in high school and college, before moving on to Las Vegas, where Howard has made himself wealthy by betting on sports and cards. Finally, Katy returns to the East Coast, and we are left with a feeling of a work in progress- Katy's life story has no climax or summation; she and her family are still in the throes of the issues raised by their unusual choice of occupation.

In general, I liked the book, because it showed the inner workings of a family that is at once familiar and strange. Their various prodigious talents and expressions of genius reminded me of two other genius families I mentioned just a short while ago: the Royal Tennenbaums and the family in The Hotel New Hampshire, right down to the physically frail and emotionally unstable youngest daughter becoming published by writing her memoirs.

The father of the family, Richard Lederer, is also known to me as the author of a series of books related to puns and various commonly made mistakes in the English language. Katy is obviously a serious literary talent, who has grown up around words being used as playthings. Howard, in addition to being a poker genius, is also a chess master. And their mother, who has an amazing rote memorization that helps her as an aspiring actress, has a special talent for puzzles.
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Format: Paperback
"Poker Face," Katy Lederer's well-written but prosaic memoir cannot decide if it is an analysis of her dysfunctional family or a discourse on America's newfound fascination with Texas Hold-'Em. When Lederer focuses on family relationships, her memoir is worthy of a raise; when she rhapsodizes about poker, she is trying to win the pot with a hand that should have been folded after the flop. Either way, we've been suckered to complete a book that should have been little more than an extended magazine piece.

Lederer unearths a fascinating, fractious family, one which consists of an alcoholic mother who yearns to act, a three-hundred pound vegan brother who excels as a gambler, a combative older sister who vaults into the big leagues of Las Vegas wagering and a literate father who toils anonymously as a teacher in an Eastern prep school before becoming a best-selling author. The youngest child in this menagerie, Katy recognizes games as the sole glue cementing her family. She never quite discovers what motivates her peripatetic wanderings, either physically or emotionally. In her life, she is an indifferent student then a grade-obsessed one; she gains employment in professions which capitalize on her obsessive qualities and dabbles herself in the harsh realities of professional poker. Nowhere is there an attachment to any one person, any one idea.

It is this detachment, however, which could have made her a talented Hold-'Em player. Her brother, sister and mother, all of whom eventually call Las Vegas home do not connect; instead they intersect, and none too gracefully. On the cusp of illegal activities, they make big bank, spend it frivolously and lead sterile lives.
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Format: Hardcover
This story starts out full of promise of something deep and insightful, something poignant but somewhere along the middle of the story it bogs down in mediocrity. If I want to read a how to poker book, I will. I wanted to read about the people involved in these stories. It concludes somewhat better, reaching a little further but generally a disappointment.
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Format: Hardcover
...of what obviously is a much deeper story then what we get. Lederer's memoirs show glimpses into a rich, quirky upbringing surrounded by a family of colorfully framed characters yet somehow stops short of fully fleshing out this tale and the folk involved. Part of the problem is attributed to the length - a quickly digestible tome of 200 pages in which within Lederer ambitiously attempts to capture:
1) a coming of age story,
2) a portrait of a dysfunctional family,
3) musings on the psychology of gamblers,
4) recollections on the process of developing oneself into a 'serious poker player,
5) a, 'making it on my own,' tale, and...
6) brief glimpses into the writing life.
Certainly an interesting memoir worthy of your time if any of the above 6 subjects capture your fancy but utlimately it will you leave wishing for more content and focus on her most interesting subjects (mostly her ruminations on poker).
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Format: Hardcover
To many people, gambling may be a hobby, or a simple entertainment, a fantasy of riches, or possibly an addiction. To Katy Lederer, it was family. In _Poker Face: A Girlhood among Gamblers_ (Crown) she has told of a very strange upbringing and the result. Her memoir goes from New England, Manhattan, and Berkeley to (of course) Las Vegas, and is a fascinating tale of attempts to beat the odds. It is sad and funny, but she has no axe to grind against herself or any of the family members whom she accepts with understanding and love. Besides being a family memoir, her book also has a good deal of reporting on how gambling is done, and in some cases, done as a career.
Games were central to her growing up. "Our parents didn't much care whether we got good grades in school. Winning at games was what mattered." No one helped anyone during the competition. When brother Howard disappeared, he was said to be homeless in New York, but actually, he had fallen in love: "He fell in love with the game of poker - not just with the cards, but with the money and the banter and the drugs." He rose from playing nickel stakes in filthy dives to becoming a professional. He ran a sports betting operation, and hired their mother as a bookkeeper for a very lucrative operation. He eventually took it all to Las Vegas, where he became a high stakes poker player. He taught their sister, and then Lederer herself. Howard's instructions were clear; what is really going on at the table has nothing to do with your cards, and everything to do with the cards of the opponents and what the opponents are thinking about them. Lederer got to be competent enough at poker only to be winning a little overall.
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