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THE NOBLE HUSTLE

POKER, BEEF JERKY, AND DEATH

A minor work by a major novelist, a busman’s holiday, but engaging in its color and character.

An assignment to compete in the World Series of Poker allows the author to meditate on his identity, failings, writing, appetite for beef jerky and challenge to make the leap from decent house player to high-stakes pro gambler.

As a novelist of considerable range, Whitehead consistently writes about more than he’s ostensibly writing about, turning a futuristic zombie novel (Zone One, 2010, etc.) into a parable of contemporary New York and here writing a poker book that should strike a responsive literary chord with some who know nothing about the game, though for those who want to read a poker book, much of this contextual elaboration might feel like padding. It begins with a definition of “anhedonia: the inability to experience pleasure,” preceding the first chapter, “The Republic of Anhedonia,” of which the author proclaims himself a citizen and representative. The first sentence: “I have a good poker face because I am half dead inside.” He also has an ex-wife, a young daughter, a weekly poker game and an assignment from Grantland to cover the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas as a participant. Even the assignment is something of a gamble—his freelance payment is the entrance fee, and whatever he wins (or, presumably generates in subsequent book royalties), he keeps. But if he loses, as odds are he will, he gets nothing but memories and experience for the article he must write. As he writes of warm-up sessions in Atlantic City, training with his “Coach,” competing with more experienced players in Vegas, he sometimes seems to be trying too hard—“Pick your fights like you pick your nose: with complete awareness of where you are”—while drawing parallels between poker and writing (“We were all making up stories, weaving narratives”). Since his narrative doesn’t proceed chronologically to a natural climax, he jumps around a bit with time.

A minor work by a major novelist, a busman’s holiday, but engaging in its color and character.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-53705-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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