Write About it Wednesday: Front- Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign

“Every day on the campaign trail Trump’s actions test the definition of normal.”

This is quite possibly my favorite read of 2017. Unbelievable is just as the title states: Unbelievable. I watch the news. I follow campaign trails. I don’t get caught up in the day to day as often as I used to, but I like to know what is going on in the world around me. Katy Tur’s first-hand account of the recent presidential election had me questioning everything I know and remember. The book starts out with her receiving the Trump assignment (and some sex with a man she met on Tinder) and follows the campaign from the very beginning of Trump’s announcement of his candidacy to the final victory party. She pieces together her time on the road through memory, tweets, TV scripts and a compilation of notes that were outlined and then published for us to enjoy. Although Tur asks difficult questions of Trump, she claims no political affiliation to remain unbiased. I did feel she leaned toward Democratic views, but her book focuses on Trump and the evolution of campaign coverage. It truly was the CRAZIEST campaign in American history and she was there through it all.

What makes this book so great? I keep asking myself this question. I cannot pinpoint the exact reason that I loved it except to say that I took my reading further than words on the page. When an interview was mentioned, I found myself searching YouTube for the video. When a person is mentioned that I hadn’t heard of, I found them on Twitter. Tur’s story is down to Earth, easy to read and opens your eyes to the things that journalists deal with in our current media climate. Trump called her out on multiple occasions and violent threats were a real possibility from his supporters. Her interviews weren’t flawless, she didn’t claim to be perfect, she was real.

I think this book is a must read for anyone who enjoys politics, history or a laugh when it comes to presidential candidates. I will look at political coverage in a new light and have become an active Twitter follower of many news sites and organizations. I have been looking for a journalist from the Clinton campaign to come forward with a similar title, but no luck so far. As many of you know, I try to always read both sides of any story so if you have recommendations, please feel free to share!

Advertisements

Book Review Saturday: Lincoln in the Bardo

“That stillness seemed the most terrifying thing of all. He was on his own now. None could help or hinder him on the profound journey which, it seemed, had now begun.”

I did not know what to expect with this book. I checked it out from the library previously but did not get around to reading it until the Man Booker finalists were announced. I love historical fiction, but this falls into a category all its own. I have never read a book like this. Saunders wins the award for most creativity, but the book did fall flat in some regards for me. The research is impeccable and presented in a new way that grabbed my attention. The history is entwined in the story with direct accounts from people who witnessed the events. It shows the discrepancies in what is remembered and how history can be misconstrued.

With a cast of 166 narrators, the book can be overwhelming at first. Saunders grabs your attention right away with stories from characters in the mysterious Bardo. It reads as a ghost story with historical elements. You will laugh, blush and feel sadness for the President in what must have been a heart wrenching experience. I do not have children. I can’t imagine having to bury one while still maintaining leadership of an entire nation. The weight of the world on his shoulders and watching his every move.

Unfortunately, the afterlife consumes most of the novel. I was more interested in the historical elements which left me a bit disappointed. I was ready for the ending about 50 pages before it came. The people trapped in the afterlife provide insight into the struggles of self and humanity, but I wanted more of the historical side of Willie’s passing. I am curious where the inspiration for the ghosts originated because they are so diverse. Their stories are well developed, and every detail was captured. It begs the question; do we really know we are dead once we pass? If there is an in between, why must we wait? Saunders tackles these issues and more with a book that is worth the read. I believe it will stand the test of time and be read for many generations to come.

Write About it Wednesday: Andrew Jackson and Reading Goals

“His capacity to build upon his anti-aristocratic instincts, to learn from his mistakes, and still command the loyalty of others, is what finally defined his presidency.”

I made a goal last year to read a biography of each President. Five biographies a year seemed reasonable given the amount of time I spend reading for myself and the blog. October came around and I realized that I have yet to finish one this year. I set about to remedy the situation at my local library only to realize that the library consortium does not carry a biography on every President. Are you as outraged as I was? This seems like something people would want to learn about. Unfortunately, we have hit a digital age where students no longer “read the book” when Google holds all the answers. I for one need to hold a book in my hand, turn the pages and watch history unfold before me. Luckily, I have friends who share similar interests and allow me to book swap or my book budget for the year would be tanked (I mean, I do TRY to stick to it but let’s be honest…I need ALL the books).

Next up on my list was Andrew Jackson, the President that everyone loves to hate. Most known for his part in Indian removal, his courage and willingness to fight the aristocracy is often overlooked. He looked up to Thomas Jefferson and believed that American government was designed to undo artificial inequality. He served as a courier during the Revolution, worked as a public prosecutor in Tennessee, fought his first duel against a fellow lawyer and then became protégé to a territorial governor. He held several elected positions but his military ambition took precedence when he was awarded the post of Major General of the militia leading to his involvement with an expedition to Florida, aborted missions and retaliation against the Indians that are covered in most history classes. He loses his first election to John Quincy Adams and blames Henry Clay. This is a reoccurring theme throughout Jackson’s life, so I will be adding him to my reading list!

