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Sorry, but I’m with Richard Ford on this one

I just read the new Colson Whitehead book, the one where he plays poker? I like it at first, he had some great bits, but then it got boring. And, really, is there any gimmick less appealing, at this point, than “author/journalist goes and tries his luck at the World Series of Poker”? I don’t think so.

It’s a bit like those magazine articles that George Orwell wrote, back in 1946 or ’47 when he was cashing in on the success of Animal Farm, that series he did for Punch, on Scotland’s finest golf courses. I’m sure it sounded like a great idea at the time, to send an old-time socialist to write about this upper-class sport, but it just didn’t work.

I really hate to say this because I’m a huge Colson Whitehead fan (my favorite is “Sag Harbor”) but, sorry, this one just didn’t work for me.


  1. jonathan says:

    George Plimpton did these things decades ago. Paper Lion (which became a movie) about training camp as a reserve QB with the Detroit Lions, The Bogey Man about the PGA Tour (and his repeated attempts to converse with Arnold Palmer about lesbians), etc. He did a stand up act in Vegas to see what that was like, pitched to baseball all-stars and so on. Engaging books.

    • Andrew says:


      Yes, I think the gimmick with poker is that anyone can do it. For example, it would be ridiculous for me to go out to the golf course with the pros, as it would probably take me something like 30 shots to get from the tee into the hole. Similarly if I tried to pitch a baseball. But, poker, no problem: I could get in there and hope for some good cards.

      Perhaps that’s why there’ve been so many “journalist competes in the World Series of poker” books in recent decades. It’s just too easy.

  2. […] Yesterday I wrote about Pocket Kings by Ted Heller, which gives one of the most convincing literary descriptions of poker that I’ve ever read. (Much more so than all those books and articles where the author goes on expense account to compete at the World Series of Poker. I hope to never see that again.) […]

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