Golden Handcuffs: The Secret History of Trump’s Women – Nina Burleigh (2018)

So it’s summer break here right now (for some of us), and so that means that I get to do some serious reading. (Not “serious” reading but more about the long hours of falling deeply into a story…) Lucky me.

So, in the spirit of the holidays, I thought for the next few posts, I’d just do a round-up of some of the better reads that have come across my way over the last few weeks. There’ve been some good reads (and then some not-so-good ones), but that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.

First up, we started off the summer season with an impulse grab from the New Books display at the local library: “Golden Handcuffs: The Secret History of Trump’s Woman” by journo Nina Burleigh.

This title covers a small but important group of women in Trump’s immediate sphere, both historically and in the present. As the Amazon website marketing copy for the book says:

New York Times bestselling author and award-winning journalist, Nina Burleigh, explores Donald Trump’s attitudes toward women by providing in-depth analysis and background on the women who have had the most profound influence on his life—the mother and grandmother who raised him, the wives who lived with him, and the daughter who is poised to inherit it all.

Burleigh is an experienced political journalist with experience writing for Time magazine and with a number of narrative nonfiction (and straight nonfiction) titles, I knew that I would be in good hands in terms of writing polish and skill. Plus – there was a very good chance that she and I would be in political agreement, so I quickly picked up this book.

And you know – Burleigh handles this viper’s nest with a professional and calm hand. By covering the various relationships that Trump has had with the key female figures in his life, it’s much clearer to see, perhaps, what influences these particular women have had on him (and also, naturally, vice versa).

So the stage has been set for a chronological look at who these individual women actually were/are, how they saw/see life and how they have played a pivotal role in how Trump has grown (if you can say that without wincing), how he sees women, and how he views the world in general. True or not, let me say that this was a readable and ultimately fascinating subject to read about, once you can control the bile from bubbling up in your mouth every now and then. :-{

Despite Trump’s immature view of life, these particular women have been able to guide and even direct some of his decisions along the way, and perhaps (in a case or two) managed to redirect some of the more base opinions that he’s held (both in the past and the present).

Burleigh covers each of these women through both an individual and a group lens, allowing the reader to watch how the early Trump was influenced heavily by his mother and his grandmother (probably the main influences with regard to his interior design taste – gaaagh) and then to see how as an adult (at least in numbers), Trump seems to like to have a Pygmalian-influence on all three of his wives (although only two of them were/are quite tolerant of this). His daughter seems to have more of an individual spirit, but in no way has she remained unaffected by her daddy’s flaws and goals.

Seen as a whole throughout this book, Trump is not immune to female influence in his sphere, but to me, it reads as though two of the three wives were content to let him think he controlled them (although he didn’t really), and third (Marla Maples) refused to take it from him.

From a psycho-social POV, it’s quite a fascinating read to learn about this side of the current U.S. president as you listen to the day-to-day media coverage of the wreckage of the world in his orbit right now. It doesn’t make it any easier to stomach his questionable choices, but Burleigh writes in such a way that her argument and her points seem to be very en pointe.

Obviously, this book is targeted at those who are not particularly strong fans of the current administration, so if you’re not of that ilk, you will be probably get disturbed at this content. (Even if you are of that ilk (i.e. not a fan), it’s still disturbing…)

But for those of us who see the flip side of this whole situation, I found this to be a fast and provocative read which may helpfully fill a few holes in understanding (or at least having an inkling of comprehension) of Trump’s public persona and the way that he chooses to conduct his life in the position of arguably the most powerful man in the world.

(For those readers who are hoping that Trump will be a one-hit wonder: pay attention to Ivanka (and thus the husband as well). Trump seems to have a plan of building a political family legacy…)

A Silver-Plated Spoon – John, Duke of Bedford (1959)

I seem to be rather enamored with biographies and autobiographies at the moment, and so, as part of my goal of reading more from my own TBR, I pulled this title down from the shelf. I had found this volume at one of the FoL book sales, and bought it as I was intrigued by (a) the fact that I remember being taken for several visits to this guy’s family (and stately) home as a child, and (b) I was also curious about the reason why it had shown up in West Texas, 5,500 miles away from the place it described. 

