Thursday, June 25, 2015

Colson Whitehead's book The Noble Hustle

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Colson Whitehead's book The Noble Hustle

I just finished this book.  I liked it.  Not everyone would, but perhaps more than liked other poker books.  It is nonfiction.

The Noble Hustle:  Poker, beef jerky, and Death

The tone of the book is set by the country the author imagines he comes from

Anhedonia   -  The inability to experience pleasure

This gives him one advantage.  He has a perfectly natural dead expression, a true poker face.

"We anhedonians have adapted to long periods between good news.  Out national animal is the hope camel.  We have no national bird.  All the birds are dead."p.47

"For the citizens of the Republic of Anhedonia, luck is merely the temporary state of outrunning your impending disasters."p.96

Here is background information

Colson is not writing a novel this time, although it reads like one.
Instead he is telling the story of being in the 2011 WSOP, not because he was a polished poker player, but because he was offered a free buy-in if he would write an article about his experiences.

This is not your typical poker book.  It is linquistically wild and fast moving with bizarre metaphor, allusion, and commentary.  He laughs at all of it, including himself.
At the same time, it is easy to identify with the poker stories. 
I don't much like the WSOP, where I experience  the game as a cross between a ProBass fishing tournament blended into a rather bad Hollywood flick, so for this book to keep my attention until the end is saying a lot.
But then I'm a frugal guy.
So is Colson in real life.
So I get him.

Ironically, I get him in spite of the fact that his style is one of a modern generation and not what usually appeals to me at all.   I don't ready too many book that flow......or should I say spurt like this one. 
I suppose partly I liked it because my son Frank liked it, read it, sent it for a Father's day gift. 

I also liked it because it was not an egomaniac book of directive instruction.  Here was a fellow like me, although much younger, caught in an adventure of poker playing.

It got a great kick out of his naming of stereotypical players:

Big Mitch is a potbellied endomorph in fabric-softened Khaki sorts and polo shirt, a middle aged white guy here with his wife, who was off dropping chips on the roulette felt according to her patented system."p.10

Methy Mike is a harrowed man who  had been tested in untold skirmishes....  If Methy Mike had been hitched, the lady had packed her bags long ago and if they had spawned, their parenting goals probably ended with making sure their kid didn't get a tattoo on her face, and they did not always succeed....Methy Mikes are on a first name basis with the bosses and dealers and cocktail waitresses, and you can count on a bit of catching up.....They are weathered by the sun, by their lifestyles, which you can only guess at, the underlying narrative of their decay, and resemble unfortunates who have been dragged on chains from the back of a beat-up van and left to desiccate in the desert....

And then there was Robotron, lean and wiry and hunkered down, a young man with sunlasses and earbuds, his hoodie cinched tight around his face like a school shooter or a bathroom loiterer...  Robotron is only here tonight because the Feds shut down all the US online poker sites.

He did not name old guys like me, but here is one he encounters:

"an elderly white man who bent over his chips, squinting through a magnifying attachment that barnacled on his thick specs like a jeweler's loupe.  Her pondered before acting, as if reviewing a lifetime of hands and confrontations, or fighting off a nap."

This fellow is really not much like me, but I've met him at the tables.

Here are some other bits I found worth noting:

"Gamblers and the lovesick want to bend reality.  But it's never going to happen.  If you woke the hell up, you'd understand that and stop chasing."

Like all poker books, some of the places he writes about have closed.  Showboat at Atlantic City, for example.  There is never much history in casinos.  They just don't last.

There is quite a bit about his reading to prepare for the game.  I have never found strategy books of much value.  I can't seem to absorb, remember and apply anything.  He seems to respect the Dan Harrington writings of which I'm not familiar.

Of course, I rarely play tournaments and not for big bucks but just for amusement or as freerolls earned by accumulated hours. 
So, his term for the blinds, Wave of Mutilation, does not affect my games.  In NL I like 1-1 games because the blinds really don't matter very much.  Often 1-1 is a post flop game.  I like that.  It is very different from the higher stakes games and from tournaments.

