By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Aug 05, 2002 at 5:40 AM

Ever notice how there seems to a book about almost any topic these days? Wall Street Journal reporter, NPR commentator and author Stefan Fatsis has added his contribution in the form of the much-lauded "Word Freak," now out in paperback (Penguin, $14), which traces the author's trek through the world of competitive Scrabble.

Fatsis comes to town Tues., Aug. 6 for a 7 p.m. reading at Schwartz Bookshop, 4093 N. Oakland Ave., in Shorewood and we know that Schwartz buyer Daniel Goldin is a fan of the book. So, we asked him to give us his take on Fatsis' book.


"Fatsis attempts to master competitive Scrabble with a goal in mind," Goldin says. "All players are ranked and his aim is to break 1,700. For more than a year, Fatsis plays the circuits, aiming to maximize double- and triple-word scores, and play the most bingoes, which involves using all seven tiles in one play.

"Most amateur players don't grasp that the game is all about memorizing word lists, and these lists are dependent on rather wanting sources. American play is based on the antiquated Funk and Wagnall's (dictionary) and international play is based on Chamber's, which is Scottish and contains numerous archaisms.

"However, the most interesting part of 'Word Freak' is clearly the players themselves. Fatsis befriends a number of competitive players, including 'G.I.' (gastro-intestinal) Joel Sherman, communist-leaning Lester Schonbrun, zen-entrepreneur Joe Edley, cash-and-temper-short Marlon Hill and the drug-enhanced Matt Graham.

"Just about all the top players are men, and most are misfits. Even Brian Cappelleto, the champion that Fatsis portrays as mediagenic, wears his pants rather high-waisted, or so I've heard. Fatsis does a great job making a vivid history out of a game that brought little to its inventor, and the particular difficulties of the only competitive game or sport that is actually trademarked. As the fortunes of Selchow and Righter (or Coleco, or Hasbro) have gone, so has gone competitive Scrabble ... and you can put a TM after all of my mentions of the game, too."

Stefan Fatsis' reading and signing at Schwartz is free and open to all. Call (414) 963-3111 for more information.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.