Harriet Beecher Stowe, Thomas Dixon, and a couple of examples of excellent journalism: newsletter, June 29, 2018

This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,238) on June 8, 2018

First an apology: Many of you with Gmail addresses received last week’s newsletter with a big red warning label at the top and no way to click on the links. When I began to hear from you about it on Friday evening, I started trying to find out why that had occurred. I had a great time over the weekend blaming everyone else. Turns out, on Monday I found out it was my fault. I had included too many links in the email, and that sets off a spam alert. I’ll try to be more careful next time, and please do let me know if anything is amiss.

While I don’t normally pay too much attention to the calendar when I write these newsletters, I do note that the Fourth of July is coming up next week. In honor of that, we have a pretty all-American newsletter this week. To all of our non-American readers, please excuse the provinciality. Just this once.

Finally, this travel note: I will be on the road for the next couple of weeks, so the next couple of newsletters will be somewhat abbreviated. Keep reading, and keep writing. I’ll be back with a full newsletter on July 20.

Here’s hoping for a wonderful, idea-filled weekend for all of us.


Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.


The greatest American novel

It’s difficult to argue with the claim that no American novel has had more psychological, social, and political impact that Uncle Tom’s Cabin. And no 19th-century American novel continues to be debated to this very day like Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s classic indictment of slavery.

David S. Reynolds certainly makes those claims and more in his Mightier Than the Sword: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Battle for America, a survey of the novel — how it was written and published, the impact it had, and its continuing effects.

No book in American history molded public opinion more powerfully than Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Published in 1852, it set sales records for American fiction. An international sensation, it was soon translated into many languages. The Boston preacher Theodore Parker declared that it was ‘more an event than a book, and has excited more attention than any book since the invention of printing.'” (p. xi)

Sales of the book were certainly phenomenal — 300,000 copies in its first year, a number three times that of the previous American best-sellers. The public, however, had been primed for the book because it had already appeared as a 40-part serialization in the newspaper The National Era, beginning in June 1851. Dwarfing its audience in American was the number of copies sold — more than a million — in the United Kingdon in its first year. Also in that year, it was translated into nine languages, and more translations followed in the subsequent years.

Commentators at the time recognized that its actual readership far exceeded its sales because a favorite past-time of home life was to read books aloud to friends and family (the audiobook of the 19th century).

Suffice it to say that Uncle Tom’s Cabin took over the American mind (and many minds beyond America’s shores), and the novel has held its grip on a portion of that mind ever since. Immediately after its publication, the debate about slavery — and ultimately the debate about America — was never the same.

Reynolds’ book is a fascinating look inside a fascinating and important phenomenon in the history of the nation.

 

Thomas Dixon: a writer on the wrong side of history

Sometimes a successful writer, both in his life and in his writing, gets it all wrong. Such was the case with Thomas Dixon.

Dixon was born in 1864 in North Carolina and grew up during the Reconstruction era as an unreconstructed Southerner. He attended Wake Forest and later Johns Hopkins, where he befriended a young Woodrow Wilson. He got into politics, practiced law, and eventually became a Baptist minister. He accepted an offer from a larger church in Boston where his fame and popularity grew. He moved from there to New York in 1889, and by 1895 he had given up the pastorate to be fulltime on the lecture circuit. He was thought to be the most popular lecturer in the nation at the time.

In 1901, while on a lecture tour, Dixon attended a theatrical version of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He cried at the performance, not out of sympathy for the characters in the play but out of anger for what he thought was Stowe’s misrepresentation of the South. He vowed then and there — 50 years after Uncle Tom’s Cabin was first published — to get even and to set the record straight.

Dixon decided that he would write a sequel to Uncle Tom’s Cabin but would do so from the South’s point of view.

Dixon’s novel, The Leopard’s Spots, was published in 1902, and his fame — in addition to the tenor of the times — made it a best-seller. Dixon followed that success with another novel, The Clansman, in 1903 and still another in 1909, The Traitor. All were virulently racist books that played on the fear white people had of blacks and the supposed evils of miscegenation. All were highly popular with the reading public.

They were so popular that movie director D.W. Griffith used them to make his early epic, The Birth of a Nation. The film reflected the racist views of Dixon’s novels.

One of the people who shared these views was Woodrow Wilson, Dixon’s old friend from Johns Hopkins. The two had stayed in touch over the years. When The Birth of a Nation was released in 1915, Wilson sponsored a private showing in the White House and is reported to have said the file was “like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so true.”

