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Bookworm: ‘Too Much’ contains a lot of sadness

‘Thank You for Voting’ checks all the right boxes

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist
"Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man" author Mary L. Trump, Ph.D.

“Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man”

  • By Mary L. Trump, Ph.D.
  • c. 2020, Simon and Schuster
  • $28, $37 Canada; 227 pages

You hadn't seen that container in ages. You really can't remember when you put it on the shelf. Sometime this year, six years ago, when you moved last? What's in it must be worth something, though, or you wouldn't've saved it. Now, as in the new book "Too Much and Never Enough" by Mary L. Trump, PhD, digging may yield answers.

"Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man" by Mary L. Trump, Ph.D.

No one has to explain to you who Donald Trump is but, for anyone who's been completely out of the loop, Mary Trump is Donald's niece (she uses his first name, always, and to avoid confusion, so will we). Trump has a PhD in psychology, worked at Manhattan Psychiatric Center while in school, was once a therapist, and taught graduate psychology. The point is, she got chops and it shows, especially when this book – a look at her family and, specifically, her Uncle Donald – reads like something from the “True Medicine” genre. Indeed, medically-based passages are nearly emotionless in their clinicality.

To fully understand this story and where it leads, Trump begins with brief accounts of her great-grandfather, who came to America from Germany in order to avoid military service. After the elder man died, Trump's grandfather "Fred" (as she refers to him) became business partners with his mother and expanded the family fortune.

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Trump asserts that Fred was "a high-functioning sociopath" who put his own self-interests above everything else. He was cruel for cruelty's sake and ultimately used that against his eldest son and namesake, "Freddy," whom Fred hoped would assume the family business but who didn't have the heart for it.

When Freddy proved to be a disappointment, Fred turned to Donald, his second son, and gave him free-reign, an open bank account, and the paternal approval Trump suggests that Donald craved.

Once you get this far into "Too Much and Never Enough," it shouldn't surprise you; none of it will, going forward, because you know how this book ends. Long before that, though, Trump shares details of growing up, noting nuances within the Trump sibling group and the family at large, learning to read silences, and hearing regular racist or homophobic comments that made her, years later, keep mum on her marriage to (and subsequent divorce from) a woman. The cruelty, as she describes it, can sometimes read like a TV documentary on wolves at a kill. Disappointment was thick on both sides.

Readers may occasionally note something like sour grapes, too, but even that offers more of an understanding of Trump's observations. While this memoir somewhat culminates with the fight over Trump's grandfather's will, a skewed inheritance, subsequent lawsuit, and the truth she says she found with the urging of the New York Times, the story – as she indicates – won't begin to be finished until January, or a January four years hence.

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Until then, this is a must-read for left and right alike but beware that it might leave you feeling mournful – not for any one person, but overall, in general: "Too Much and Never Enough" just contains a lot of sadness.

“Thank You for Voting: The Maddening, Enlightening, Inspiring Truth about Voting in America”

  • By Erin Geiger Smith
  • c. 2020, Harper
  • $25.99, $31.99 Canada; 240 pages

The check marks marched down the columns like hand-holding toddlers on a daycare outing. You cast your vote for this candidate. You liked what that guy had to say, and this woman thinks like you. You hope this person wins, and that one, and your civic duty is done. In the new book "Thank You for Voting" by Erin Geiger Smith, you'll see how you got here, and how you maybe almost didn't.

“Thank You for Voting: The Maddening, Enlightening, Inspiring Truth about Voting in America” by Erin Geiger Smith.

In the earliest days of this nation, the rules for voting were easy: if you were a white male landowner over age 21, you could vote.

That rule, says Smith, wasn't hard-and-fast: in 1776, Pennsylvania allowed any white male over 21 to go to the polls, and New Jersey allowed landowning women and free Black men to vote, too.

By 1807, laws began rolling back, until white male property-owners had the only say in elections again. Black male suffrage was granted after Reconstruction; it took women more than a century to get the vote, which included Black women – though the latter, like their menfolk, continued to be victims of voter suppression until 1965's Voting Rights Act, or later. Some Native Americans could vote in 1924, while others were barred until the late 1950s. Some Asian Americans were kept from the booths until 1952.

Today, says Smith, Americans have more opportunities to vote in ten years than Japanese citizens get in their entire lives. With such an abundance of opportunities to choose our elected officials, why are voting numbers so low?

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Many reasons, she says: convicted felons may or may not be allowed to vote, depending on state of residency. States can set different laws on registration and voter ID issues. Voter suppression and gerrymandering are problems that are in the news right now. People can be apathetic. So how can we ensure that everyone has a voice in our democracy?

We can work toward that goal. We can also model good behavior and vote, vote, vote.

Chances are, you've already made up your mind. You know exactly who'll get your nod in November's election. Now find out how this wonderful right came to be, because the story's quite eye-opening.

"Thank You for Voting" is one of those books you might feel like you've read already but trust this: author Erin Geiger Smith is going to surprise you with factlets, shocking statistics, and stories of outrage and courage. There's lots of history in this book but though it might seem familiar, it doesn't read like a lecture. Readers may find, however, that the most helpful parts of this book are the explanations of voting issues and suppression tactics, why you should stay as informed as possible, and how you can encourage friends and family to join you on November 3.

"Thank You for Voting" is for readers ages 16-and-up but if you want to co-read with your kids, there's a child's version available, too. You probably already know where you stand on this fall's ballot but just in case, this book checks all the right boxes.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.