"I pity people who've never been to Vegas.  Who dismissthe city without setting foot on its carpeted sidewalks,  I'll forgive the sanctimony in the question, "But what do you do there?  The obnoxious self-regard are as American as smallpox blankets and supersize meals. "p.101

Since this is nonfiction, the people mentioned are not characters, but real folks.  Matt Matros plays a role in his adventure.

as do other unnamed players, like the woman who becomes his coach.

Here is a bit for the weekly poker game
"Everyone tilts, but he who tilts less, tilts best."

"SitnGoes were not, as I mistakenly thought, adult diapers for poker players, so they don't have to leave the table."  p.149

I enjoyed the reference to the Butterfly Affect which I think I first experienced with a Ray Bradbury story, but which does permeate the culture and certainly apply to our experience of poker.

Wild Bill once gave a seat up in the Flamingo to a pretty young girl who was just behind him on the list.  Within a few hands, she hit a royal flush for a Bonus payout of $1400.  It could have been Bill.

Or not, since randomness is more like a RNG than destiny.

I also like the idea that Colson knows his limitation.

"I would never understand the game the way they did, no matter how much I studied or hit the tables.  The part of the brain these guys used for cards, I used to keep meticulous account of my regrets."

This is exactly why I stay away from high priced tournaments and use table selection as my major source of advantage at the lower stakes and limit games.

"Our country disdains a risk reward game that millions of Americans play, then bails out Wall Street sharks who bet unfathomable sums.  I can only conclude that this contradictory status has little to do with the skills required for each pursuit.  No, for some reason, lawmakers just don't like poker." p.  163

 I suggest that the reason poker takes a back seat is the same reason it takes a back seat in casinos.  It is a lost leader.  Government now is like the mob.  They get their 'taste' by setting up negative expectation games and luring in folks to fleece.  It is the same reason that any video poker that pays over 100% is illegal in NY State.  It is not about disliking poker;  it is about liking taxation more than providing services.

One new concept for me was the concept of M and I thought it would help my tournament play, but I doubt I'll remember it.  I barely remember how to figure outs and I only do the math for chasing flushes and straights in a general way.

" To calculate M, you add the Big Blind, the Small Blind, and all the antes you have to pay into the pot each round, and the sum is how much it costs to play one orbit"

"Establishing table image is like when you stab the leader of the Aryan Assholes in the neck with a fork after your first day in prison: tellin' em how you do it back home." p.186

on the Fremont Experience:

"Tourists foolish enough to be ensnared by the promos for this crummy light show look up for a few minutes, and then it's over.  They drift away.  The night is young, the city endless, and there are so many more disappointments to savor before dawn."  p.  206

Talks about his poker knowledge slipping away Flowers for Algernon style.

Well, I don't know if I ever knew anything that matched the top of that curve, but I sure do feel the slipping of knowledge in every category. 
In two years I will have forgotten reading this book.  So, I'm happy to have these notes.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Rabbit Run Updike and the sequels

I've tried this before.  I've always thought I ought to read this famous series.  Frank is reading the first one now and so I thought I'd read with him.

I understand what makes the novel off putting for me.  The character is very self focused and yet I feel like Updike wants us to identify.
For me he was the classic spoiled suburban guy with plenty of good things to enjoy but feeling sorry for himself.  So he runs from his marriage and family.
He has a small boy and another child on the way, and he seeming lack of any concern about them just seemed cold.  He does not seem to miss them or appreciate the pleasure of having children.  In fact, he is one of those fellows who is so much a child himself that he has no real parenting energy.
So impulsively he makes a run.
That seems stupid too.  I left a marriage and it took a long, long time to think it through and plan the departure.  He just goes with a few dollars in his pocket and then hooks up with whomever.
He finds a prostitute who is in my feeling one of the least desirable women in literature.  Somehow he charms her.  The classic feeling that the right kind of lover can reach the cold sexual place of the prostitute and be proud of that is just too much macho crap for me.
Currently, he is forming a rather strange relationship with an Episcopal priest who thinks that playing gold with Rabbit is the way to win him back.
It would all be pretty funny were it not so sad.

