American Bee: The National Spelling Bee and the Culture of Word Nerds; The Lives of Five Top Spellers as They Compete for Glory and
James Maguire. Rodale Press, $24.95 (371pp) ISBN 978-1-59486-214-4
To the fans-those who've caught the ESPN broadcast of the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee or the documentary Spellbound, among other outlets for the increasingly popular competition-Maguire's efforts to enliven his esoteric subject matter may prove superfluous, but his deft portrayal of the heart-stopping competition the Bee inspires will certainly catch the attention of the uninitiated. His profiles of the young spellers are amusing, occasionally touching and always impressive. The spellers' affinity for language leads to some great feats: David Tidmarsh, the 2004 champion, studied the entire Webster's Unabridged dictionary; Samir Patel, the 2005 runner-up, studied word lists all day, even while eating. Maguire's adulation for the spellers at times leads to excessive description, a problem complicated by the number of competitors, though his focus does eventually hone in on ten spellers competing in the 2005 Bee. His portraits of these spellers' preparations and personalities-Samir Patel's charming on-stage presence or Kerry Close's latent competitiveness-gives the reader ample reason to play favorites, giving the book a welcome touch of suspense. In addition, an impassioned description of the evolution of language in America sheds a new light on the Bee, and the worthiness of these competitive spellers' alacrity for the subject.
Reviewed on: 05/01/2006