Dixon’s writing undoubtedly had an impact, confirming the stereotypes and prejudices of many of his readers. But his work never came close to undoing the mighty fortress of accuracy, logic, and emotion that Harriet Beecher Stowe built.

Dixon inadvertently paid tribute to Stowe in the Leopard’s Spots when he wrote:

A little Yankee woman wrote a book. The single act of that woman’s will caused the war, killed a million men, desolated and ruined the South, and changed the history of the world.

And it drove Dixon to spend much of his life and intellect trying, unsuccessfully, to counter all that.

 

Giveaways and offers

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”

Independence Day Celebration — Books about Freedom. This Instafreebie group giveaway has some fantastic books by an excellent group of independent authors (including . . . ahem . . . me). You will find something to add to your summer reading stack.

 

Podcasts on the rise

A survey across multiple countries shows that podcast are on the rise. People love audio, and they listen.

Overall, a third of our sample (34%) listens to a news-related podcast at least monthly but there are significant country differences. In Asian countries like South Korea (58%) and Taiwan (55%), strong smartphone penetration together with high levels of social sharing have helped podcasts grow rapidly. In the United States, which has produced much of the innovation in terms of formats (Serial, S-Town) and business models (sponsorship and targeted advertising), a third (33%) say they have accessed a news podcast in the last month. Source: Podcasts and New Audio Strategies? – Reuters Institute Digital News Report

These results have lots of implications for authors, particularly independent authors, and their audiences. More and more, audio has to be part of the marketing strategy for an independent author.

American Fire and Bad Blood: two excellent pieces of long-form journalism

Good journalism is hard to do — I have said this many times — and when I find some, I tend to pay some attention. A couple of examples of excellent long-form journalism that I have come across lately are American Fire by Monica Hesse and Bad Blood by John Carreyrou.

American Fire: Love, Arson and Life in a Vanishing Land is the story of two sad souls who set more than 80 fires to abandoned buildings between November 2012 and April 2013 in Accomack County on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The once-thriving county has come to hard times, and although no one was hurt by these fires, the area is served by volunteer fire departments that found themselves stretched to the limit. Who would do this? and why? Monica Hesse set out to answer this question after covering the trial of the two culprits for the Washington Post. She chronicles the massive efforts that law enforcement and private citizens made to find out who in their midst was setting these fire.

Hesse has dug deep and come up with a highly readable book, and if you have an afternoon and/or evening to settle back with it, you will find yourself caught up in the fascinating story of this place.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, by John Carreyrou, is a different book altogether. Elizabeth Holmes was certainly no sad soul; she was blonde, blue-eyed, and deep-voiced and had dropped out of Stanford after her freshman year because she had Silicon Valley’s Next Big Idea. Or so she said. The idea was to create software that would conduct blood tests with just a small drop of blood — a finger prick — rather than having to draw a vial of blood from a person’s arm. That would allow home-testing of blood on a daily basis, and then medications could be adjusted on the fly based on those tests. Such technology could revolutionize the medical industry.

Holmes sold her idea to venture capitalists, investors, and people you have heard of (Rupert Murdock, Betsy DeVoss, George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, etc.), and by 2014 her company, Theranos, had raised $9 billion. Not only was Holmes raising money, but she was also getting rave notices from the nation’s technology press.

The problem was that her technology didn’t work, and that’s what John Carreyrou, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, found out. This book is the story of how Carreyrou uncovered the fraud and of what happened to him and his sources when he did. It’s not a pretty story, but it’s riveting.

Lesson: People who have lots and lots of money are sometimes greedier than smart. And sometimes they’re not very nice.

Both of these books will pull you in and keep you reading way past your bedtime.

 

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Harriet Beecher Stowe

 

 

Best quote of the week:

There is always something to do. There are hungry people to feed, naked people to clothe, sick people to comfort and make well. And while I don’t expect you to save the world, I do think it’s not asking too much for you to love those with whom you sleep, share the happiness of those whom you call friend, engage those among you who are visionary, and remove from your life those who offer you depression, despair, and disrespect. Nikki Giovanni, poet and professor (1943) 


Helping those in need

This is my weekly reminder to all of us (especially me) that there are many people who need our help. It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here). When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org)is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.

Jim


Jim Stovall 

www.jprof.com

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Rebecca West, Churchill, an artistic challenge, and harvesting honey: newsletter, June 22, 2018

 

 


 

 

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About Jim Stovall

Jim Stovall, a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker and beekeeper -- among others things.
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