Jackson aimed to make merit and performance the basis for preferment in government. He suffered several scandals during his Presidency, and proved to lack judgment when it came to many men’s character. When he set out to accomplish something, he did it. He completely extinguished national debt, but the success was overshadowed by banking issues. He survived an assassination attempt and beat his assailant with his walking stick (I mean that is bad a, I don’t care who you are…). Jackson is responsible for making the presidency the center of action and opening positions in government to citizens outside of the elitist realm. He was a “President of the People” and while reading I noted several similarities to our current President. No one thought he would win, he surrounded himself with smart people, stood by what he said even if it contradicted his original statements, and led with a forceful style.  

How did it take the country so long to go to war over slavery? I had no idea that tensions were already so high during Jackson’s presidency. Jackson regarded the anti-slavery movement as a political threat to the nation and democracy. He respected the Missouri Compromise and managed to shift the focus allowing Van Buren to be elected. I have done my fair share of research on abolitionists but the battle over mail was a new one for me. Jackson proposed legislature to combat the messages sent to the South calling an end to slavery. It brought the slavery issue to the national front but the campaign fizzled quickly. Also, what other President can say he wiped out national debt? Does anyone remember those debt calculators that used to be all over Fox News and CNN? What happened to those? Did we just realize we will never pay it off or is it a distraction from the real news?

I must know more, therefore I read. I need to know what happened and not just what I’ve been told. There is history happening all around us. The more you know, the more you can contribute to society. Bring on Van Buren!

Write About it Wednesday: Carry A. Nation

“You put me in here a cub, but I will go out a roaring lion, and I will make all hell howl.”

I love podcasts. I subscribe to anything from history to crime and books in between. Two different podcasts covered Carry Nation and peaked my interest. Most would say that listening to two episodes about a woman would be thorough enough, but leave it to me to have more questions. I had never heard of Nation before listening: first to Stuff You Missed in History Class, and second Criminal with Phoebe Judge and I wanted to know more. I’m a sucker for strong female leaders.

Carry was a trouble maker in her youth until she fell ill and found God. She devoted her life to religion and saw fit to improve the lives of others with HER opinions. She was very reserved until a doctor who was boarding at her home stole a kiss in the dark. She soon found herself in love. Carry married Dr. Charles Gloyd, a well-known to everyone (except Carry) alcoholic, in her early 20’s that set her path in life. He was drunk at the ceremony and she never saw him sober again. Her father came to check on her a few months into the marriage and decided she had to return home immediately and leave her husband. Dr. Gloyd died 6 months after she left from complications due to alcohol abuse. No shock there. Carry was now responsible for her daughter and mother-in-law and needed a career. She became a teacher until she was fired for refusing to change the pronunciation of the short and long a. As a teacher myself, this excuse is so ridiculous that it’s comical. They just wanted her gone.

Her only plan was to marry. When she ran into David Nation she believed it was divine intervention. They were married a few weeks later and moved to Texas. This would be one of many moves as Nation faced disaster everywhere they attempted to settle. Their eventual move to Kansas started the famous saloon smashing and prohibition speeches. Carry noticed that several saloons were still fully operating under laws that forbade the sale of alcohol. She started with warnings but then began to throw bricks into saloons, carry a hatchet which she is well known for, and call out bar owners to close shop. It was her divine calling. She had visions that directed her behavior and many saloons were forced to close after Nation swept into town. Not everyone agreed with her behavior. In 1901, she was beaten by a group of women. She was jailed numerous times and during one of the stays, she began publishing a newsletter that eventually turned into a newspaper called “The Hatchet,” which supported prohibition and women’s rights.

I could talk about Carry Nation all night, but I’m going to save you time. Why in the world is this woman famous? If I decided to walk into a bar, tear it apart and break everything in sight and then tell everyone how they should be living…I’d be in jail for a very long time. Should you be honored for breaking the law because it doesn’t hold true to your own way of thinking? Her visions from God sound almost like Andrea Yates, the woman who drowned her children in the bathtub because she had a vision. Believer or non-believer, do we get to use a vision as an out for committing crimes? My research left me with only one thought: Carry Nation was a stubborn, semi-crazy woman in a network of prohibitionists who blamed alcohol for all the problems in the world. I don’t see her as a leader, but as a woman who is just as bad as the people she is trying to stop.

Write About it Wednesday: The Mystery Queen

“Grant a great age to Queen Nefertiti, long years may she keep the hand of the King.”

Have you ever made it to the last page of a book and wondered what you just read? It is no secret that my reading list is a mile long and therefore my reading time is precious to me. I am curious by nature and walk the nonfiction aisles of my library with a purpose. I have things that I want to know and my hope is the books that I choose will feed that curiosity. I make stacks and lists of topics and try to tackle them in a semi-organized fashion (let’s be honest though, the stacks and lists are so long I may never get to them all).

