January 17, 2018
Before you even strolled into the main hall of Vine Street’s Central Library of the Free Library of Philadelphia on Tuesday night, the buzz was deafening.
You could blame the full house of concerned citizens and curiosity seekers chatting incessantly, or the Free Library’s officiates working to seat late-comers and collect audience questions. Not since Bruce Springsteen appeared at this same branch to sign copies of his Born to Run memoir in 2016 had the din of the Free Library been so loud.
The crowd on this night gathered for the appearance of Michael Wolff – the notorious author of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, a runaway bestseller – already in its 11th printing since its release date of Jan. 5. The writer made the Central Library the first stop on his national book tour, and the fervor of the crowd – some who had driven hours to get there – was palpable.
“I read the press, and this book and Wolff are already a part of the national conversation, and I wanted to be here for that,” said Bill Ross, a book seller from Indianapolis, Md., who had not read Fire and Fury before this library’s chat, but was set to purchase four copies of Wolff’s tome for his shop.
“I’m not sure I will read it as I have seen many clips on television. Besides, I have a lot of other reading to do. Trump is what Trump is.”
“I’ve seen a lot of Wolff on television, so I don’t how much more there is to say,” said Alexis Maniscalco, who, along with her roommate, Domenic Borrasso, bought nine copies of the book to get signed as gifts for their friends.
“We couldn’t find it in bookstores locally,” said Maniscalco.
“By the way, we’re no Trump supporters,” added Borrasso with a laugh.
From the temperature of the room during Wolff and Polman’s conversation, Trump had few friends.
Before the chat between the author and the interviewer began, Polman got the first laugh when he noted how that very morning, the results of Trump’s physical were released and that, contrary to the tone of Wolff’s book, the president had grown in office (Trump is now taller than when he entered the Oval Office – grew from 6 ft. 2 in. to 6 ft. 3 in.)
Along with getting chuckles after telling the audience that his talent was “overview” (rather than pounding a daily reporter’s grind where “today’s explosion means you’ve forgotten about yesterday’s explosion”), Wolff got laughs by stating that Trump’s staff regarded the president as “appallingly stupid.” No one in the room said a word, pro or anti-Trump, when Wolff referred to his charge as “a fool.”
After the chat, there were questions from the Philly audience that had been written anonymously on tiny note cards collected by library officials before the start of the program. One question asked how the news media itself seemed predisposed to not believe the entirety of Fire and Fury. To this, Wolff blithely responded, “If the book speaks to you, that’s great.” With that, Polman acknowledged Wolff’s response as being much like comic Fred Armisen’s imitation of Wolff from “Saturday Night Live” last weekend.
After the conversation, several attendees admitted that they enjoyed Wolff and the chat, but probably still would not read the book. Angela Steele from Mount Airy, who works for a nonprofit that builds affordable housing for seniors, was at the Free Library last night because she enjoys its reading programs and, “wanted to see what this cultural phenomenon was all about.
"What more could we learn from the book or was it all confirmation? It seems as if it is the latter as it further proves that this is an incompetent administration,” she said.
David Kahn, a Fishtown educator, had not read Fire and Fury, but was fascinated by the heat Wolff has generated.
“The author came across as well-reasoned, but I always felt this way about Trump. He’s not fit. He’s an entertainer – a bombastic Manhattan entertainer. These stories of Wolff’s don’t surprise me in the least.”