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Philip Roth, 1933-2018

The death of Philip Roth on Tuesday (May 22) removes one of the great names from the living giants of American letters. In fact, many consider him to be the last of those giants, and they may well be right. Obituaries in the New York Times, Washington Post, and many other publications have praised and […]

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The woman who wrote the first American crime (not detective) novel

Metta Victoria Fuller Victor authored and published The Dead Letter in 1867. It is thought to be America’s first full crime novel. (Edgar Allan Poe’s stuff was short stories.) In its day, it was known as a sensation novel. But it’s not America’s first detective novel. The Dead Letter has a crime, of course. There […]

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How Sherlock Holmes came to be – a gap in the market

“It’s all so obvious,” Holmes said after a long draw from his pipe. Holmes’ eyes pierced through my sideways glances. He was expecting an answer. I didn’t have one. “Really, my dear friend, you must see it,” he said, his voice mixed with delight and exasperation. “Look closely at the market. Tell me what’s not […]

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Giving through the arm, not the nose

Australian James Harrison knows how to give — and fortunately, he has a gift that has saved many lives. Harrison is 81 and has been donating blood since the 1950s. At some point, medical researchers found that Harrison had something special in his blood. According to the New York Times: Mr. Harrison’s blood contained a […]

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H.L. Mencken and The American Language: the writer defends his native tongue

H.L. Mencken, writer and journalist, comes to mind when the American public or American culture needs criticism and a bit of biting satire. He knew how to do that and did it better during this 40-plus-year as a newspaper columnist and magazine editor than anyone else. He did it so well that we forget that […]

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Impressionism — at first, it wasn’t a compliment

The Impressionists didn’t start out trying to be impressionists. They began in France in the 1870s as a group of painters who did not like the way that the French cultural czars controlled what the public saw. The French academics dictated that paintings should take on a certain look and that they should be executed […]

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Mr. Whicher

Criticizing the police, from the very beginning

Criticizing the police and their methods — and defending them — has never been out of fashion. It’s been part of the social fabric since the Metropolitan Police Force was officially organized in London in 1829 by Sr. Robert Peel. In America, the criticisms often involve race. In Great Britain of the 19th century, the […]

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The man who wanted every book; the quintessential English detective; and the first American crime novel; and morenewsletter May 18, 2018

This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,644) on May 18, 2018   A summer head cold attacked me this week, making life miserable for a few days, but I tried not to let it slow me down too much. The major woodworking project that I mentioned last week was completed and […]

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Hernando Colón: The man who tried to read everything

Hernando Colón (1488-1539), the illegitimate son of Christopher Columbus, spent much of his life traveling around Europe — and later America — amassing what was then the largest private library in the world. His goal was to collect all of the knowledge of the world into one place (Seville, Spain, as it turned out) because […]

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The public, the press, and the detective — an uneasy relationship from the very beginning 

In late June 1860, Saville Kent, who resided with his family in a house in Road, Wiltshire, England, was murdered. He was three years old. His throat had been cut, and his body had been left on the floor of an outdoor privy used by the servants and tradesmen at the house. It was not […]

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Tom Wolfe, the reporter with the right stuff

Few journalists manage to do what Tom Wolfe did, both with his words and his approach. Wolfe, who died Wednesday at age 88, pioneered in the 1960s an approach to journalism that became known as The New Journalism. What that involved was intensive reporting — not a five-question interview with a couple of ready sources, […]

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Why are addicted to stories? The power of the narrative

Why do we love stories so much? What it is about fiction that compels us to pay attention. We’re not talking about genre fiction here, as in “I really like detective stories more than romance stories.” This is about the power of the narrative — any narrative: The characters and their interactions, the decisions and […]

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Lend Me Your Ears

The first feminist, the power of the story, Golden State Killer followup, Shakespeare, and more: newsletter, May 11, 2018

This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (4,022) on May 11, 2018   This week found me doing more woodworking than anything else. The project I spent so much time with is nearly complete, and I plan to have pictures next week. We’ll see how that goes. But there was also time […]

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Do people really write this stuff?

My current reading includes a biography of the Apostle Paul by N.T. Wright, a retired Anglican bishop, a biblical historian, and one of the most prolific scholars of the Bible today. I was reading through some of the Amazon reviews of the book, which generally gets high praise from those who have bought it, and […]

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Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft, the first modern feminist

Chances are, you may never have heard of Mary Wollstonecraft. If so, that’s too bad — both for you and for her. Wollstonecraft, an English writer, lived in the 18th century (1759-1797) and had a great deal of misfortune, both in her life and at her death. She died at the age of 38 after […]

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Washington’s image, a killer in California, and the joys of crimson clover and ancestry.com: newsletter, May 4, 2018

This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (4,048) on May 6, 2018   A couple of you responded to my question last week about your favorite true crime book. I’d still like to hear from more of you about that. See the current responses below. Lots going on this week. In the garden, […]

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Charles Willson Peale and the image of the American Revolution

A big part of George Washington’s image was, well, Washington’s image. What Washington looked like was essential — more important than we probably understand — to what we think of him and ultimately how we think of America. The American revolutionaries of the 18th century understood that very well. It was an age well before […]

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Dan and Jim: A baseball dialogue

My good friend Dan, proof-reader extraordinaire, and I had this email exchange a couple of weeks ago: DAN: Hi Jim, So, what do you think of the Angels Shohei Ohtani? He is 2-0 as a pitcher in two starts and hitting .346 as a DH. He wants to pitch and hit more as he did in Japan […]

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Michelle McNamara

The Golden State Killer: the book and then the arrest

The arrest recently of a man accused of being the Golden State Killer, a serial rapist and murderer who haunted California’s neighborhoods and psyche, in the 1970s and 80s, is a story with many threads — including a now best-selling book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, by the late Michelle McNamara. McNamara had pursued […]

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The joys of crimson clover — for us and the honeybees

Bees love this stuff. They make a very light, very sweet honey out of it. One year, the crimson clover was so abundant that we used up all our equipment and had to do an early extraction (late May) in order to free up the equipment to store more honey.

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