Before he became famous for his wild tales of the then New West, Bret Harte was a journalist and had broken one of the biggest stories of the era in pre-Civil War California. Born in 1836 in Albany, New York, Harte moved to California with his family when he was a teenager. He worked at […]
Saul Bellow is one of the giants of 20th century American literature — a writer of the first order who could mesmerize the reader with his prose. Yet personally, he could be — and often was — a jerk, demanding, demeaning, and thoroughly foul-tempered. What’s a biographer to do? The answer comes from Zachery Leader, […]
Joseph Priestly’s big writing idea, a winter’s read recommendation, and radio drama from the BBC: newsletter, Dec. 7, 2018
This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (2,977) on Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. In light of the reduction of our beehives, which I reported last week, I have come across a couple of substantial articles about bees and insects in this environment. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance […]
It’s a heartwarming tale: a small Cherokee boy is raised by his aging grandparents and taught to love the land and be tolerant of others. It is “the way” of the Cherokee tribe, and the writing is simple, ironic, and at times hilarious. The Education of Little Tree was written not by a person raised […]
Louisa May Alcott lived a double-literary life. The world knew her as Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women and other widely popular and deeply-loved books that have been read by children for generations. These she called “moral pap” and said she wrote them only for the money. An extremely small circle of people knew […]
After a scathing two-part documentary by Public Broadcasting Service’s Frontline in October (The Facebook Dilemma, discussed in a JPROF.com post a couple of weeks ago), Facebook’s reputation as an idealist company that wants to change the world and do go continues to deteriorate. Here’s the lead paragraph from a New York Times story (Facebook Used […]
One of the great pleasures I had when I spent a couple of multi-month stretches in Great Britain in the 1970s (London for eight months and Edinburgh for seven) was listening to the radio — specifically BBC Radio 4. I didn’t have a television, but the radio dramas presented by the BBC more than satisfied my […]
The British Library will host an exhibit on the history of writing in April 2019. If you are going to be in London between April and August of next year, this would be one of those must-see events. Here’s how the library describes the exhibit: The story unfolds through more than 100 objects from the […]
As we head into the depths of winter — don’t worry, Christmas will be over soon, and then we’ll find ourselves there — Emily Temple, a senior editor at the excellent LitHub.com website has a good reading recommendation: Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. It is, in my opinion, the perfect winter holiday book. It’s […]
Caricature is fairly common today (even amateurs like me try their hand at it), but in the late 18th century, it was a newly developing form of art, as well as social and political communication. And no one was better at it — a set a higher standard for others of his and those who […]
Bret Harte probably deserves a higher station than the one he occupies in the pantheon of American letters. A big part of the reason he doesn’t have it lies with his one-time friend, Mark Twain. Twain had known Harte from their days in the West when Harte achieved national fame in writing about the tall […]
The father of modern caricature, bitterness among literary lights, and a view of personal technology: newsletter, Nov. 30, 2018
This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (2,984) on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018. The theme of writing — good writing, I hope — permeates all of my newsletters, but this week you may notice another: caricature. I have tried this art form from time to time with varying degrees […]
Joseph Priestly, the Englishman we remember as a great scientist and the one who first discovered oxygen, was a writer before he was a scientist. And he was a writer with a Big Idea. Priestly (1733-1804) lived in an age when interest in “natural philosophy,” what we would call “science” today, had exploded, and people […]
Few novelists have explored the American mind and character as deeply and perceptively as Sinclair Lewis, who in 1930 became the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. The freedom of movement — the ability for Americans to travel — is, according to Lewis, one of the most important parts of the American […]
A writer who didn’t want to be edited, the ‘real’ Moriarty, and your good words: newsletter, Nov. 23, 2018
Thanks for the many emails about the words that we use and the ones we don’t hear enough. This week’s word, of course, is gratitude, in line with the Thanksgiving holiday that Americans have celebrated this week. All of us have much to be thankful for. I do my best to remind myself of that […]
Edinburgh, a mecca for crime fiction? British author Paul French has an excellent article on CrimeReads.com about Edinburgh, Scotland as a mecca of crime and detective fiction. The first association you’re likely to make in this regard is between Edinburgh and Ian Rankin‘s booze-laden detective John Rebus. But there is more to Edinburgh’s literary crime […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
In this week’s newsletter
Read about Joseph Priestly's big writing idea, Facebook's continuing troubles, and drama from the BBC's Radio 4.
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