Characters include an old coach who is degenerate and weak in memory and any sensitivity although he helps Rabbit a bit, giving him a place to rest and introducing him to the prostitute Ruth.

The sexual scenes were certainly a bit different for the age of the novel, but they really turn me off.  It is the opposite of erotic.  I can see why as a college kid in the age where sex was fun and included relationship would be turned off by this sexual relationship.  And I'm getting that she is now pregnant because neither of them acted to preclude that.  I never quite got the idea of how men and women who were screwing daily could be so unconcerned about possible children.

I got the novel on disc and I like the reader.  Then I have a paperback for when I am home, so the novel goes along well enough.

Perhaps I am just too old.  Perhaps I want everything to be like funny 30's movie where the romance happens between people I like and in the end things work out somehow.  Not a very educated way to filter fictional experience, I guess.
In the end I finished all the Rabbit books and felt much more attached to Rabbit and his issues.  I feel I accomplished a like long goal of reading in doing this even if I have no one to discuss the novels with.

The Goldfinch

This book is going through my personal community like a wildfire.  It was in Elizabeth's book club, will be in the men's book club I never visit, and Abigail stayed up late to finish the long work she got so engaged.
I am reading it on Kindle and liking that.  I zip right along.  I miss taking notes and I'll miss recording some of the wonderful language in this book.  It is amazing.  It is rare in this age of sound bites to find an author who takes time for all the details possible.  At times I want it move faster, want it edited down.  At other times it is a fine indulgence.
Plot moves too slowly.  That could be shortened without loss. 
Just now the author skipped ahead 8 years.  Odd for an author who does not seem to be able skip ahead 8 minutes.  I can't figure out why.

I always liked coming of age fiction, even before I taught school.  So it is the right kind of story and character.  I can identify with this character, unlike the spoiled Rabbit in the Updike book.  

Vegas was strangely presented.  It was seen from its worst perspective.  There is some truth to it, but it was not balanced.  Even the poor RTC took a hit from this author.
New York on the other hand is a dreamy place, full of interesting characters like Hobie, a fine furniture repair guy who we admire and who has the most influence on the main character.

His one love relationship is very romantic and classically so because conditions cause him to be unable to pursue her, at least as far as I've gotten.

The subplot of the "stolen" art and what to do about it seems very unrealistic.  It would seem that it would be very easy to get this returned with no questions asked and no criminal repercussions.  It could be returned to an anonymous art lover or to the FBI.  It could be left in a locker and the key sent to the police.  Instead the main character seems stuck with it and afraid of what might happen were he discovered to have it.

I'm also a bit put off that there is so much tragedy.  Everyone seems to die a violent and early death.  This moves toward less than the believable.

E's bookclub split on the book.  Some loved it and some hated it.  Some agreed it should have won the Pulizer and others thought it did not count as literature.  Francine Proze was very critical of the work which in some ways is the sort of story she writes, with adolescents as main characters.  However, I think Proze has an inflated idea of her own expertise.  This is as good a novel as the two I've read by her.  As to what is great literature, that seems a rather pointless  kind of decision.  Great literature is partly determined by its own merit, by how many books are in an author, by the politics of the selling of the book, and by the way the book grabs the audience in mass.  On one level the question of what is great literature cannot be answered unless we wait until the author is as old as Shakespeare is now or at least as old as Twain.

Anyway, it is fine to be reading again on a regular basis.  It does take me out of all the Peter worries and put me in a different place for a while.  That is great.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Portugal Fishing book

Finally located this book I read a few years ago.
And a few notes on another book by the same author.

BELGRADE - Anna Proper stood out her back door overlooking a sprawl of 60 acres south of Belgrade, which she and her late husband bought in 1987.

"Sometimes he grabbed me and gave me a big hug," Proper said. "He then pointed and said, 'Do you see that?'"

