Book Report: Too Much and Never Enough

Book reports are not the most popular of my blog posts. The one from yesterday got 9 whole hits. But, if I ever need to know what books I was reading starting in 2018, I know where to look!

I had a feeling I’d read Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man, by Mary L. Trump all in one sitting. I came close. Was it some sort of morbid curiosity? I guess so. But I have always wondered how the bellicose and supremely self-confident persona of the person currently serving as US President came about. I figured he must have had a really weird family.

I cut off his face. You’re welcome.

Yes. He had a really weird family. The fact that his father was a gen-u-ine psychopath and narcissist and his mother was emotionally (and physically) not there during his formative years explains a lot. Also, you know, genetics probably played a role; he seems to have gotten more of his dad’s stuff than some of his other siblings, who each didn’t fare well in their household of origin to varying extents.

You can read Mary Trump’s assessment for yourself, so that’s enough about him for me. I was more interested in Mary (forgive me, but I’m not good at typing her last name). When a family member writes a tell-all, you tend to think, hmm, what is their agenda here? What’s their beef? And Mary, to her credit, completely admits she has a beef or two, like how her father was treated by the family patriarch, how no one did jack shit to help the current President deal with any of his issues and learn that anything whatsoever counted other than himself and looking good, how any disagreement with the family’s current lies about itself was punished incredibly harshly (like not mentioned in obituaries, written out of wills, etc.).

She’s NOT an impartial observer, but only someone who has been IN the family could write about it, thus, we get her viewpoint. I think she does a pretty good job at being fair, and you can see she loves many of her family members.

While acknowledging her part in the family drama, Mary kept me riveted while laying out the series of events that got us to where we are today, and like one of my friends who has also already finished the book, you almost feel sorry for young DJT. He didn’t stand a chance. I just wanted to know what horror that family would perpetuate next as I sped from chapter to chapter.

Two of my favorite bits in the book come toward the end, so let me share:

“Nobody has failed upward as consistently and spectacularly as the ostensible leader of the shrinking free world…Donald today is as much as he was at three years old: incapable of growing, learning, or evolving, unable to regulate his emotions, moderate his responses, or take in and synthesize information.”

p. 197

Happy days. I read this just before reading about Federal troops continuing to detain peaceful protesters around the country, just before reading that some random angry dude in Austin shot and killed a protester who was trying to stop him from driving into a crowd that included his paraplegic wife, just before reading about yet another party full of mask-less people hugging and celebrating in my town. Yow.

It’s frequently suggested that we just look for the good in life right now, and not worry about things beyond our control. And I’m all for remembering that it’s not all bad, I have amazing friends and family, and the universe is amazing. However, not to acknowledge what is going on, to hope it will all go away (like so many people are doing with respect to the Narcissist in Chief) seems to me like fiddling while Rome burns.

Hey, look, actual tweet.

If everyone sticks their heads in the sand, we’ll suffocate. Mary Trump’s book begs the people of this country and the world to actually DO something to help us get leadership with a focus on making life good for all, not just looking good for one’s long-dead father.


PS: These are my opinions and interpretations. I have no intentions of trying to change anyone’s minds on any political topic. Everyone makes their own decisions based on their upbringing and values. It’s okay.

Book Review: Unintended Consequences (and why you should write your memoirs)

This is a different type of book review. For one thing, you can’t buy the book anywhere; I was lucky enough to receive a copy from the author.

The book comes with a free bookmark Doug and Mary made for their COVID-postponed anniversary party.

You see, Unintended Consequences, by F. Douglas Martin, is a collection of stories of the life of one of my friends from my old church. He had been sharing stories from his life on Facebook for months, and I found myself eagerly anticipating each new post from Doug. I just loved the cast of characters who went through his life, the stories of his upbringing, and tales from his fascinating career working with fish around the world. Yep. Fish. It’s fascinating, and not just to other scientists or amateur naturalists!

Apparently, I was not the only one who loved his tales, so his friends and family finally convinced him to put the stories together in a book. His wife, Mary Hengstebeck, took on the task of compiling the MANY stories, putting them in some kind of order, and adding photographs and clip-art illustrations for each story. That was some kind of job!

Sure, the book’s obviously self published, and because it’s a collection of separate stories, there’s some repetition, but that doesn’t detract from the joy of reading the tales of the amazing stuff Doug got away with doing as a child, the hilarious folks he worked with in his life, and the love story between him and Mary.

It’s just the story of a normal person’s life, but I love it. I’m still reading it, but since I read the original stories, I feel competent to say the whole book is a pleasure, and a wonderful distraction from the news of the world right now.

What This Means for YOU

Doug is just a well-educated guy who tells good stories, not a famous celebrity or politician. Still, his memoirs are a joy to read. In the past couple of days, I’ve tried to convince a couple of my friends who have led interesting lives that their stories deserve to be preserved and shared.