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this book, and it turned out in the end, I was actually pretty impressed with how proficiently it was written and the author’s witty sense of humor. (Very dry.) 

I grew up in Bedford, a middle-sized market English town that has a history of hundreds of years. Despite many years being educated there, I was still pretty ignorant about some of its local historical figures (this family being one). However, I’d wondered about this family title (Duke of Bedford), and since they also lived in the same county (I think), what their connection was to the town of Bedford. This read clarified all that for me.

John, the Duke of Bedford author, writes a fairly straightforward recounting of his family’s long history. His family records can take his descendants back for hundreds of years with a fairly constant peripheral relationship with the royalty of the time. (A few queens and kings even stayed the night in their ancestral home, Woburn Abbey, which fascinated me. How on earth would you prepare your house for an overnight stay of the Queen?) 

So, there’s a lot of family and local history retold in this book – interesting for me, but perhaps not so interesting for others with no connection to the area. I was impressed with the fact that the Russell family (who make up the Duke connection) had kept accurate records of their ancestors for so many years and, having watched my father labor for years over our own (slightly more modest) family tree, was well aware of how much work tracing such a personal history can be for someone dedicated to the cause. 

John’s (the Duke in question) childhood had been isolated and he had had a lonely upbringing with a very distant father (personally speaking). However, John doesn’t seem to hold a huge grudge towards his parent (although he certainly doesn’t give him much slack), and so the majority of the book puts a lot of focus on how much he (and his wife) have worked on turning his stately home into a profitable concern instead of the partly ruinous mound of bricks that his earlier relatives had left to molder. I really appreciated how this Duke had seen the value in renovating the large house whilst also keeping it historically accurate. (It was very sweet actually.) 

So, this was an interesting interlude going back in time for an important local family from the area where I grew up. (Curiously, their family’s link to Bedford is not with my nearby market town of the same name. It’s to do with some real estate in Bedford Square in the City of London.) 

This was actually a far better read than I had anticipated, and I’m glad that the title had somehow made it onto the TBR (and now it’s off!). 

The question now remains: what title to read next? 

Woburn Abbey.

Swabbing the Decks: Recently Read Reviewlettes

Lots of being busy has led to a lack of posts here on the blog, and I apologize for that, dear reader. I’m planning on this being a catch-up post of sorts so that I can get back onto schedule. 

So I’ve been reading for sures – I seem to have retrieved my reading mojo after having it slip out of view in March, and luckily, the titles that I’ve been choosing have been really good. (It’s nice when things align.) 

I had noticed that I had slipped off the wagon for reading from my own TBR over the last few weeks, so pulled an old Oprah read from the shelves: “What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day” by Pearl Cleage (1993). 

It’s been a while since I’ve chosen a title that reads like a “hot knife through butter”, so searching for that experience and hoping that this wasn’t a misery novel (as can be Oprah’s wont with her books), I found this to be a fun and optimistic read. It’s also particularly noteworthy as it was published back in 1993 and features an HIV-positive woman as the protagonist. 

Why was it noteworthy in 1993? Because the AIDS pandemic was in full swing, a mix of homophobia and denial across the U.S. (and my city) was common, and I was an AIDS educator in a medium-sized Bible Belt community (ref: homophobia and denial [for some groups] mentioned above).

Oprah choosing this title was a great way to reach an audience who wouldn’t automatically be informed about the disease. It was cleverly wrapped up in a cheerful novel featuring women, and it was Queen Oprah who chose it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back at that time, I can see that she made a brave choice.

This is a homecoming-type novel, where the protagonist goes back to her small hometown after leaving Atlanta, the “Black Mecca” as the author calls it. Typical of a homecoming, she reconnects with old friends, makes new friends, and then makes new plans for the rest of her life. 

It’s well written, it’s easy to digest, it’s a fun read. Glad I reread this one, as I didn’t remember a thing about it from the first time. Plus – it was really interesting to place it in the context of history. Good one.

Pulling another read from the TBR pile, I chose “Cooking and Stealing: The Tin House Nonfiction Anthology,” edited by Charles d’Ambrosio. As I was looking for some longform nonfiction and/or essays to read, this fit the bill completely for me, and I whipped through it. 

As is typical for most anthologies, there were some hits and misses but overall, it was a good read. What was a minor irritation, though, were the typos spread quite liberally throughout the pages. I kept checking to see if it was an advance copy (or similar), but no. It was the final proof and just had typos. Grr. 

Moving on from the typo situation, d’Ambrosio had selected some good essays and/or narrative nonfiction and I managed to glean some author names to search for in the future. Plus, in the end, the title did have more good reads than bad ones, so I consider that a win. Plus – off the TBR pile! 

During Spring Break, my mum had brought me an old Virago copy of “All Passion Spent” by Vita Sackville-West (which was a new read for me). Expecting a rather prickly reading experience, this one ended up being really enjoyable and I actually read it twice, back to back, just to look at how the narrative arc was structured since it was done so well. I’ll be looking for some more by Sackville-West and her gang in the future.

Now, the end of the semester is in sight for both students and teachers, Spring time is here in our area of the country, and things are turning green again. It’s supposed to be 90 degrees this week and I’ve just found out that I’m probably going to go to a work conference in Vancouver.

Life is really good. I hope you can say the same. 

Currently…

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Phew. It’s been a busy few weeks, but I’m finally starting to reduce my to-do list to a more manageable size. I had a great Spring Break, but a full week out of the office can do chaos to the schedule sometimes. (It was very worth it though. Just takes a few days to climb out of the pile.) 

To do a brief catch-up, I thought I’d use a format that other bloggers have used and which I rather like as well…

Currently:  I’ve just been to a breakfast meeting with a potential new faculty member who seems to be very nice. Plus – breakfast was yummy. Plus – I finally got to got to know some other faculty who are in my department, but who have very different schedules than I have so we didn’t know each other very well. We do now!

Reading: I’m a little bit behind in my book reviews, but I have had some crazy-good reads lately. Reviews to come. I’m now in the middle of a non-fiction anthology, “Cooking and Stealing: The Tin House Nonfiction Reader” (Charles d’Ambrosio, editor). A mixed bag for sure, but a good chunk of the articles have been excellent. (But there are typos scattered throughout. Why are there typos? Grr.) 

Watching: In the middle of the latest season of “True Detective” (a little intense but very good), along with whichever Seinfeld episode we can find at the moment of watching. Over Spring Break, my mum and I binge-watched a lot of HGTV which we both happen to really enjoy. 🙂

Listening: Just found a good remake of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” song, this one by Hardy, so that’s on quite-a-lot-of-repeat right now. 

Planning: The weekend ahead of us. Right now, it’s a choice between a movie of some type or a local play. We’ll see how this pans out. Either way (or something completely different) is fine.

Credit for post idea goes to Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness.

November 2018 reading review

It’s the beginning of a new month and it’s close to the end of the college semester, so let’s check in with how my reading is doing (just out of interest). I’ve been reading, but not quite with the same speed as I usually do. My eyes is tired at the end of the day, sometimes!

The reads for November included:

So to the numbers:

Total number of books read in November4 (and a half)

Total number of pages read 1,818 pages (av. 303). (This is exactly the same number of pages that I read last month. Weird.) 

Fiction/Non-Fictionfiction / 4 non-fiction.

Diversity0 POC. 2 books by women.

Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): library books, owned book and e-book.

Future plans include reading more of the printed word and my students’ writing. 🙂 

September 2018 Reading Review…

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So another month has passed, and let’s check in with how my reading is doing (just out of interest).

The reads for September included:

Ongoing project: Reading the AP Style Book.

So to the numbers:

Total number of books read in September6

Total number of pages read1,639 pages (av. 273).

Fiction/Non-Fiction2 fiction / 4 non-fiction.

Diversity1 POC. 5 books by women.

Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): 3 library books, 2 owned books and 1 e-book.

