Friday, June 27, 2014

Parting Gift from Freddy the Beard: The "Encyclopedia" of Pool Hustlers

Freddy "The Beard" Bentivegna

 Pool writer Freddy "The Beard" Bentivegna passed away earlier this month. He was a great guy and a very funny writer. Late last year he completed what would become his final book, The "Encyclopedia" of Pool Hustlers. It's top notch. Here's an excerpt of a review I wrote for Billiards Digest  

RIP Freddy.

-- R.A. Dyer


The 'Encyclopedia' of Pool Hustlers Colorful, Fun

Nowhere in The “Encyclopedia” of Pool Hustlers will you find a list of birth dates and death dates of famous pool players. Nowhere will you find academic descriptions of pool games, the sort you might find in Mike Shamos’ New Illustrated Encyclopedia of Billiards. Nowhere will you find the sensible organization of Robert Bryne’s pool treasuries.

But what you will find in Freddy “The Beard” Bentivegna’s new reference work is fun — 325 chaotic pages of it. The “Encyclopedia” of Pool Hustlers is not a book you’ll ever read from start to finish — at least, not in any disciplined way — but it’s a book you’ll want to have around your nightstand or in The Brown Study. It’s chock full of quick and quirky anecdotes about players both famous and obscure (mostly obscure), all seasoned with Bentivegna’s aromatic brand of BS.
 
The entries are usually short — some just a few paragraphs. But his book is expansive. Formidably so.  Leafing through it, I quickly found entertaining entries for Greg “Big Train” Stevens (He was the only guy that I ever saw eat a whole loaf of Wonder Bread for a meal), Alfie Taylor (old time road-hog hustler) and “Gar” Milborn Frazier (World’s champion stay-up man). Bentivegna includes a few entries for pool playing celebrities, including James Caan and Elvis Presley. He also describes “The Wonder Dog of Pool,” a man he calls “The Filthy Beast” and by necessity includes an entry entitled “Chemical Enhancement.”

The “Encyclopedia” of Pool Hustlers is a better book than it has any right to be.  But if you order the Encyclopedia (and I think you should), don’t for a moment lose track of what it is you be getting in your mailbox. Like the hustlers that Bentivegna writes about, this book is chaotic and untidy. Neither are there any real profiles here, no get-into-the-weeds details.

What you’ll find instead are outrageous anecdotes, first-hand stories of lying, cheating, drug taking and boozing. At its very core, this is an anthology of boys behaving badly. This is a book about pool hustlers.

And for my money, a fine one.

-- R.A. Dyer

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