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Hemingway’s month, Rolling Stone’s Motown list, and a podcast recommendation: newsletter, April 9, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,368) on Friday, April 9, 2021.   The concept of ownership is so deeply embedded in our minds that, if we think about it at all, we probably consider it part of the natural world around us. It isn’t. It is a human concept. Even […]

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We’re into April, Ernest Hemingway month

April 2021 will undoubtedly be the month of Ernest Hemingway, thanks in no small measure to the six-hour documentary produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick and broadcast on the Public Broadcast System this week. Indeed, if you look on the PBS website, it seems to be all-Hemingway, all-the-time. Once again, Burns and Novick selected a […]

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‎Podcast recommendation: Spy Affair from Wondery

Podcast producer Wondery has come up with what sounds like another winning series: Spy Affair. It’s the story of Russian operative Maria Butina, who came to America and inserted herself into politics at the time that Donald Trump was on the rise within the Republican Party. Here’s part of the official description: A charismatic Russian […]

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Elizabeth Cochran Seaman – Nellie Bly: allowing the girls to dream

When Elizabeth Cochran was 16 years old, she lived with her family in Pittsburgh. The year was 1880, and Elizabeth was intelligent and precocious. The Pittsburgh Dispatch ran an article titled “What Girls are Good For,” and the author concluded the girls were good for having babies and keeping house. It was not an unpopular […]

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Wanda Gág and her Millions of Cats

Illustrator-genius Wanda Gág (pronunciation: rhymes with “bog”) must have liked cats. Her most famous book was Millions of Cats, published in 1928 and for many years as much a part of a child’s literary shelf as Goodnight, Moon or Where the Wild Things Are are today. Millions of Cats was not only a wildly popular book (which still sells well today), but it […]

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Millions of Cats, Passing notes, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and more on Opening Day: newsletter, April 2, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,369) on Friday, April 2, 2021.     The 2019 college admissions scandal that resulted in the indictments of more than 50 people — most of them the well-off and well-intentioned parents of college-aged children — was based on an idea that many people carry […]

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‘Tartan noir’ – you can probably figure it out

Tartan noir is not a term I had heard before a couple of weeks ago — but you can probably figure it out. It refers to crime and detective fiction that is either set in Scotland or by Scottish writers. It’s not an especially good term either. Tartan as a reference to Scotland is pretty […]

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The first of the modern female reporters, Handel’s revival, baseball’s Opening Day: newsletter, March 26, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,374) on Friday, March 26, 2021. Some of the best news of the week concerns one of my favorites: libraries. The recent stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed by President Joseph Biden contains $200 million to aid public libraries. That amount sounds like a lot, […]

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Coleridge and his Rime, Hastings and his impeachment, and the messy path toward the 20th amendment: newsletter, March 19, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,381) on Friday, March 19, 2021. The phrase “spring planting” denotes more than just an activity for me. It’s a season. Lots of things happen. Yes, I get to literally dig into my garden with unbounded ambition that should be tempered by experience — but […]

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Warren Hastings, the guy caught in the middle

What do the British East India Company and the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump have to do with each other? To answer that question, we need to take a quick romp through 500 years of history with a short side trip to Boston. The man caught in the middle of all of this is […]

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Thaddeus Stevens, the unsung hero of racial equality

To look at Thaddeus Stevens’ picture, you don’t see a political hero. You see a rough face perched on an unusually large and protruding lower lip. He appears to have a permanent frown etched on his visage, like he hasn’t enjoyed a joke since he was about six years old. Stevens was played masterfully by […]

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Robert Littell: the game of spying with a bit of irony and humor

Spy novelist Robert Littell has been called the American John le Carre, but there is a key difference that Sarah Weinman, in a recent review of his work for InsideHook, points out: Where John Le Carre channeled barely suppressed rage into realist narratives steeped in bureaucracy, and Charles McCarry took the adage that “the average intelligence […]

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Spy novels with a dash of humor and irony, an advocate of racial equality in the 19th century, and the results of denying readers: newsletter, March 12, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,392) on Friday, March 12, 2021.   One of the writing roles that I have never pictured myself fulfilling is that of a memoirist. Tell other people’s stories, I would say to my journalism students, not your own. Your job is to write about other people, not yourself. I […]

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The decision that changed everything

Early in my academic career, I made a decision that seemed fairly minor and local at the time, but it turned out to be enormous and to change the entire trajectory of my 38 years teaching at the college level. I had come to the University of Alabama’s Department of Journalism in 1978 and had […]

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Maxine Cheshire, Martha Gellhorn, and the poet who died too soon: newsletter, March 5, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,386) on Friday, March 5, 2021.   When I got into the rhythm of writing this newsletter several years ago, one of the things that I knew early on was that I wanted to learn more about – and write about — women who had […]

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John Keats: a short life that was long on accomplishments

John Keats lived for only about a quarter of a century, but his effect on English literature is nothing less than astonishing. Keats is currently being celebrated by the world of English letters because we have just passed the 200th anniversary of his death. This mini-revival of interest in Keats is a good one because […]

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Maxine Cheshire: a reporter’s instinct and a little luck

Maxine Cheshire was a reporter who knew how to get under people’s skin. She irritated Frank Sinatra into a drunken, expletive-ridden rant that was witnessed by dozens of people. She made Jacqueline Kennedy cry and provoked a presidential call to her publisher. She exposed the Nixon family’s greed in keeping gifts from foreign leaders. More […]

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Martha Gellhorn: the first woman on Normandy beach, June 7, 1944

Martha Gellhorn had more than just her gender working against her when you wanted to cover the D-Day invasion for Collier’s Weekly magazine in 1944. She had her husband, Ernest Hemingway. Gellhorn and Hemingway had been together, off and on, since 1936 when they left America to cover the Spanish Civil War. Gelhorn was a […]

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Walter Tevis, the novelist more famous at your theater than your bookstore

If you have watched the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit, you may have wondered if it is based on a true story. The series identifies specific places and times where the action is taking place. Much of the series is set in the 1960s, and its look and feel are authentic. But the story is […]

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Spelling English compounds

English is an ever-confusing language even to those of us who are native speakers and writers. One of the most common stumblingblocks is the word (or word) that is made of two nouns, or the compound noun. Do you write it as one word or two? Sometimes dictionaries or stylebooks help, but often they don’t. Sometimes […]

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