Finishing the Woodward Book

I’ve finished Bob Woodward’s book Fear, and the title is apt. Nothing in the book was a surprise; the gradually building story is devastating. This is a frightening account of a very limited, very damaged man with a feral cunning for manipulation who now occupies the most powerful job in the world — with few guard rails to keep him from wreaking havoc. Many of the people referenced in the book who were able to distract him and derail his worst impulses are gone: Rob Porter, Gary Cohn. The people who are left are,¬†with few exceptions, enablers.

The other night Hillary Clinton was on Rachel Maddow’s show. Clinton repeatedly said things like “what are the facts?” and “where is the evidence?”. Trump values neither facts nor evidence. He has supreme confidence in his own instincts, no matter how misguided, ignorant, or foolish.

Will enough Trump voters come to their senses for the upcoming November election, and before the presidential election in 2020, to put an end to this disaster? We don’t know, do we?

Reading Woodward’s Book Fear

I’m working my way through the Woodward book, stopping to reflect as I read. All of the nuggets we’ve seen mentioned on cable news are there, and comport with what we see of Trump every day.

What comes through more strongly in the book than I had thought about before is that Trump is like the crazy uncle in the attic, wandering around the White House while the business of the country is carried on by his mostly B-team cabinet officials, relatives, hangers on, or ex Fox news people. Trump spends hours a day watching television and talking on the phone to his cronies and drinking soda. Literally. He doesn’t come down to the office until around 11 am, and once there the TV’s are immediately turned to Fox News. I suspect he foregoes the PDB, the president’s daily briefing. Too many words. I don’t know on whom we are relying for presidential judgment regarding the crises of the day, but it isn’t Trump. Whatever else recent presidents used to do on a daily basis — talk with world leaders, attend meetings and have briefings, consult with cabinet officials and military leaders — Trump isn’t doing that. Someone else is — probably a lot of someones.

A point I wrote about earlier — my belief that Trump isn’t smart — is confirmed not only by the book, but in this latest round of tariffs with China. Trump has fundamental misconceptions about a lot of things, and he holds on to them tenaciously even when corrected by his senior people. He believes, or says he believes, that China is paying us billions in tariffs. Actually, the tariffs are paid by the end consumer: American families.

Trump is, in office, just what he’s always been: the reality star, the performer. The U.S. presidency is looking more and more like The Apprentice, but the stakes are so very much higher.

Making Life Imitate Fiction

If you were a moderately successful writer of romantic novels and were going to murder your husband, you wouldn’t publish a novel about murdering your husband — would you? Nor would you follow up with a blog post on the topic of how not to get caught.

Honestly, people are strange.

Said novelist, Nancy Crampton Brophy of Portland, Oregon, wrote both the novel and the blog post and is now under arrest for her husband’s murder.

Other than crimes done in the heat of passion and on the spur of the moment, I assume that planning a murder takes time. Writing a novel certainly does. And following up with a blog post giving your thinking on not being caught can hardly be categorized as impetuous.

Dumb? Probably not, as Ms. Brophy is smart enough to get her books published. Overwhelming desire to pay the piper for her crime? Maybe. Need to close the circle by having life imitate art?

As I said, people are strange.


My Copy of Bob Woodward’s Book Fear

My copy of Bob Woodward’s book Fear is arriving on Friday, in hard cover from Amazon. I have a busy weekend — my front landscaping is going in on Saturday and Else’s birthday is on Sunday — but I plan to spend every spare moment reading.

A million copies of the book have been printed in the first run. Hillary lost by 70,000 votes spread out over three states. I supposed a lot of the initial readers of the Woodward book were never Trump supporters in the first place, but I’m hoping it will be another dose of reality for those voters who have glimmerings of being fed up with the reality TV presidency. Nothing is final in politics, but Trump’s poll numbers are going down. People in farm states are being hurt by tariffs. Working class voters who got a small tax cut are finding it outweighed by rising health care costs. And for the rest of us, the constant drumbeat of turmoil, the dishonesty, the never ending sense of crisis, and Trump-the-wrecking-ball in the international community are getting very, very old.

Core Trump supporters who are all in with his Make America White Again agenda will likely stick with him. But those voters who took a chance on something new have to be wondering what they got in return for their vote. The Woodward book, I hope, will provide the answer.

Rachel Maddow and Bob Woodward

Rachel Maddow, host of her own talk show on MSNBC, is really brilliant. Her 20 minute interview with Bob Woodward about his new book Fear was a treat. She asks really thoughtful questions, ones without obvious answers. She pulls disparate threads out of the air to make a coherent and compelling argument. Bob Woodward is no slouch either, and together they were riveting. I could have listened much longer.

Trump hates the new book. His funniest response is to claim that he is going to write the real book. Trump can’t write a paragraph; he even makes spelling and grammatical mistakes in his tweets. Does he really have a degree from Wharton, undergrad, not the biz school? His father Fred must have written a big check. Trump can barely read material that others have written for him. He can riff for 90 minutes or more, an incoherent rant that his incoherent supporters love. But write a book? Not a chance. And I can’t imagine him trusting a ghostwriter, someone to help him with the task, after the guys who did it in the past are all on CNN saying what a damaged soul he is.

