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Seriously, Read a Book!

Thoughts on books, often interpreted through the high-brow prism of cartoon (read: Archer) references. Wait! I had something for this...

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Jean H. Baker, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.

Write It When I'm Gone: Remarkable Off-the-Record Conversations With Gerald R. Ford

Write it When I'm Gone - Thomas M. Defrank, Thomas M. Defrank

For the first two chapters of this book I thought it was kind of a breezy, superficial romp with Ford by a journalist who clearly adored the man. 

Jerry Ford is a human being cum laude, a down-to-earth, earnest, genuinely likable guy with an infectious laugh and not the slightest hint of pretentiousness.

There was some nice narrative-style analysis of the unique position in which Ford found himself, including a nice little tidbit from William Safire (totally forgot that he had a career in politics prior to his On Language era):

He [Ford] must be at once loyal and independent; both his own man and the president's man; a defender uncorrupted by the defense.

It was interesting to read an insiders view of how Ford reacted to his two attempted killer ladies within 17 days, and Ford seemed like a genuinely laid back guy with the press, which definitely couldn't have been said of his predecessor. Sure, I started to question author Thomas M. Defrank's characterizations a bit when he portrays Dick Cheney as a sort of merry prankster while on the road with Gerald Ford and his cadre of journalists, but I wasn't looking for a hard-hitting piece of journalistic investigation here. (N.b. Yes, it is Gerald with a "G" and Jerry with a "J"!) The chapter "Jerry Ford Inc." was a fine defense as to why and how Ford turned being an ex-president into such a hot commodity.

However it's in Tom's subsequent "interview" chapters that this book devolves into kind of a hot mess (by the way, you never forget his name is Tom as he leaves that in to almost every line of Ford's responses to his questions). Things are just poorly organized, and the author fails to give us even the briefest of backgrounders re. the situations/relationships that Ford is discussing. By chapter 11, Defrank even admits to doing this:

As every write understands, sometimes useful insights and vignettes that help illuminate a person's life don't neatly fit into a chapter.

What follows, then, are random human glimpses, including some of my favorite moments with Ford, that deserve a better home than the cutting-room floor.

Sorry, Tom, I'm gonna have to disagree with you on that assessment of where you should have put those tidbits. I get it. We all are going to get old, and I'm sure I'll be just as, if not more annoying to listen to in my golden years than your average nonagenarian, but here are just a few of the topics of discussion that I'm not so sure were journalistic gold:


  1. Details regarding Ford's latest trip to the urologist. I don't know what PSI and PSA are (I'm pretty sure the P stands for prostate), and definitely don't want to hear anything about the 38th presidents colonoscopy. 
  2. Joint replacements. I get it- really, I do, I've had knee surgery too- but multiple knee replacements, how long a shoulder replacement is going to keep you out of your golf game etc.definitely can be scrapped from at least every other conversation.
  3. You young people and your fandangled computer machines! Anyone who was born in the 80s with a grandparent knows this scene all too well. This really doesn't count as a "remarkable off-the-record conversation" as far as I'm concerned. 
  4. Tuesdays with Fordie. Dying is sad. Seeing people who were once vibrant and alive slip away is hard, but the way that the author captures this part really just told me that maybe he needed to wait a little longer for the dirt on the grave to settle before considering this book edited and ready for print. (Seriously, Ford died in December of 2006, and the book was on the shelves in the Fall of 2007- I don't know much about publishing, but that seems like a pretty quick turnaround.)

Anyway, I'm sure Ford was a hoot and a genuinely nice guy, this just wasn't the window into his take on his life in politics that I hoped it would be. It gets an extra star for the first two chapters being non-terrible, and for being mercifully brief.