I decided to start on Egyptian history and found a short biography of Nefertiti. I own a copy of Michelle Moran’s Nefertiti but haven’t found the time to start it yet. It’s buried between A Guide to Serial Killers, a pictorial history of Hurricane Katrina and a biography of Andrew Jackson. (My reading knows few limits.) I thought the biography would be a great introduction but it was a major disappointment. Although the book is titled for the Queen, much of the time is spent reading about her husband. I should have thrown the red flag when I read the author’s note that the story would be told from Nefertiti’s point of view in current time. The short version:

Nefertiti came from a family who was close to the King and Queen, so she was destined to marry the prince. They marry at 15 and 16 and have children. The prince who is now King decides that there is only one god, the sun itself. He wants everyone to believe this and angers his people. Bad luck comes knocking and everyone dies.

Does that answer all your questions? Mine either. I know that I signed up for a short biography but I think there might be more to the story… How do you select your nonfiction titles? Do you read reviews prior to selecting? If you have any Egyptian books to recommend, please reach out so I can add them to my list!

Write About it Wednesday: Winifred Bodkin and New York’s Most Unusual Address

“It’s a grand old building. In the old days, this building was New York.”

Life at the Dakota by Stephen Birmingham is a lovely guide to New York’s Most Unusual Address: The Dakota. I had never heard of this building until receiving a copy of The Address by Fiona Davis. Architecture and building design fascinate me. I think the buildings themselves embody history and allow us insight into life in a previous time. There have been so many celebrities, guests, and workers in and out of this building that if only the old saying were true, “if walls could talk…”

I chose to focus on Winifred Bodkin in my research. She came to the Dakota in 1930 not long after her arrival in America. She started as an elevator girl and promoted to the front desk where she remained for the rest of her working years. She was loyal to the Dakota far beyond a regular employee. During the strike of 1976, she chose not to participate (the only worker to do so) and continued her regular duties. She packed her bag the night before so she would not have to cross the picket line but would still be available to the occupants. I thought it was very interesting that during this strike, all of the occupants chipped in and compared the event to an adventure at summer camp. The women loved sorting the mail, the men volunteered to take out the garbage, and everyone learned how to run and staff the building. Winifred left memories of this event along with other tales of occupants working out of their apartments, announcing callers, and helping famous people avoid the paparazzi such as John Lennon. She noted the security changes through the decades and the renovations that pained her to watch. Some of the residents described Winifred as more than the building’s concierge, she was the heart and soul of the operation. Her scrapbook of the time she spent at the Dakota is one of the only remaining documents of the building’s history. Most of the building’s eighty year history was destroyed in one single day by a porter “throwing all this old stuff out.”

It is hard to imagine a person working decades in the same job. We bounce around and change careers more than any generation before us. I think that is what drew me to Winifred. Can you imagine what you could see and document if you spent your entire working career at one company? My parents both had this luxury (that might be a stretch) of working for the same company and watching it evolve, seeing the highs and the lows and all the in between. I think this is a new way to look at history. We all hear the stories of the John Lennons, Joe Namaths, and Judy Garlands of the world, but what about the workers that watch them pass through each day? How would the Dakota compare today from let’s say 1960, 1970, 1980? One woman can tell us that story. We just have to look in the right places. 

Write About it Wednesday: Valkyrie, the Plot to Kill Hitler

“’The Nazis are destroying the heart of the true Germany! When the war is over, it will be people like us who will have to act!”

It doesn’t happen very often that I pick up a book, read the entire thing, and still have little clue of what is happening. I will be the first to admit that I do not come from a military background. Battle plans, defense tactics and flanking locations are a bit over my head. I swear I read all 170 pages and still can’t tell you with any form of certainty that I understood even half of it. Sadly, I had to look up some terms using Google to make sure I was understanding the “lingo.” Embarrassing right?

The book is written from Philipp von Boeselager’s perspective with emphasis on his and his brother’s role in the conspiracy. The first 50 pages or so detail the casualties and concerns of war that led them to join against Hitler. They both grew up with military aspirations, and their father was a member of the Nazi party. The soldier’s perspective on what was occurring versus the reality lends a different view of events. They didn’t know all of the evil going on around them until later in the war when their top priority had to be keeping their men safe and returning home. Philipp was officially tipped over to the resistance movement after reading military documents stating that special treatment was being given to Jews and gypsies. After further research the treatment was cold blooded murder and the goal was complete liquidation. The group grew to upwards of 30 committed conspirators with Philipp occupying the role of chief explosive expert. There were several failed assassination attempts, and a gradual evolution of the mission. It was no longer just an isolated assassination but the beginning of complete overthrow of the regime. Unfortunately all attempts failed.

I did not like this book, but not because it was challenging. I wanted understanding instead of battle facts, dates, locations, and additional details that take up the majority of pages. In fact, this may be the one case where the movie is actually better than the book. (Yes, I said it) I have such a heart for research but this has turned me completely away from looking into the conspiracies further. Maybe I will get a second wind eventually, but for now: Goodbye Valkyrie!