The New Bob Woodward Book

Enough excerpts of the new Bob Woodward book Fear are out there to make me rapt with attention. I went on Amazon yesterday and order a hard copy of the book. I order very few print books these days, choosing to get most things on my Kindle. But I experience a difference between reading on Kindle and holding a hard cover book in my hands, turning the actual pages. For this latest Woodward non-fiction, I want the actual book.

If half of what Woodward writes about is true — and I quite imagine a good deal more than half will be substantiated over time — we are in a heck of a mess. We have an incompetent and dangerous president. His #2, smarmy Mike Pence, is a religious nut wholly owned by the Koch brothers. Trump’s Cabinet is 90% genuine suck-ups and 10% people like Mattis who are losing influence but see themselves as the bulwark between Trump and disaster. Congressional Republicans are ineffectual and mute on Trump’s many outrages.

Even if Democrats take one or both houses of Congress in November, we have two more years of this.

I can hardly imagine.

Writing Life: How a Memoir is Received

As I know very well from having written my own memoir, Good Daughter Good Mother, the author doesn’t control how any piece of writing is received. The reader does.

Steve Jobs first child, Lisa Brennan Jobs, has written a memoir entitled “Small Fry“, in which her famous father is pretty much revealed as cold, often rejecting, and a real jerk. She forgives him, and wants the reader to forgive him as well.

I doubt I’ll read the book, as I have no more than a passing interest in Steve Jobs — or his daughter. In fact, the most interesting nugget for me about Jobs is that he and Joan Baez had a three year affair when she was 41 and he was 27.

Just from the nuggets revealed in the New York Times review, I’d say good for Lisa if she forgives her famous father. He has a lot to be forgiven for.

Book Review: A Place for Us

I seem to be on a culture roll today with my blog posts: film review, and now a book review. A Place for Us is a stunning new novel by a very young author, Fatima Farheen Mirza, who is only 26 but writes with the maturity and wisdom of an author at the peak of her career. Remember that name; we’re going to see a lot of wonderful work from this brilliantly talented young woman. The novel comes out under the publishing imprint of SJP for Hogarth, a division of Penguin Random House. SJP is, perhaps improbably, Sara Jessica Parker of TV sitcom Sex and the City fame. Turns out SJP has a great eye for promising books. Reminds me a little of Jackie Kennedy showing up first at Viking Press and then at Doubleday after she ditched Ari Onassis. Jackie had substance and style as a book editor, acquiring over 100 works of fiction and non-fiction during her 19 year career. Who’d have thought, for either woman?

A Place for Us is about a Shia Muslim family with roots in India but living in northern California. They have two quietly obedient, highly competent, religiously compliant daughters and a screw up son. The book is about love and betrayal, about faith that both isolates and supports a Muslim family in a white Christian culture, about tragedy and celebration as intertwined parts of family life. Mirza is able to take the voice, and the perspective, of each family member — allowing us to see the complexity of this family through different lenses. She doesn’t resolve the moral ambiguity involved in betraying those we love, allowing the reader to do that for ourselves. Was Layla really shielding her son Amar from rejection by a family who would not accept his proposal of marriage for their daughter, or was Layla shielding herself from shame within their tight-knit Shia community? You, the reader, get to decide.

Read this book, even though it’s long. Go see Crazy Rich Asians. Your world will be fuller and richer for having both experiences.

Writing Life: Booming Stats

I typically get between 200 and 250 page views a day, mostly driven by a cadre of loyal daily readers and equally loyal binge readers — people who come onto the site every few days or weeks and catch up on all the back posts.

Occasionally, I have a day when my page views spike, as I did on Wednesday. I had 376 page views. I can see how many readers click on each post, although not who is reading. From my attempts to figure out from whence the big spike came, it looks as if a lone reader came on and read over 100 posts.

Whoever you are, come back!!!!

Book Review: A Little Life

A Rochester friend, Ellen B. , recommended Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life to me, saying it was the best book she’d ever read. I downloaded it onto my Kindle, all 700+ pages, without a second thought.

I had trouble getting into the book, focused as it is on the story of four college roommates, male, who transplant into a crummy apartment in New York and begin to morph into adulthood. Ho hum. Shades of Mary McCarthy, only with boys. I picked the book up and put it down three or four times before deciding to read the first 100 pages before making a thumbs up or down decision.

In fewer than 100 pages, but more than I’d read in my fits and starts, I was hooked.

This is a dark, intense book — mediated by tender moments of friendship and the sweetness of ordinary life. Normally, when I love a book, I read straight through for hours. Not here. I needed breaks. I needed sunlight and air and the offsetting laughter of children.

We like to think, to hope, that profound early trauma is survivable — that we can go on to have a good life, an ordinary little life with friends and family and Thanksgiving and drives in the fall countryside and even great professional success. Yanagihara, in her main character Jude St. Francis, thinks that. But the shape of that life might be persistently ragged, discolored, truncated, in ways that are hard to imagine much less to read. That insight resonates with my own life, and the people in it, ones that I know grew up with significant early trauma.

I agree with Ellen B. that this is a remarkable book, and recommend that you read it — but perhaps only if you are in a good enough place in your life, a stable enough place, to float safely in the book’s dark currents.

My next book will be something lighter, much lighter, like a Thomas Perry murder mystery.