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He showed her wildlife, trees and plants, which blanket the couple's property.
That was Datus Proper's way: to pay attention to detail. And, with wit and charm, he shared nature's details with his family, friends and readers.
Datus drowned Sunday evening while fishing Hyalite Creek. An author of four books, Datus also was a regular contributor to Field& Stream magazine and a former U.S. diplomat. He was 69.
He grew up in Yellowstone National Park, before driving his Indian motorcycle to Cornell University in New York to get a degree in English. He then served in the Foreign Service in Angola, Brazil, Portugal and Ireland, where he met Anna.
Monday, Anna and friends of Datus huddled in the author's office, where many of his books line the shelves and antique fly rods - along with several flies - hang on the wall for display.
"He loved the outdoors, children and his dogs," said longtime family friend Tammie Jaumotte. "He had a lot of dignity. He had an aura around him that was so different from other people."
David King, who called Datus his best friend, said the writer "worked at every sentence, so each was packed with extra layers of thought."
Along with fishing books, Datus wrote about pheasants and a travel guide for Portugal dubbed, "The Last Old Place."
He trained German shorthair pointers and two of his old dogs, Huck and Trooper, are buried on his land under a tree next to a winding stream.
Anna said Datus often fished the stream called Thompson's Creek, but he referred to it as Humidity Creek in his writings.
"He never went to a stream and said I want to catch a lot of fish," Anna said. "Instead, he just loved figuring out what the fish were taking."
King, who was fishing with Datus on Sunday when the author apparently slipped on the rocks on Hyalite Creek and drowned in the shallow water, said he didn't see what happened.
"My best guess is he slipped on the rocks and hit his head," King said.
While standing out her back door, Anna said every time she begins to cry about losing Datus she remembers the last thing he was doing.
"That's what I think about," Anna said. "That when he died he was doing what he loved."
Datus Proper finished a rough copy of a book on hunting before he died. His wife, Anna, said she is hoping to publish the writer's fifth book. Along with Anna, Datus leaves behind a son Scott Proper, 26, who is attending Oregon State University.

Running Waters by Datus Proper

I rarely read a trout book, but this one held my interest. I skimmed over what I was not very interested in, and just enjoyed his general remarks on fishing.

He was clearly inspired and published by Nick Lyons who has brought so many good fishing books to our attention.
p. 61 " Edward R. Hewitt's opinion is that the fisherman has three ages: when he wants to catch as many fish as he can, when he wants to catch big fish, and when he strives to catch the most difficult fish" That author likes this, but does not like it if there is any sense of score involved. p. 152 An entire chapter on scoring. " If your appetite is greater, may you catch all you need--as long as your prey remain creatures of flesh and blood. If they turn into scores, something has gone wrong." This the way I feel when I watch bass trournaments, especially when the dance of the landing of the fish is shortened to an abrupt getting him into the boat so the next pound can be caught.
However, I don't see much difference between needing to outwit the most difficult fish either. I like to think of the fishing more as being one with the water and the catching as being a dance in the wilderness that collects a fine meal. The big fish are fun, but I am content with those that fill my live well and are good at breakfast. As for the most difficult. I tend to think those are the fish in overfished water.
The fly fisherman also approaches scientist with all the reading the bellies, the tying to duplicate the hatch, etc. p. 101 "But I want to fish not by folklore but like a scientist, knowing what I am doing and why." I'd rather play in areas of story. He may be talking more about just having a pragmatic technique, but I think fishing should be much less work and just fun.

There is a fine chapter on fishing for carp with a flyrod. The key was perhaps finding a place where the carp would feed on the surface. Still, it all looked like a good bit of fun. He mentioned an Isaac Walton recipe for carp. That would be fun to search out.