This katydid would not go in my memoirs, but it’s an interesting photo.

Both said that no one would care about their stories. Well, Doug probably thought his wife and children would be the only ones who would read his. Really, sharing the stories of our lives is valuable. Future historians will be happy to find details about how people actually lived in the 20th and 21st centuries, and family, friends, and interested others WILL like reading it, especially if you can write well and have lots of interesting photos.

Here’s Doug doing research at Hornsby Bend. I didn’t get permission, since this review is a surprise. But it was public on Facebook.

I know LOTS of people who fit this category. Maybe YOU are one. And even if you aren’t the greatest writer on earth, you probably know someone who can review your writing and clean it up a bit. Honest. I want to read your story.

Mine’s here on the blog.

Book Report: Laugh Lines

Believe it or not, I don’t spend all my time getting pissy about people’s online behavior. I actually spent much of this weekend laughing aloud, because I read the new memoir, Laugh Lines: My Life Helping Funny People Be Funnier, by the great Alan Zweibel. Who? I didn’t realize I was such a comedy nerd until I figured out I was the only person I knew around here who was excited that this book came out. I’d been a fan since I was in my late teens.

Those teeth look too good to be true. They remind me of how he said an old comedian he wrote jokes for had fake teeth the size of porcelain tiles.

Zweibel was one of the original Saturday Night Live writers, and I have followed his career ever since. He is one funny, funny man. And he sure has run into a lot of funny, funny people in his life.

I had a great time reading about his start as a deli meat cutter/joke writer for the last of the Borscht Belt comics, how he made the big time writing for SNL, and of course, his ups and downs in the years since.

Some of the best parts of the book are about his friendships and comedic partnerships. His best friend was Gilda Radner (and he wrote what I hear is a beautiful book about her, called Bunny Bunny, which I just ordered). Much of their story had me laughing aloud. He was very honest about his relationship with Garry Shandling, which had very big highs and lows. And learning more about Billy Crystal, another favorite comic of mine, was another highlight.

Here he is, proving he worked for Saturday Night Live.

At times, Zweibel’s incessant name dropping got on my nerves. It was like I was playing a game of How Much Comedy History Do You Know? I’m glad that he often described what a person was known for in parentheses, and I admit to having little moments of glee when I already knew a comedy name. You do end up with the impression that the world of comics and their agents is a very small one, or at least was for a long time.

His casual mentions of just dropping by a Knicks game, getting let in to Broadway shows, or playing tennis with the cronies came off a little elitist, but I probably do that stuff inadvertently myself, on a smaller scale. He probably views those things as normal parts of life, since everyone he knows has a house in Hawaii with a famous comic/movie director (Rob Reiner, or was it Carl; all that family are in the book).

I think Zweibel redeems himself, though, with the respect and high regard he places on the people who came before him, who taught him and all the comedians his age so much. He also seems to feel honored to be able to share his experiences with younger comics. I honestly think he’s a nice guy who lucked out and got famous, and handled it as well as he could, being a regular human being and all. His love for his wife and kids also are refreshing to read about – his wife, Robin, seems as funny and genuinely nice as he does.

From the Bottom Drawer of: Alan Zweibel: The Prize, The Ride Home, Sexting with Alan Dershowitz by [Alan Zweibel]

If you like the history of comedy in the US, and understand enough Yiddish and Jewish culture to be able to follow a Henny Youngman joke, you’ll get a real kick out of this book. And you’ll have a few old and new jokes to tell your friends.

By the way, there’s a free Kindle version of a few comedy stories by Zweibel that you might enjoy: From the Bottom Drawer of: Alan Zweibel: The Prize, The Ride Home, Sexting with Alan Dershowitz

Book Report: Me, by Elton John

Here’s a random fact about me: I really love to read memoirs, especially of my favorite musicians from the seventies. Some are definitely better than others (like Keith Richards’ memoir, dang that was some good writing). So, I had this book by Elton John pre-ordered and got it the day it was published last week. I’d enjoyed the movie a lot, especially the costumes that were exactly like what he wore in real life, but I was interested to see if his own words differed from the cinematic portrayal.

It matches the movie

Luckily I finished the other book I was reading, so I could delve right into this one. And delve I did. At first I didn’t like the writing all that much, but soon enough, I was trying to keep my eyes open every night so I could read more. Yep, he was an interesting guy. He is also an honest guy. No sugar-coating of his less than stellar qualities for him!

I’ve read a couple of books recently where the author remarks that random decisions or meetings changed the course of their lives dramatically and mused about what would have happened if person X hadn’t been in the shopping center on the right day, or whatever. Elton John does this, too, but I liked his conclusion that all his mistakes, lucky coincidences, and random choices made him the happy man he is today, so it’s all fine by him.

I just thought this was pretty, and it’s here to remind me to tag when I finish writing this.

I have to second that, myself. Every “mistake” contributes to your growth and wisdom.

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