Future plans include instituting a book-buying ban until December, finish up the AP Style Book, and read more off TBR. 🙂

 

Summer’s Reading…

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Well, let’s see. Last summer, there was quite a bit of reading and quite a bit of other stuff (which is to say everything that’s not reading!). For my first time through a faculty summer, I found it to be an enjoyable and relaxing experience (although I might rethink the “taking a class + teaching a class” paradigm for next year).

In lieu of a book-by-book-review post, I thought I might just hit the highlights of the titles that I did read. That way, you get the cream of the crop and I get to catch up. Win-win for all!

Fiction was a pretty good haul overall. One or two stinkers, but I won’t mention those. Good thing about most of this is that they were off the TBR and therefore, are now out of the house. (Just in time for the FoL Library Sale that’s coming up…) 🙂

Did a flurry of reading two books by Nina Stibbes (whose book, Love, Nina, I had loved on an earlier read). These were both solid Stibbes’ efforts: The Man at the Helm was about how two teen daughters are trying to find a new husband for their newly divorced mum with varying levels of success, and the second read was “Paradise Lodge” (no blog post) about a young teen working her first job at a retirement home in England. Both very British in setting and tone, and thus fit the bill for me very well.

(This is our off year for going home to England [i..e. unlikely that we’ll get there by the end of December], so instead, I’ll read some Stibbes. Funny, relevant, and just like hanging out with my own family over there!)

Read the very lovely title, “The Rosie Project” by Graeme Simsion, an Aussie author. An easy (but still enjoyable) read with a plot that revolved around a man who lives a very controlled life (rather similar to an Aspie and/or OCD) and how he wants to find himself a girlfriend with the end goal of getting married.

Using spreadsheets and questionnaires, the guy starts the search only to meet a young woman who is the opposite of predictable and detailed. How does this process go? You’ll have to read it, but if you know any Aspies in your life (diagnosed or not), then you’ll enjoy the story. Funny without being at all mean. (I’m on the lookout for the follow-up title now. I’m curious how the story evolves!)

Then lined up some multicultural titles with a short fiction anthology, “Mixed” (from authors who are of mixed descent and how that impacts their lives) – edited by Chandra Prasad and left me lots to think about. Then, some fiction by the oh-so-talented Paule Marshall (this one called “Timeless People, Chosen Place” about the culture clash of a white academic research team on an unspecified Caribbean island community). No blog post, but very good, as per.

Read some Colm Toibin whose writing I happen to love. Set in Ireland and usually pretty domestic in setting (and revolving around family), “Nora Webster” (no blog post) was a really good read. (Plus it was a cold weather setting which was nice in Texas summer).

For non-fiction, I read some corker titles. I travelled to the moon and back with “Moondust” by English journalist Andrew Smith (no blog post). This title searches for the remaining U.S. astronauts who have seen the earth from the moon (a number that is reducing as the astronauts get older). Smith is trying to answer the general question: “What do astronauts do/how do they cope when they’ve been to the moon and then have to live on earth for the remainder of their lives? How do they handle the ordinariness of earth life after having traveled to space?”

An absolutely fascinating read (whether you’re into space or not). Smith is a great writer with a dry sense of humor and tracks down the pilots while delving into the Space Race of the 1960s and 1970s. I remember being woken up in the middle of the night to watch the moon landing, but I was only six years old so didn’t actually have a thorough understanding of the whole thing. I understand a lot more now, and realize that it wasn’t just about getting to the moon first.

Read a harrowing title by Luis Alberto Urrea called “By the Lake of the Sleeping Children”  about the people who live in the community that borders San Diego and Mexico. It’s actually a rubbish dump, but people live their whole lives in this awful place. I was astounded that this would happen so close to the Land of Milk and Honey, but it was true (probably still true).

However, despite the grim subject, Urrea is a gifted journalist who treats every one of his characters with dignity and respect while informing the reader of how truly hard their lives can be. (This was a bit of a hard read for me.)

Changing tack a bit (!), I finished up a biography of Princess Diana by Sally Bedell Smith (whose other work about the Queen and Prince Charles I’ve also read). Closer to a long People article than an academic treatise, it was still an interesting read and yet, even when you finish, you’re still no closer to the answers than before you started reading it. Interesting though.

