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Brazos Bookstore Q&A with James McManus

JMcManus BOA author James McManus is the subject of a recent feature article from Brazos Bookstore. The interview, conducted by Benjamin Rybeck, focuses on McManus's new book The Education of a Poker Player, and where this latest work fits into the author's already-impressive bibliography. In the interview, McManus ruminates on narrative, genre, fame, religion, and of course, poker. According to Rybeck, "On this subject—the literature (and history) of poker—McManus is more qualified than nearly anyone else. Not that he’s the world’s greatest poker player; he would admit that himself. But he is the author of two damn near definitive nonfiction poker books," Positively Fifth Street and Cowboys Full. An amateur poker player himself, though one "who famously finished fifth in the World Series of Poker," McManus believes the game is "susceptible to literary treatment." Rybeck explains: "Every time a good poker player bets, he tells a story about what he has, and it’s the job of the other player(s) to think about the story, to try to make sense of it. In this odd way, every good player is a literary critic, and poker seems the perfect game for the novelist—slow, internal, dedicated to thinking about the (recent) past rather than pushing headlong into the future." Education, however, is not simply about poker. "[McManus's] new book, a linked story collection called The Education of a Poker Player, takes on poker, but only at an angle," says Rybeck. McManus says that his "inclination in this new book is that poker is never one-hundred percent of life. I’m disinclined to write wall-to-wall anything.” And Rybeck adds that, "the reader digging into The Education of a Poker Player only for poker will be disappointed. It’s an autobiographical bildungsroman with loud echoes of Joyce, covering ten years in the life of an Irish Catholic altar boy as he grows up in the late 1950s and 1960s." Indeed, readers are greeted by an opening section in which "McManus takes a considerable stylistic risk," writing from the perspective of a young boy. "In other words," Rybeck says, "the first quarter of the book rambles, somewhat in-eloquently, with a sense of direction the reader only retroactively grasps." “I was raised as an experimental, Joycean writer,” McManus says, “and in a way, I’ve returned to that.” Rybeck believes it is this experimental shift that has led McManus to change publishers for this book, "taking temporary leave from the major Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and landing with BOA Editions, a boutique independent publisher." The interview, like Education itself, examines the intersection of faith and poker. Rybeck calls poker "the ideal playing field for notions of faith versus reason . . . there are some ways poker is a bit like a religion—like something built on faith." And McManus admits he feels this tension in his own experience: “I am one-hundred percent atheist,” he says, “but if I’m playing poker, and I’m wearing a hat and running bad, I’ll take that hat off and put on another.” According to Rybeck, Education "captures this feeling, the imprint childhood leaves on our adult selves, oftentimes circumventing reason to return us, however startlingly, to the belief systems that sorted our adolescent brains. And McManus—now atheist, now based in reason—still plays a game that involves a great deal of luck and superstition." His final question for McManus: "Is poker completely free of faith?" “If I ever write a poker novel,” the author replies, “that’ll be at the heart of it.” Read the complete interview at and get your copy of The Education of a Poker Player from the BOA Bookstore today! Now through December 18, save 25% on all BOA Bookstore orders during the BOA Holiday Sale! Use promo code SHOPBOA at checkout.
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