As assiduous readers will recall, the risk theatre (otherwise known as my interpretation of tragedy) sees tragic heroes as gamblers of sorts. They play for higher and higher stakes and, in the mania of white heat, finally encounter the unexpected. The unexpected does bad things to them. Which is sort of surprising, since can’t the unexpected also be good? Well in tragedy, the heroes never run across fat tails on the right of the bell curve (unexpectedly fortuitous events such as winning the lottery); they always run across the fat tail on the left of the bell curve (some disastrous event). Here’s an explanation of fat tailed risk from the New York Times. So, that’s the reason why I’m interested in gambling.
But unfortunately I don’t have one single gambling bone in my body! To find out more about this world, I bought some stock in the Great Canadian Casino company (ticker GC.to). And I also went down to their View Royal location to observe other gamblers in action. They also kindly gave me a used deck of cards for the Dead Man’s Hand photo shoot (did you know each deck of cards is only used once?). But that wasn’t enough. I wanted to read about gambling. That’s when I came across this book of 31 gambling short stories (some are excerpts from novels) put together by Paul Lyons.
Just the cover illustration tells an interesting story! Did the fellow on the left lose and the one on the right win? But what about the guy in the middle?-he seems impassive to it all.
Whether your vice be a tame game of bingo or a visit to the local horse track, a friendly game of poker with friends or a tense match of billiards in a smoky parlor, chances are that you, at one time or another, have gambled on something. And nowhere is man”s fascination with gambling more clearly evident than in the massive profits amassed each year by illegal bookmakers and the lavish casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and abroad.
In The Greatest Gambling Stories Ever Told, editor Paul Lyons has compiled thirty-one of the finest writings, both fact and realistic fiction, ever penned about our collective gambling vice, which has been a part of our history and culture since Biblical times.
With contributions from such renowned writers as Fyodor Dostoevsky, David Mamet, and Charles Bukowski, as well as some rare, lesser-known gems of the genre from Dan McGoorty, Michael Konik, and Jane Smiley, The Greatest Gambling Stories Ever Told is an entertaining and enlightening collection sure to appeal to anyone who has ever picked up a cue, cards, dice, or racing form, and to anyone out there looking to feel a little bit of “juice.”
Paul Lyons, the editor of The Quotable Gambler, was raised in New York City, and received his early gambling training at Guys and Dolls Billiards-recalled in his novel Table Legs. He received a Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and now teaches English at the University of Hawaii, Manoa.
As editor, Lyons is our guide throughout the book. He writes the standard introduction. But he’s at his best in the short little introductions preceding each of the 31 stories: he points out why the selection is special. For example, Lyons directs the reader to appreciate how Zweig captures the interior, physiological sensation of gambling through his hero: a lady who is an astute observer of hands. That’s something I would have missed, but it made that selection all the more enriching.
The other thing awesome about this book is that I finally get to meet all these characters of lore: fast Eddie, Minnesota Fats, the Cincinnati Kid, and so on. And believe it or not, I have never read Balzac and D.H. Lawrence! Looking forward to that. And why is it that some people are always referred to by first initials and last name? Like T.S. Eliot and D.H. Lawrence. You wouldn’t really say ‘Eliot’ or ‘Lawrence’ but T.S. Eliot and D.H. Lawrence. I wonder.
And yes, I cheated! I am not through the collection, just through the first couple of stories! Oh my…