Staying on the topic of royalty, I tracked down a title called Victoria and Abdul (about the “scandalous” [for the time] relationship between Queen Victoria and an Indian servant she called the Munshi. Fascinating reading and took me down all sorts of rabbit holes for a few days after that. I wonder if the accompanying film is any good…

Did some traveling around the world via some titles: Canada guidebooks (where I visited avec la famille), and also an old classic travelogue about England in the 1930’s: “In Search of England” by H.V. Morton. Adored this read, both because it was like going back in time and also because it is one of my mum’s favorite titles. Just loved it – like a traveling “Cider with Rosie.”

Speaking of going back in time (but this visit to a startling different place) was my read of  the graphic novel, “The Harlem Hellfighters” by Max Brooks and illustrator Canaan White (no blog post but trust me, it’s good), which is a fictional account of the (true) harrowing tale of the 369th Infantry unit of the U.S. Army who were the only African-American soldiers to travel to France during WWI.

This unit of soldiers was given exactly the same (and sometimes more) responsibilities as the white U.S. soldiers, but then, upon the unit’s return stateside, the soldiers were expected to slide right back into the segregated racial divide that was life in America in the early twentieth century. Another rather harrowing read about a topic of which I was woefully unknowing, but important just the same.

And then I started my second all-the-way-through read of the AP Style Book (as needed for work and class). I’m getting there, but have learned to expect very little logic in its rules. :-}

And now, I’m reading a library loan called “The Book of Books” (from the PBS TV series and the Great American Read project) which covers 100 titles that are popular in America. I’m not sure who chose them (or how they were chosen), but it’s an interesting and diverse list of books ranging (so far) from “Gilead” (Robinson) to “Catcher in the Rye” (of course) to “Pride and Prejudice” to James Baldwin and the “Fifty Shades” series (!), so it’s difficult to know what’s coming next from page to page. Its actually really fun to turn the page and see…

Lovely production values and pretty diverse in fiction titles, so enjoying a browse through that. Plus, it’s fun to see which titles I’ve read and which I’ve not… (I seem to have missed that whole related PBS TV series though… Did anyone else see it? Is it worth tracking down?)

And now class has been back in session, the slightly manic first week is over, and I’m developing loads of PowerPoint presentations since I’m teaching a lecture class for the first time this fall. It’s all fun and games though, and I’m very happy to be back in the classroom again!

Diana in Search of Herself: Portrait of a Troubled Princess – Sally Bedell Smith (1999)

diana.jpgSince there was a rather large English wedding that occurred the other day, my curiosity was triggered to learn more about one perspective of another former royal: Princess Diana.

(Especially after reading two of Bedell Smith’s other books: Prince Charles (good but no blog post for this one) and The Queen.)

(I know, I know… I’m English and typically we tend to rather roll our eyes with respect to the monarchy and the American obsession with them, but it was still an interesting read. Besides, loads of Americans frequently ask me (as the only English person they may know) to explain some of the finer points of this, so I was also just curious. I’m doing it for the people, man. 🙂 )

Bedell Smith is an American writer who is good at her craft and seems to approach her subjects with a pretty well researched and balanced perspective. They’re not academic tomes, to be sure, but they are readable and seem balanced for the most part. Sort of like an in-depth People magazine article of a kind.

So, this title was about the life and death of Princess Diana in respect of how she ended up marrying Charles and then all the drama that came with that. (And there was a LOT of drama.)

After reading this book, the feeling that I end up with is one of pity for everyone involved, really. (Keep in mind that I didn’t know any of the parties though… 🙂 )

And so it seems that most of the drama was actually created by Diana herself most of the time (at least according to this author). Diana seems to be mentally fragile for the majority of this book. Barely educated (no thanks to her parents) and then probably mentally ill on top of that.

If this book is true (and I don’t know that it’s not true, TBH), then the match between Charles and Diana was a mess from the beginning and then stayed that way throughout their lives. I think that the initial impression that many Americans had of Diana immediately after she died was that she was a golden and angelic woman who was stuck with a boring old codger, but I’m not sure that’s the case.

