Monday, October 20, 2014

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NY1 teams with contributors from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, Slate.com and Essence Magazine to review the latest books and book-related trends.

The Book Reader: 'The Ballad of a Small Player,' 'The Noble Hustle'

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John Williams of The New York Times reports on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."

In Lawrence Osborne's new novel, "The Ballad of a Small Player," an English lawyer called Doyle is running from a shadowy past.

He ends up in Macau, where he gambles very large amounts of money on baccarat, a card game built on pure chance. When he hits a remarkable — almost supernatural — streak of luck and wins millions, he has to decide whether to stop playing the game or to keep risking everything. The book is driven by suspense — about Doyle's financial situation, and about a mysterious woman he meets who may or may not be what she seems.

Colson Whitehead's new nonfiction book, "The Noble Hustle," due out early next month, starts with a grim but funny line: "I have a good poker face," he writes, "because I am half dead inside."

But Whitehead is very much alive on the page. "The Noble Hustle" is about his preparation to play in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. We care about how he does at the tables, but the book is driven more by his wise and withering observations than by the drama of the games.

Both writers are attuned to the dark side of gambling's allure — not the promise of fortune, but the bracing test offered by failure. "I was a skinny guy," Whitehead writes, "but I was morbidly obese with doom. By disposition, I was keyed into the entropic part of gambling, which says that, eventually, you will lose it all." And in Osborne's novel, at one of Doyle's lowest moments, he admits, "What I discovered was a taste for losing."

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