Carp end the book, "Have you ever tried to dream about trout? They are too fast, pure quicksilver, and you cannot hold them in the torpor of sleep. For dreams you need monsters, a slow drift along the cliffs at the end of the world, bright sunlight and deepest shadow."
I think that you can dream bluegills. I do it.

p.96 : "Angling is a game you can't lose... you might even catch a fish eventually, but the fish will never catch you." Ironic that he drowns in a stream. Perhaps he did not respect enough the things that can happen while fishing.

an elosion of knowledge
oyle to swim up to the surface from the salmon while it ferments


Friday, January 31, 2014


Great read.  It was a good bit of fun and caught my attention quickly.  I found I wanted to get back to it and see what happened next.   The stories are all parallel in presentation and it is half the book before the two creatures meet.
While it is fantasy, the characters are developed as having real human characteristics and feel full to us.  In fantasy I've discarded, the characters are shallow and often multidimensional with the delight in them totally based on their super natural abilities.  Here they face their condition with the conflicted and complex sense of the problems in life as do all characters.
Attractive is the traditional use of old books as the source of magical knowledge that has been lost to mankind in general.  The rabbi's search through all the old libraries of other rabbi in his area is a great device.
Religion is very mixed in the book, being much a part of the fantasy world and yet absent of any real God.  All actions need to be made by the characters.  There is no intervention by God.

Helene Wecker -  There was some biographical information and it all made me really like this author. 
She went to Carlton college like Julie.
Her discussion of how she was motivated to write and book and especially what got her to write a book with fantasy since that was what she liked to read.

Elizabeth found this background information that overviews the afterlife beliefs of Jews and that is helpful in understanding this book.

This conflicts with the information build into the Rabbi detective books as he discounts afterlife.

They ride the elevated a lot in this novel.  Here is what it looked like in 1899


The Jinni is fascinated by fish.  He has never been underwater because that much water would kill him.  In the aquarium he visits the fish often.

p. 151  Chava was "a miracle of productivity"

p. 154  Aging is compared to a fabric.  No matter how well you take care of it, it gets frayed along the edges.

Souls exist within the frame of the novel.  So does reincarnation.  Of course, Chava most likely does not have a soul.

P.193    An oud is mentioned


and the Dabke


The structure of the novel is to allow the individual threads to progress quite a while parallel to each other and then to begin to overlap.  It is over 200 pages before the Jinni and the Golem meet each other.

I never got a real sense of the back story on the ice cream.  Why does the ice cream man end up being able to make a perfect ice cream?

SEX  This is another novel where sex is just not celebrated.  The Jinni has great sex, but it is not within a marriage and it results in terrible suffering or death.  The Golem has been created without sexual drive or interest or pleasure.  Strange when she has so many other emotional traits.
Irene dabbles in premarital sex and the results are terrible.
Too bad.

Policemen come and go, they die, and they don't matter as characters. 


There is a bit too much coincidence in all the finding and losing of magical papers and even the intersection of  characters.  NYC even in those days is huge.  The plot device of giving the bad rabbi a talent in tracking works well, but other times the characters just bump into one another.

p. 443 - odalisque
p. 462  virtiginouos - causing vertigo esp from great height.

apostate is the word used to describe Michael's religious position.  He is one who renounces religion.



near eidetic  memories - photographic memory.p27

jinniyeh - female Jinn  in context p.28
narghile - p68  A tobacco pipe that draws through water.  IMAGES OF NARGHILE


The head of John the Baptist may still be in the shrine mentioned on p 39.  Umayyad Mosque.  It was bombed.  Here too is where Christ is to come on the day of the second coming.

the Hebrew Sheltering House where Michael works is a real historical place


Included here are some late 1880 views of Central Park.  the author notes that it was indeed against the rules to walk on the grass in the beginning of the park, but those rules were relaxed as more and more people used the park.  In the beginning boys could not play baseball in the park without a permission note from their school teacher

"The creation of Central Park coincided with a boom in sports in general and baseball in particular. Because of this fact the majority of post Civil War ball clubs were populated by citizens possessed of (Gasp!) somewhat less than the best pedigree. So the park commissioners came to the peculiar conclusion that since the park could not accommodate all the local ball clubs on its new fields they would make it unavailable to everyone. Except local schoolboys that were able to produce a note from their teacher. (Really.)
In any case the park now boasts 26 ball fields in total which are all open to the general public. The only requirement now is that the note from your teacher has been replaced by obtaining a permit".


