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Misspent Adulthoods

My recent post about McGoorty Day made me think about my other favorite books about pool and billiards. I’ll save the how-to books for another list, but this mix of narrative nonfiction, biography, and fiction should satisfy anyone who wants to steep in the seedy milieu of poolrooms.

The Bank Shot and Other Great Robberies, by Minnesota Fats and Tom Fox. 1966; 2006. Globe Pequot, $14.95 (1-59228-701-8).

Every purported fact in this book should be regarded with a gimlet eye–Minnesota Fats regarded truth as an amusing inconvenience–but the hefty hustler’s as-told-to biography is still terrifically entertaining.

Billiards: Hustlers & Heroes, Legends & Lies, and the Search for Higher Truth on the Green Felt, by John Grissim. 1979. St. Martin’s, o.p.

Somewhat hard to find (I first read it in the Harold Washington Library), this mix of history, memoir, and legend is a fun portrait of the game and the men who played it–and also 1970s sensibilities and collars.

Byrne’s Book of Great Pool Stories, by Robert Byrne. 1995. Harcourt, paper, $20 (0-15-600223-X).

Among its many treasures, contains an absolutely brilliant short story by Wallace Stegner, “The Blue-Winged Teal.” And who knew Tolstoy wrote about billiards?

The Hustler, by Walter Tevis. 1959. Four Walls Eight Windows, paper, $13.95 (1-56025-473-4).

Okay, I confess: I haven’t actually read this book. But I have read the original short story that it was based on, which was published in the January 1957 Playboy. (“But honey, I only read Playboy for the short stories!”) The story is good, not great, but its influence–in inspiring a novel and then the classic film–is undeniable.

Hustler Days: Minnesota Fats, Wimpy Lassiter, Jersey Red, and America’s Great Age of Pool, by R. A. Dyer. 2003. Lyons, $22.95 (1-59228-104-4).

Dyer’s prose tends to be overwritten, but his research into a thinly documented scene and era is extremely valuable, especially his portait of the shambling, hypochondriacal, shot-making genius Luther Lassister. I never miss Dyer’s column, “Untold Stories,” in Billiards Digest, either.

Hustlers, Beats, and Others, by Ned Polsky. 1967. Aldine Transaction, paper, $24.95 (0-202-30887-1).

The main sociological essay of this book is a fascinating look at the byegone world of poolrooms and pool hustlers. Pool’s image has changed so much since the book’s publication that many of the observations aren’t valid today, but no matter. The blend of keen observation and original thought is why the book is still in print today. 

McGoorty: The Story of a Billiard Bum, by Robert Byrne. 1972. Broadway, paper, $19 (0-7679-1631-X).

Danny McGoorty was a hard-drinking, unreconstructed billiards player, and his story is a rollicking and completely unexpurgated journey through a byegone place and time. If anyone is ever fooled by sepia-toned photographs into thinking that the past was a more innocent time, they’ll change their minds after they read this.

Playing Off the Rail: A Pool Hustler’s Journey, by David McCumber. 1996. Harper, paper, $13.95 (0-380-72923-7).

In this modern-day look at life on the road, writer David McCumber plays stakehorse for pool player Tony Annigoni as they travel the highways, byways, and railways looking for action. This book’s accomplishment is in its ability to strip away the myths about pool hustlers while still making long nights in dingy poolrooms look appealing.



Posted in: Book Lists

About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

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