(Colson Whitehead reads at University Book Store tomorrow night at 7 pm. It's free.)

Colson Whitehead's latest book, The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death, is really two stories in one. On the one hand, Whitehead documents the time that sports site Grantland hired him to compete in the World Series of Poker, even though he's never before played a professional game of poker. On the other hand, Whitehead uses poker and gambling as the framework on which to hang an informal memoir. One story is more successful than the other.

To be fair, maybe I'm not the right audience for a poker memoir. I can count the number of hands I've played in my life on, uh, one hand, and the prospect of watching poker on TV entices as much as a Fox News marathon. But it's the author's job to coax novices into aspirants, and Whitehead doesn't crack open the impenetrable jargon of poker to let the reader inside. Passages like this become more and more frequent as the book goes on:

I folded out of turn, tried to bet 2.5x the BB, per the table custom, but misidentified and put in less than 2x, which was a no-no... At Yellow 163, I got my nicest run of cards, QQ, JJ, flopped an Ace-high flush, but there wasn't a lot of action.

There's a pleasing, relentless rhythm there—nobody can say that Whitehead doesn't know how to write—but he's so determined to sound like he knows what he's doing that he leaves his readers to Google's tender mercies as they try to figure out what the fuck he's saying.

Which is a shame, because Hustle might be Whitehead's most personal book yet, and it conveys a compelling rawness you don't see in most memoirs...

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