Monday, August 5, 2013

What I Read in the Papers

I had forgotten how delicious a NY Sunday Times could be.  I bought one yesterday and I'm still  delighting in it.  I don't really understand why reading on line does not give me the same luscious feeling of riffling a paper newspaper, but it does not. It may be that reading on line is harder.  Skimming seems very different when there must be scrolling.

While the delicious aspect of the paper is satisfying in the moment, I know that my memory will not collect, retain, and have ready all the things I read. 
Lately I have been clipping and keeping a scrapbook, but I find in this paper many articles that I want to remember in general, but don't need to paste into permanence.  So, perhaps as overview would be helpful.

What I miss most and all the time lately is any community that reads with me. Elizabeth will do some of the readings.  However, few read the way Peter Balint used to.  He could remember an article and place it intelligently into a context of complications and questions and a conversation with him about the NY Times was just delightful.

Okay,  What am I reading.
I read a good bit about finding housing in New York and for city dwellers.  Here were articles on buying a loft, perhaps less expensive than an apartment, and of the delight in that.  There was a great article on communal places in the Catskills to buy a summer home as cheaply at 10,000, but one that was bare bones and likely to stay that way.  Here dish washers, washing machines, air conditioners could not be supported by the grid.  But the inhabitants were just delighted.  It seemed a good bit like what the campers at Bull's Arrowhead know, with community and a simple lifestyle at really cheap prices.  There folks were escaping Buffalo and other city lives, but it is the same idea.  Kids could go out and play and be entertained just with what was in the community.

The editorials were just grand.  Everything is so well written.  Not like this blog.  There was plenty of commentary on the new sex scandals and one article talked about the difficulty of Jews wanting a better image and identifying with some of the recent political scandals.
There was an article on prayer that took a very odd perspective where prayer even to imaginary gods was somehow beneficial. 

One editorial used a woman who ate cutlery to explain both the failure of our health system to meet the needs of the mentally ill and the hope that Obamacare will turn that around.  Another spoke of how inexpensive it was to get a joint replacement in Belgium as compared to US prices.  Another stressed that the neediest of people can be covered by medical insurance only if all people buy into having insurance, and how not demanding that everyone buy insurance would cause health care industry to collapse.

There was a great article on the construction of ever more plush and wonderful airplane seats for the rich business travelers who could pay $5,000 for one trip if it meant being perfectly comfortable in seats fully designed to accommodate them and even stretch out into beds.  Lufthanza spent 1 billion designing such a seat.

And here is the dilemma that we face.  Will comfort be affordable by only the rich who can have luxury with their dollars while the poor suffer unspeakable suffering and discomfort, or can we get the idea that as a country we are all one people, together, helping with the basics?  Emergency room treatment is not the answer to preventing and curing disease. 

Nature was here as well. The box turtle article mentioned one turtle who was born during the Civil War and still alive in 2006.
There was an article about a fellow who nurtured and fed park pigeons.


Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Grand Tour Agatha Christie

This is a good looking book and it promises to be a fine travel book, but about 90% of what is written is drop dead boring.
The photographs are fine when they are about places rather than people.
The letters that she wrote home to her mother were very dull.  And all the complaints about Belcher with his bad leg and worse disposition are not very interesting at all.
I've been skimming and reading some bits.  She travels with the boring rich, so the bits are few and far between.  Compared to a Theroux travel book, this is a complete failure and I suspect it would not have been read by anyone if it were about anyone other than Agatha Chrisie.

Presently she is in Australia and there the visit is somewhat more interesting.  There, for example, she actually sees some things.  Just now I'm reading her impressions of the skeleton of a marsupial rhinoceros, Nototherium Mitchelli


Here she recounts some interesting pieces in the museum including the sale of a wife for the sum of a bottle of rum and twenty ewes.
"Had the lady been more prepossessing in appearance, doubtless the bidding would have been more brisk!"

There is a great photo of  a train over a tressle above The Russell River in Babuda, Queensland.  Too much of the book is full of meetings with important people of the day, a sort of name dropping that for those of us not in the upper class is rather vapid.