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Muriel Spark, the writer who couldn’t abide being edited

Muriel Spark, the author of 22 novels including The Prime of Miss Jean Brody, always wanted to be in full control of her writing, and once she achieved a measure of fame and recognition, she got it. She refused to be edited unless she could have the final say in the matter. Just as The Prime of Miss […]

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PBS Frontline confronts the Facebook Dilemma

Some people spend hours a day on Facebook; others have never seen it and actively avoid it. Some people have strongly partisan views, one way or another, which may color their view of Facebook. In my view, it doesn’t matter whether or not you “like” Facebook, or whether you are red or blue or any […]

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Ring Lardner, the Grand Review, and a book illustrator who had to keep apologizing; newsletter Nov. 16, 2018

 This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,014) on November 16, 2018 Oxford Dictionaries, I understand, has chosen the 2018 International Word of the Year: toxic. The choice, according to those who choose these things, reflects the general “ethos, mood or preoccupation” of the year as well as its widespread use as […]

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Reginald Birch, the book illustrator who had to keep apologizing

Reginald Birch, one of the top book illustrators in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, spent a good part of his life apologizing for what he had done. Birch was a first-class artist. His skill as a draughtsman is evident in the illustrations that he drew for the more than 40 other books he […]

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Ring Lardner: when baseball no longer seemed like baseball

The story is that Ring Lardner was finished with baseball after news of the 1919 Black Sox scandal came out. Lardner had spent much of his journalism career covering baseball, first for the South Bend Times in 1905 and eventually for the Chicago Tribune in 1913. He knew the Chicago White Sox well. He had […]

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A legacy that began with veterans, a giant in the land of Sherlock, and GKC on what makes a good detective story: newsletter, Nov. 9, 2018

 This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,020) on November 9, 2018 My reading and browsing bring me into contact with so many good stories, unknown (to me) items, and interesting people that I don’t have time to write about them all (and to test your patience and indulgence) in this newsletter. […]

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The predecessor to Austen, Eliot, and the Brontes; Bill Mauldin; and why bees exist: newsletter, Nov. 2, 2018

 This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (3) on October 19, 2018 About veterans: Someone put it to me this way: No matter what you ended up doing, if you were in the military service, at some point you pledged to give everything you had to your country, even if that meant […]

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Winston Churchill: yet another biography, but just what we need

By Andrew Roberts’ count, there are slightly more than 1,000 biographies of Winston Churchill. That’s one for almost every page of his massive new biographyChurchill: Walking with Destiny. So, why write another one — particularly one of such length. Surely by now, we should be able to reduce Churchill to just three or four hundred […]

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The purpose of the honeybee

Bees give us honey. It’s a wonderful food, and many people make a living by harvesting and selling honey. Bees also pollinate many of our crops. Some estimate that up to 30 percent of what we eat is on our tables because of honeybees. Important as these activities are to humans, neither is central to […]

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Fanny Burney: paving the way for Jane Austen and the Brontes

Before there was Jane Austen, before there was George Eliot, before there were Charlotte and Emily Bronte — before even women were supposed to be able to write in this new developing form called a novel — there was Fanny Burney (1752-1840). Burney, daughter of Dr. Charles Burney, a well-known scholar and music teacher of the second half […]

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Bill Mauldin, the voice of the grunt

Those who served in the United States military as enlisted men and women — particularly from World War II through Vietnam — have a particular affinity for Bill Mauldin. Mauldin was an artist whose cartoons depicted, with brilliant perception, brutal honesty, and insightful humor, the life of the everyday “grunt,” the guy who dug the ditches, […]

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Webster, Chesterton, a World War II hero, and a clock that hasn’t quit for 600 years: newsletter, Oct. 26, 2018

 This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,045) on October 19, 2018 This week you will meet a couple of “colossal geniuses,” one from the 19th century and the other from the 20th. You probably know of these guys: Noah Webster and G.K. Chesterton. I’ll admit I had heard of both, but I never knew much about either. […]

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The detective story, according to G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton, the great British author of the early 20th century, liked detective stories, read them, and wrote them. He had the formula down pat. It went like this: The bones and structure of a good detective story are so old and well known that it may seem banal to state them even in outline. […]

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The difficult Noah Webster and his difficult times

Noah Webster was a difficult man living in a difficult time. In 1806, when he published the first edition of his dictionary, it was judged not for its content but by for the political positions of the author. Webster was a Federalist, but he had with Republican attitudes about the language Americans spoke.  Because of his apostasy, […]

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Toss your sundials – mechanical clocks are here to stay

You probably have a sundial or two still laying around the house. Well, it’s probably time to let the garbage guys (and gals) carry it away. Mechanical clocks are here, and they’re not going away. That could have been the message to the people of Salisbury, England, in 1386 when the mechanical clock was installed in […]

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G.K. Chesterton: Everything about him was big, including his ‘colossal genius’

In so many ways, Gilbert Keith (G.K.) Chesterton (1874-1936) was an enormous man. — Physically, he was massive: 6 feet 4 inches tall, he weighed more than 250 pounds. He had a shock of hair that on many days looked like it had exploded out of the right side of his head. — His writing production almost […]

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Luck, chance, courage and daring – another heroic tale from World War II 

Joachim Ronneberg, like so many other courageous individuals during World War II, tried to do what he could to fight off the Nazi invasion and oppression of his nation. He didn’t mean to become a hero. But that’s what happened. In 1943, Ronneberg and eight fellow resistance fighters skied across the Telemark pine forest, mostly […]

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The bees in October, Ray Bradbury, Walter Isaacson, and the Eugenics Crusade: newsletter, October 19, 2018

 This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,060) on October 19, 2018 The bees, I am happy to report, are in good shape, So far. We opened our four hives last weekend and found that the bees in each were multitudinous and had stored up honey for the winter. That’s exactly what […]

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Good advice for the General: Write like you talk

As a writing teacher of several decades, I never cared for the advice “write like you talk.” Most people don’t talk all that well. Besides, writing is a different process from talking. Talking is easy. Writing is hard. But “write like you talk” was the advice that Ulysses S. Grant got from Robert S. Johnson, […]

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The teenage revolutionary, Cold War spies, Potterheads, and the writing of a sentence: newsletter, October 12, 2018

 This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,079) on October 12, 2018 The workshop on self-publishing that I conducted for the Blount County Public Library was well attended and lots of fun for me. The participants had much information and many ideas, and they were not shy about sharing it. Self-publishing (I […]

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