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The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Deathby Colson Whitehead
Allegedly, The Noble Hustle is about poker. Actually, it is a hilarious, insightful, and lovingly nihilistic look at creative anguish, the struggle of being alive, and the inevitable failure of caring too much about how things turn out. That said, it'll probably make you better at poker, too.
Synopses & Reviews
The Noble Hustle is Pulitzer finalist Colson Whitehead’s hilarious memoir of his search for meaning at high stakes poker tables, which the author describes as “Eat, Pray, Love for depressed shut-ins.”
On one level, The Noble Hustle is a familiar species of participatory journalism — a longtime neighborhood poker player, Whitehead was given a $10,000 stake and an assignment from the online online magazine Grantland to see how far he could get in the World Series of Poker. But since it stems from the astonishing mind of Colson Whitehead (MacArthur Award-endorsed!), the book is a brilliant, hilarious, weirdly profound, and ultimately moving portrayal of — yes, it sounds overblown and ridiculous, but really! — the human condition.
After weeks of preparation that included repeated bus trips to glamorous Atlantic City, and hiring a personal trainer to toughen him up for sitting at twelve hours a stretch, the author journeyed to the gaudy wonderland that is Las Vegas — the world’s greatest “Leisure Industrial Complex” — to try his luck in the multi-million dollar tournament. Hobbled by his mediocre playing skills and a lifelong condition known as “anhedonia” (the inability to experience pleasure) Whitehead did not — spoiler alert! — win tens of millions of dollars. But he did chronicle his progress, both literal and existential, in this unbelievably funny, uncannily accurate social satire whose main target is the author himself.
Whether you’ve been playing cards your whole life, or have never picked up a hand, you’re sure to agree that this book contains some of the best writing about beef jerky ever put to paper.
"The eternal tension between good luck and remorseless odds animates this loose-limbed jaunt through the world of high-stakes poker. Novelist Whitehead (Zone One) was staked to a berth in the World Series of Poker by Grantland magazine, a mission for which he frankly declares himself unqualified, owing to his rather desultory pick-up games, haphazard training regimen featuring yoga lessons, deep and semi-baffled immersion in the arcana of poker-playing manuals, and bus trips to Atlantic City for seedy practice tournaments. His journey unfolds in a series of jazzy, jokey riffs on the cultural detritus of poker: the take-over of the game by young 'Robotrons' honed by online gaming; Vegas's 'Leisure-Industrial Complex,' a terrain of soulful soullessness where 'your true self is laid bare with all its hungers and flaws and grubby aspirations.' Along the way, poker emerges as the national sport of 'the Republic of Anhedonia,' his habitually depressive, fatalistic State of mind that recognizes that 'eventually, you will lose it all' — and that playing it safe is therefore the ultimate sucker's strategy. Whitehead serves up an engrossing mix of casual yet astute reportage and hang-dog philosophizing, showing us that, for all of poker's intricate calculations and shrewd stratagems, everything still hangs on the turn of a card." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"As a novelist of considerable range, Whitehead consistently writes about more than he's ostensibly writing about...here writing a poker book that should strike a responsive literary chord with some who know nothing about the game....Engaging in its color and character." Kirkus Reviews
“I have a good poker face because I am half dead inside.” So begins the hilarious and unexpectedly moving adventures of an amateur player who lucked into a seat at the biggest card game in town — the World Series of Poker.
In 2011 Grantland magazine sent award-winning novelist Colson Whitehead to brave the harrowing, seven-day gauntlet of the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. It was the assignment of a lifetime, except for one hitch — he’d never played in a casino tournament before.
With just six weeks to train, our humble narrator plunged into the gritty subculture of high-stakes Texas Hold’em. There’s poker here, sure, which means joy and heartbreak, grizzled cowboys from the game’s golden age, and teenage hotshots weaned on internet gambling. Not to mention the overlooked problem of coordinating Atlantic City bus schedules with your kid’s drop-off and pick-up at school.
And then there’s Vegas.
In a world full of long shots and short odds, The Noble Hustle is a sure bet, a raucously funny social satire whose main target is the author himself. Whether you’ve been playing cards your whole life or have never picked up a hand, you’re sure to agree that this book contains some of the best writing about beef jerky ever put to paper.
About the Author
Colson Whitehead is the New York Times bestselling author of Zone One, Sag Harbor, The Intuitionist, John Henry Days, Apex Hides the Hurt, and The Colossus of New York, a collection of essays. A recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award and a MacArthur Fellowship, he lives in New York City.
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