Sunday, October 9, 2016

A Gambler’s Anatomy by Jonathan Lethem

With all the craziness in the news, one often needs an escape. (And books beat Top 40 in fighting traffic and TMZ nonsense, hands down.) Culture is becoming dumber due to not reading, a fact established by the stats for literacy and education. When too many young people either stare into a mirror to take selfies, or watch TV sports and McNews, we all lose in the long run. Books provide information you can’t get on TV—not even on PBS. (I watch NOVA, but rarely learn much since it must be dumbed down for those who don’t read science books like the recent debunking of TIME TRAVEL by James Gleick, THE CRASH DETECTIVES (about why planes crash, and the role of human error,) or THE FIX (about solving global warming with new ideas and technology.) There are biographies that bring us closer to those who have changed the world for the better, and inspire new thoughts (not just more stats in some record book.) Audiobooks take away the excuse of “no time for reading” by making it accessible to those on the road, in the sky, or on a hike, or cooking, too. Even entertaining fiction broadens the mind in ways TV can’t.  We are forced to use our imaginations like a muscle, and the world can only benefit by this. Along with ourselves and our families. By contrast, narcissists have low attention span, near zero curiosity, feel entitled and above the rules that apply to “lesser beings,” and become depressed when someone isn’t worshiping their “greatness.” (Listen to THE NARCISSIST YOU KNOW.) Dorothy Parker once said that, “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” Given that billions are wasted each year in sometimes fraudulent sports gambling schemes, another good choice is A Gambler’s Anatomy by Jonathan Lethem, narrated by Mark Deakins. 

Handsome, impeccably dressed Bruno Alexander travels the world winning large sums of money from amateur “whales” who think they can challenge his peerless acumen at backgammon. Fronted by his pasty, vampiric manager, Edgar Falk, Bruno arrives in Berlin after a troubling run of bad luck in Singapore. Perhaps it was the chance encounter with his crass childhood acquaintance Keith Stolarsky and his smoldering girlfriend Tira Harpaz. Or perhaps it was the emergence of a blot that distorts his vision so he has to look at the board sideways. Things don’t go much better in Berlin. Bruno’s flirtation with Madchen, the striking blonde he meets on the ferry, is inconclusive; the game at the unsettling Herr Kohler’s mansion goes awry as his blot grows worse; he passes out and is sent to the local hospital, where he is given an extremely depressing diagnosis. Having run through Falk’s money, Bruno turns to Stolarsky, who, for reasons of his own, agrees to fly Bruno to Berkeley, and to pay for the experimental surgery that might save his life. Berkeley, where Bruno discovered his psychic abilities, and to which he vowed never to return. Amidst the patchouli flashbacks and Anarchist gambits of the local scene, between Tira’s come-ons and Keith’s machinations, Bruno confronts two existential questions: Is the gambler being played by life? And what if you’re telepathic but it doesn’t do you any good?

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