NEW YORK, N.Y. – The letter to the editor was published Sept. 11, 2005, in The New York Times. Its author, responding to a recent book review, cites John Updike, Philip Roth and Orhan Pamuk among those he has read.
Further down, a more familiar voice emerges, referring to one writer as a “loser” and noting that his own books had been praised as “classics.”
The letter was signed “Donald Trump.”
Throughout his rise over the past three years and well into his presidency, doubts have been raised about Trump’s interest in books and even his basic reading skills. He has often been portrayed as easily distracted and unable to get through extended written reports. He has tweeted enthusiastically about books — but mostly those by supporters. Yet the 2005 letter — whomever the author — clearly reflects at least passing knowledge of contemporary fiction and some care about the written word. Trump was responding to Jeff MacGregor’s review of Mark Singer’s “Character Studies,” a collection of profiles by The New Yorker staff writer. One of the book’s interview subjects was Trump, of whom Singer wrote in 1997 that he “had aspired to and achieved the ultimate luxury, an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul.”
“Most writers want to be successful,” the Trump letter reads. “Some writers even want to be good writers. I’ve read John Updike, I’ve read Orhan Pamuk, I’ve read Philip Roth. When Mark Singer enters their league, maybe I’ll read one of his books. But it will be a long time — he was not born with great writing ability. Until then, maybe he should concentrate on finding his own ‘lonely component’ and then try to develop himself into a world-class writer, as futile as that may be, instead of having to write about remarkable people who are clearly outside of his realm.”
Trump, author of the million-selling “The Art of the Deal” and many other books, went on to boast of his publishing status. He cited “the highly respected” author-journalist Joe Queenan for writing that he produced “a steady stream of classics” with “stylistic seamlessness.”
“This was high praise coming from an accomplished writer,” the letter reads. “From losers like Jeff MacGregor, whom I have never met, or Mark Singer, I do not do nearly as well. But I’ll gladly take Joe Queenan over Singer and MacGregor any day of the week — it’s a simple thing called talent!”
Singer told The Associated Press in a recent email that he initially read the letter with “unbridled happiness,” before wondering who actually wrote it.
“Naturally, I wanted to believe that Trump was the sole author, and certain evidence suggested exactly that — especially the ham-fisted braggadocio and the delightfully obtuse misreading of Joe Queenan’s slathered-on irony,” Singer wrote. “But what one has learned about and heard from Trump in the meanwhile raises certain doubts: If, as we’re now given to understand, he can’t concentrate long enough to read a two-page memo, much less a literary novel, the claim to have read Updike/Roth/Pamuk rings nakedly false.”
Author Charles Leerhsen, who worked with Trump on the 1991 release, “Trump: The Art of Survival,” said he didn’t think it “possible” that the letter was his.
“It feels to me like someone else wrote this letter and he perhaps added a touch here and there,” he told the AP in a recent email. Leerhsen had three guesses about the letter’s author: “longtime right-hand woman Rhona Graff, longtime secretary Norma Foerderer (who died in 2013) and whoever was his ghostwriter at that time.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and neither did Graff. Meredith McIver, a longtime Trump employee credited with co-writing Trump books in 2004, 2005 and 2006, also did not respond.
Trump has mentioned books in interviews, often his own books, but also works by others. He has called Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” one of his favourites, and mentioned two books by Doris Kearns Goodwin, “Team of Rivals” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “No Ordinary Time.” More recently, he has tweeted favourably about releases by conservatives such as Nick Adams, Michael J. Knowles and Brian Kilmeade, host of a show Trump is known to watch, “Fox & Friends.” Trump may not have read Michael Wolff’s book, but he at least heard enough to threaten legal action and tweet that “Fire and Fury” was “the Fake Book of a mentally deranged author, who knowingly writes false information.”
Singer would recall responding to Trump. He mailed him a check for $37.82, “a small token” of his gratitude for the letter. He suspected Trump would answer back.
“Ten days later I get a letter, Trump organization envelope,” Singer said during an appearance at the 2009 New Yorker Festival. “Inside is my letter. He’s returned it and across the bottom he has written, ‘Mark, you are a total loser.'”
But, according to Singer, Trump did cash the check.