New biography of Agatha Christie; loving alliteration; remembering the Sabbath; newsletter March 16, 2018

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (4,088) on Friday, March 16, 2018. Hi, [FIRST NAME GOES HERE] Lots of readers have reacted to lots of different things in previous newsletters, and I include many of those reactions in this week’s missive. I have said this many times: I love hearing from you on […]

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A new biography of Agatha Christie 

Despite her worldwide fame and gigantic audiences, her life was as mysterious as one of her books. Now a new biography is available to American readers (it has been available to British readers for a while), and the book is getting rave reviews.

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Cades Cove Sunday morning - 3

Remembering the Sabbath: something we all do

The concept of the Sabbath, the weekend, comes from ancient Jewish culture — directly from the Fourth Commandment. It is one of the “gifts of the Jews,” according to Thomas Cahill, author of The Gifts of the Jews, the second volume of his brilliant Hinges of History series. Cahill says there is more to the Sabbath […]

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Peter Piper and his pickled peppers: Our love for alliteration

Mark Forsyth, of, and author of several books on the language, cites in his The Elements of Eloquence (pages 10-11) an example of William Shakespeare, our old friend, lifting a passage from Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch’s Lives for some lines in Antony and Cleopatra. From North we get this description of Cleopatra’s boat: […]

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George Frederick Handel

Handel, down and out; ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’ up and away; more Shakespeare and Vietnam: newsletter March 9, 2018

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (4,116), on Friday, March 9, 2018. Hi, You may think that I am obsessed with William Shakespeare, that I just can’t leave him alone. Actually, it’s the other way around. He won’t leave me alone. The last three newsletters have had items about The Bard, […]

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George Frederick Handel

Handel was washed up – then came Messiah

Handel, who had lived in England for more than a quarter of a century. had never really ruled the operatic circles of London. It is too tough of a town for that. But the German-born musical genius had led his faction, and they loved him for it. By the mid-1730s, however, Handel had begun to lose […]

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Landing Zone by

The distrust engendered by Vietnam did not begin with the American people; it began with the American government

Proof of the government’s lies about Vietnam can be found in many people, most notably a set of documents that government officials put together while the war was still being fought that we know as the Pentagon Pap

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Girl With the Pearl Earring

A really close look at ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’ – really close

The folks at the  Mauritshuis Royal Picture Gallery, The Hague, Holland, where the painting resides are taking a really close look these days. They have called in experts from around the world and marshaled all of the technology and machinery they can muster to look as closely — non-invasively — at the painting as they can.

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Hardback books: what’s the point? Money, prestige, space

Hardback books are highly profitable. Publishers reckon they can sell a hardback for twice (or more) the price of a paperback, but a hardback doesn’t cost nearly twice as much to produce.

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Shakespeare’s appearance, Eleanor’s mastery, and Cronkite’s broadcast – plus a new book giveaway: newsletter, March 2, 2018

One of the seminal events in America’s long involvement in Vietnam occurred 50 years ago this past week. CBS newscaster Walter Cronkite — often called “the most trusted man in America” — narrated a prime-time documentary that called into question the American government’s rosy predictions about the war’s progress. Cronkite did not come out against the war. […]

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Walter Cronkite

Vietnam 1968: Walter Cronkite’s broadcast

At no time did Cronkite express opposition to the war. He merely described what he saw and what people on the ground had said to him.

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The Chandos portrait

Shakespeare’s appearance remains a mystery – but we have lots of clues

We have a general idea of what William Shakespeare looked like, but we do not have a confirmed contemporary portrait of him. Like many other things about The Bard, his appearance remains a mystery.

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Inside the making of a dictionary

Dictionaries are marvels of any language. But English has resisted the orderly cataloguing that has been routine for many other tongues. Early lexicographers believed they could impose some necessary order on the language by setting down spellings and definitions and making them permanent. But the language quickly showed them who was boss.

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Jackie Kennedy Onassis

A portrait of Jackie Kennedy as a teenager, and then a lawsuit; then there’s a new biography

A portrait of Jacqueline Bouvier Lee, a.k.a. Jackie Kennedy, depicting her as a teenager, has appeared in a Long Island art gallery and has sparked a federal lawsuit brought by some of her relatives. The relatives say it is stolen. The art gallery owner says it is not and that he has doubts that the […]

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Franklin Roosevelt caricature

Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt: Masters of radio

By their ninth year in the White House, the Roosevelts had become masters of the medium of radio. Franklin had a soft but strong modulating voice. His was a natural. He sounded like your favorite uncle: serious, cheerful, informed and confident. Eleanor, as usual, had to work harder and longer. She did that and became […]

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A name for this newsletter; more on Shakespeare; the lost eloquence of the sports page: newsletter, Feb. 23, 2018

Vince’s first novel is titled Paperboy, and it’s the story of a boy growing up in Memphis who has a stutter. Vince himself is a stutterer, and the story rings true on every page. The novel was a Newberry Honor Award winner, and the Washington Post said: “[Vawter’s] characterization of Little Man feels deeply authentic, with . . . […]

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William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare and the development of the English language

The Bard is not highly popular with college students these days. In fact, he has rarely been popular, although his genius is universally recognized. As a student, you might go to one of his plays (because it’s required or you’re getting extra credit), but you’d rather be buried in a toxic waste dump than be […]

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Point Spread by Jim Stovall

‘The Feminine Mystique’ and the change in women’s status in the 1960s

The book summed up many of the frustrations that middle-class women had experienced, especially if they had set aside ambitions and careers to become suburban housewives and mothers. From the day it was published, it sparked criticism from many quarters (and continues to do so today), but it struck a chord with many women and […]

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Grantland Rice's illusion to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse even made it onto a postage stamp.

The lost eloquence of the sports page

The “Four Horsemen” became part of the legend of Notre Dame football, and publicists at the University placed the four footballers on four horses for a famous photograph. And that photograph was turned into a postage stamp more than 50 years later.

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Teddy Roosevelt: "I am DEE-lighted."

A new source for Shakespeare; etymology for everyone; nutritious foods; more crimes against English

Life is not all sitting around reading and writing blog posts and painting watercolors. Sometimes there is real, hard physical labor involved. That’s what

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