Monday, December 3, 2018


An item in the December 3 New Yorker (an archival issue) got me curious about one small bit of the Donald Trump Story. The item that prompted my curiosity is a reprinted 2006 piece by Mark Singer about Trump’s displeasure with two writers: Timothy O’Brien, whose estimate of Trump’s net worth in TrumpNation (2005) prompted Trump to sue, and Singer himself, whose profile of Trump for The New Yorker (1997) resulted in an angry letter from Trump to The New York Times when the paper reviewed Singer’s collection Character Studies (2005), which included the New Yorker profile. From Trump’s letter to the Times (September 11, 2005):

I’ve been a best-selling author for close to 20 years. Whether you like it or not, facts are facts. The highly respected Joe Queenan mentioned in his article “Ghosts in the Machine” (March 20) that I had produced “a steady stream of classics” with “stylistic seamlessness” and that the “voice” of my books remained noticeably constant to the point of being an “astonishing achievement.” This was high praise coming from an accomplished writer.
But look at what Joe Queenan wrote about Trump — in, yes, a piece about ghostwriters:
One of the few “authors” who have succeeded in avoiding the pitfalls that increasingly ensnare ghostwritees is Donald Trump. In the past 18 years, Trump has put his name on a steady stream of classics, while using various collaborators. Yet throughout this long literary interlude he has managed to maintain tight quality control. For example, in the seminal Trump: The Art of the Deal, which appeared in 1987, the ghostwriter Tony Schwartz delivered the Trumpian goods in a clipped, staccato, tough-guy style, opening the book with the words:
I don't do it for the money. I’ve got enough, much more than I’ll ever need. I do it to do it.
Seventeen years later, Trump's new book, Trump: Think Like a Billionaire, written with Meredith McIver, kicks off:
In a world of more than six billion people, there are only 587 billionaires. It’s an exclusive club. Would you like to join us?
It has been said that Thomas Mann began writing The Confessions of Felix Krull as a young man, put it aside for decades, then picked up the narrative exactly where he left off. Similar stylistic seamlessness typifies Trump’s work. The intermediaries may come and go, but the Donaldian voice never wavers. This is a truly astonishing achievement.
Yes, facts are facts, and the fact is that for Joe Queenan, Donald Trump was a quote-unquote author, someone who puts his name on books written by others. Whoever wrote the letter to the Times was either too dim to recognize Queenan’s mockery or too dishonest not to twist it into praise.

Whoever: because I suspect that the letter itself is at least in part the work of a ghost. (In the letter Trump, or “Trump,” claims to have read Orhan Pamuk, Philip Roth, and John Updike.) It’s reasonable to think that Trump read the Queenan piece and the review of Character Studies, since he seems to be interested, always, in himself. It’s reasonable to think that he read, or at least skimmed, Singer’s New Yorker piece. Though it’s not certain that Trump is willing to read books about himself.

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