Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for October, 2018

Fear: Trump in the White House

Posted by nliakos on October 7, 2018

by Bob Woodward (Simon and Schuster 2018; Nook format)

By the time I read this, there were no surprises, but Woodward includes minute details from conversations (via extensive interviews) between with a conversation between David Bossie and Steve Bannon about the possibility of Donald Trump running for President (Bannon scoffed: “Of what country?”), jumping six years ahead to 2016 and the campaign and election, and ending up several months into 2017 , for no particular reason that I can see except that while every single day has brought new horrors from this White House, Woodward had to stop writing and publish the book at some point, or he would still be writing. He probably is still writing (Volume II).

I am quite put off by the frequent use of fucking as both an adjective and adverb. It’s as if the English language has no other modifiers. Just a few examples: Bannon: “I don’t have time for fucking nonsense.” (adjective) Bannon again: “Twelve million fucking dollars in cash out of the Ukraine!” (adjective) and: “Fucking absurd” (adverb).   Trump : “That was the biggest fucking mistake I’ve made.” (adjective) and: “I always knew Gary was a fucking globalist. I didn’t know you were such a fucking globalist, Rob.” (adjective) and: “If it weren’t Sunday, you’d shut the markets down, that’s how fucking hard you fucking go!” (adverbs)  Well, you get the idea. Just the men. Do they really talk like that? Woodward dutifully records every “fucking” that was ostensibly uttered. . . . It reminds me of the Nixon tapes. Presidents and their staffs, unedited.

In fact, I have somewhat more respect for Trump than I did before I read the book. In the reported conversations, he often seems more aware of keeping his campaign promises and the potential consequences of various actions than I gave him credit for. Not all the time, but sometimes.

The book is about 100 pages shorter than one expects, with the last 80 pages or so given over to voluminous notes and an index. I thought I had a few more days of reading, but then suddenly, it was over. The final sentence: ” . . . (John) Dowd had seen the tragic flaw. In the political back-and-forth, the evasions, the denials, the tweeting, the obscuring, crying ‘Fake News,’ the indignation, Trump had one overriding problem that Dowd knew but could not bring himself to say to the president: ‘You’re a fucking liar.'”

As the future unfolds, we will see if this “tragic flaw” will be the undoing of this president. One can only hope.

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Posted in Biography, History, Memoir, Politics | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Maigret’s First Case

Posted by nliakos on October 7, 2018

by Georges Simenon (in English translation by Ros Schwartz, Penguin Classics 2016; originally published in French as La première enquête de Maigret in 1949)

This could be the first Maigret roman policier I have read in translation; or maybe not; if I had read another one, I don’t remember doing so. But I am pretty sure I have not read this one in any language. Jules Maigret is a twenty-something employee of the Saint-Georges district police station (secretary to the chief inspector), very young, totally inexperienced, in love with his nascent police career and full of ambition to rise in the ranks and eventually work at the Quai des Orfèvres (the police headquarters in Paris). The chief inspector assigns him his first case: a young flautist, walking down a fancy Paris street late one night, sees a young woman leaning out of a window and screaming for help, and hears a gunshot. What happened? Was anyone injured (other than the flautist, who tried to intervene and was beaten for his pains)?

Maigret sets to work, aided by the flautist, Justin Minard. His modus operandi is not very different from what would become his signature style later: immersion into the world where the crime was (or was not) committed, getting to know all the people involved, watching and waiting and taking notes and thinking. But at this stage of his life, he lacks confidence in himself and his gut feelings, and doors do not open for him, or people jump to do his bidding, as they will later. He even comes to suspect that the Chief Inspector, for whom he has enormous respect, does not wish the case to be resolved. . . .

It’s interested to read what is essentially a prequel to the other books. The story is set in a Paris where automobiles like the De Dion Bouton share the streets with horse-drawn carriages. Maigret is a slim young man, in contrast to his later heft. He has not been married long, but a youthful Mme. Maigret is as accommodating, understanding, and trusting as ever.

Favorite quote: “He hadn’t slept with his moustache net on and he had to straighten the tips with a hot curling iron.” Really, a moustache net? Who’d have thought?

Posted in Fiction, Mystery | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Alive, Alive, Oh! And Other Things That Matter

Posted by nliakos on October 4, 2018

by Diana Athill (W. W. Norton, orig. published in 2004)

Diana Athill was in her nineties, living in a nursing home in the U.K., when she wrote these essays about aging, dying, her grandparents’ home in Norfolk (where she spent her summers as a child), women’s fashions, life during and after the Second World War, her unconventional love life, a visit to the island of Tobago, her pregnancy and subsequent miscarriage in her forties, her fellow residents in the nursing home, Lord Byron and Thomas Boswell, and more. According to Wikipedia, Athill is still around, having turned 100 last year, so this may not have been her last book. I enjoyed it.

Favorite quote:  What I was really happy with was a lover who had a nice wife to do his washing and look after him if he fell ill, so that I could enjoy the plums of love without having to munch through the pudding.

Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

A Walk on the Beach: Tales of Wisdom from an Unconventional Woman

Posted by nliakos on October 2, 2018

by Joan Anderson (Broadway Books 2004)

Joan Anderson was at a pivotal point in her life, trying out life on her own away from her husband on Cape Cod, when she met Joan Erikson, wife of the psychologist Erik Erikson. Erik was in a nursing care facility in the town, and the two Joans–one in her early fifties, the other in her nineties but full of vitality and wisdom–became close friends. Together, they weathered Erik’s death, the return of Anderson’s husband and her growth into a stronger person. The memoir, purported to be about Erikson’s life lessons, is as much about Anderson’s efforts to make herself over in Erikson’s image, or at least with her mentoring. I was sometimes impatient with Anderson’s slow grasp of her mentor’s lessons, and at other times irritated by Erikson’s preachiness and tendency to criticize her friend. I often wondered what Robin, Anderson’s husband, was making of all this; even after he came back into her life, she seemed to ignore him.

Posted in Memoir, Non-fiction | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »