Arts Desk

A Book I’d Read: The Noble Hustle

poker

in which the author discusses a book he'd read, if time permitted.

Title: The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death

Author: Colson Whitehead, a melancholy scribe who's written a melancholy book about John Henry, melancholy essays about New York City, and a melancholy novel about zombies

The Vibe: Disenchanted

What It Is: An unusual tome about playing cards for money that veers away from most Texas hold 'em books' tedious discussions of strategy (calculating pot odds, playing A-K unsuited preflop, etc.) and toward the author's dredging-up of personal demons (divorce, ennui, etc.) that led him to temporarily explore the unfriendly world of tournament poker

Quotable: "I have a good poker face because I am half dead inside. My particular combo of slack features, negligible affect, and soulless gaze has helped my game ever since I started playing twenty years ago...It has not helped me human relationships-wise over the years, but surely I'm not alone here. Anyone whose peculiar mix of genetic material and formative experiences has resulted in a near-expressionless mask can relate. Nature giveth, taketh, etc. You make the best of the hand you're dealt."

Sad Truth: Books about gambling by literary figures—or, at least, those books' promotional material—often emphasize the gritty nature of casino gaming (filthy buses, smoke-filled slot-machine warrens, fat people stuffing themselves at Paula Deen buffets). While there is romance in this fetishization of, more or less, poverty, the intelligent reader must ask: Is paying $10,000 to enter the practically unbeatable World Series of Poker main event any less gritty than, say, a newly-minted Ph.D. applying to a practically ungettable job teaching medieval English at a university in Wyoming or Nebraska that pays, like, $36K?

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