(Whether she was mentally ill or not, she does come across in this read as a particularly high-maintenance personality in a very unhappy relationship that probably should have never happened.)

Bedell Smith uses source after source to show the reader that Charles was not, perhaps, the evil monster that he was portrayed as in the 1990’s, and the end result was that he was just doing his best with a slightly unbalanced wife who he shouldn’t really have married.

I’m not sure what to think really, and since I don’t know them in any way, there’re probably few out there who really do know the events. This was certainly one perspective that doesn’t apologize for either of them in the end.

By sticking to her journalistic sources, Bedell Smith seems to give a fairly balanced view of this messy marriage and I have enjoyed the read.

If you like a fairly chatty tone to your non-fiction, but one that’s also supported by annotated facts and a large bibliography, you might like this author. It’s certainly not rocket science, but it’s still a pretty good read for when it’s hot outside and you don’t want to think too much about anything in particular.

So, not a bad read. Not a great read. Just somewhere down the middle.

June 2018 reading review

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June was an interesting month for me. Started auditing that class which has been great fun.

It’s been forever since I’ve taken a summer school class and I had forgotten how intense and fast-paced they can be. I’ve learned a lot though so all is well.

Reading has continued apace. Despite what I said in the above paragraph about all the classwork, there has been some messing around time and so I’ve managed to read a few more books than usual.

So to the numbers:

Total number of books read in June: 11. (Hooray for summer!)

Total number of pages read3,375 pages (av. 338).

Fiction/Non-Fiction7 fiction / 3 non-fiction; 0 plays. 1 DNF.

Diversity5 POC. 4 books by women (+  1 DNF by a woman).

Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): 6 library books, owned books and 1 e-book. (Not too shabby.)

Plans for July: Read lots. Read widely.

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The latest jigsaw puzzle… The blue sky is driving me nuts. It remains to be seen if these final pieces make it into the whole pic or whether it is put away as is. Whenever it stops being fun, I think. 🙂

Chicago – the Windy City: A Recap.

Recently visited Chicago for the first time (with the mater) and LOVED it. Chicago has now usurped Washington D.C. for my “Top City” spot in the U.S., after a lengthy rule of a couple of decades. Chicago was just a really nice place – friendly people, lovely weather, great views, safe to walk around… I do think I might have to visit the Windy City in winter to get a more well-rounded picture though. :-}

The visit was also enhanced by the kind friends who met us and showed us around and fed us lots of gastronomical treats. (Thank you guys!)

It’s also a book-y city (or at least we made it one on our visit). We visited the old Chicago Public Library (now turned into a cultural center). This was an older building, prior to the Chicago Fire of 1871 (I think) and was packed with literary references from its days as the grand old library.

And then, as we were staying downtown, we seemed to be surrounded by universities on every corner: DePaul University, Robert Morris University, Roosevelt University and University of Chicago down the way. (Didn’t make it down there, but will try next time.)

Roosevelt University had some really good quotations on the exterior of their various buildings, one of my favorites being this one:

If the text is tough to read, it says this:

“They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But what if it reflects not reality but an agenda? In this age of airbrushed magazine covers, computer-generated images, reality TV, and phony viral video, have words lost their meaning? Or have they become more important then ever?”

Then, we popped by the official Chicago Visitor Center which also happened to have a little library inside it. Great utilization of space and a great way to catch a segment of the population who might not otherwise get to a library:

And then, we came across the Chicago Public Library in its most recent building. Wow. This was mind-boggling in its size. It had NINE floors – nine floors of bookish goodness, some of which included exhibitions and displays of various issues and topics. (The ones that we saw on this trip included the de-segregation of the schools in Arkansas and one of fairly recent immigrants to the U.S. . Multi-media experiences and fascinating to watch and hear. Kudos to the library for making this available, although I wonder who makes the trek up to (slightly hidden) top floor to see them?)

There will be a few more select pics to come from my trip as it’s such a beautiful city.