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Emma Lathen: a dual force in mystery literature

If you were an avid reader of mystery novels in the 1960s, you were probably aware of three female mystery writers more than any others: Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Emma Lathen. Emma Lathen? While Christie and Sayers have achieved immortality in the realms of mystery fiction, Lathen has all but disappeared. Yet her […]

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Dick Francis, forensics, jury trials, and Ole Bert: newsletter, March 15, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,875) on Friday, March 15, 2019.     The news of this week of a major scandal in the collegiate admissions process has captured, and in some cases (mine) captivated, the attention of the nation, and rightly so. Having spent much of my adult life […]

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Dick Francis, a top jockey and an even better mystery writer

When Dick Francis took his horse Devon Loch up over the last hurdle at the 1956 Grand National Steeplechase, he was on top of the British racing world — which was quite a place to be since racing, literally, was the sport of kings. He led the field, and the finish line was in sight. Devon […]

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Who was Jack the Ripper? That’s not the important question

Who was Jack the Ripper — possibly the most famous murderer in history? Decades of evidence and speculation have surrounded that question and provided no definitive answer. But for Hallie Rubenhold, author of the recently-published The Five, that’s not the important question. The really important question is this: Who were his victims? We know their […]

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The Belfast Project tapes and the murder of Jean McConville

The Troubles is how everyone refers to it — the violence that wracked Northern Ireland for much of the latter half of the 20th century. It was a vicious and violent time that produced few heroes and no honor. All three sides in the confict — the Catholics, the Protestants, and the British Army — committed […]

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Ireland, the first female detective, and Aristotle on storytelling: newsletter, March 1, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,980) on Friday, March 1, 2019.     Ireland (rather than Georgia) has been on my mind this week — purely by coincidence. I mentioned last week that I was reading my first Tana French book, Faithful Place, which is set in Dublin. Then I heard from […]

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Lincoln’s first inaugural, the best-selling mystery writer you’ve never heard of, podcasts and more: newsletter, Feb. 22, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,914) on Friday, February 22, 2019.   Still painting, still writing, still editing, still reading — if I can do those things, then the massive amount of rain that East Tennessee has been getting fades is not as significance as it might be otherwise. It’s also […]

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Galbraith, Rowling and the losing art of anonymity; football and P.D. James: newsletter, Feb. 15, 2019

  Books stack themselves up around me (I don’t have the faintest idea how this happens). Some books I start and give up on; some I start and continue, though intermittently; and some I start and interrupt all other reading until I am well on the way to finishing. Joyce Carol Oates’ Jack of Spades is the current […]

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Robert Galbraith and J.K. Rowling and the losing game of staying anonymous

When Robert Galbraith finished The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first of the C.B. Strike series, the book was sent to a publisher for consideration. It was rejected. That likely happened again — but we don’t know how many times. We do know that it was accepted by Sphere Books, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company, and […]

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The unfair fate of Bulwer-Lytton; Margaret Drabble and Benjamin Disraeli; the week of the Brits: newsletter, January 25, 2019

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (2,918) on Friday, January 25, 2019.   The newsletter this week has a decidedly British flavor to it. That was not deliberate, but I’m pretty pleased with the way that things have turned out. How can you go wrong with Margaret Drabble, J.K. […]

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Nazis burned books, certainly, but they stole even more

The images are indelible: large bonfires fueled by books with Nazi soldiers and citizens tossing them into the flames. Flames, of course, do not destroy information or ideas, and the Nazis understood this as well as anyone. That’s why the Nazis stole far more books than they burned. Libraries of Jewish families who fell under […]

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Capt. Mayne Reid and the beginnings of the modern idea of the American West

“Go West!” has been the clarion call for Americans since the days of the early Republic. West across the Alleghenies, west across the Mississippi River, west across Texas and the Great Plains — whatever is west of where we are has represented openness, wonder, opportunity, and adventure. In more modern times, writers like Zane Grey […]

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New edition of the Baseball Joe series and an Amazon giveaway

A recent newsletter of mine carried an item about the incomparable Edward Stratemeyer whose publishing syndicate produced for us young 20th-century readers series of books like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. One of those series was titled Baseball Joe, and Stratemeyer published 14 volumes between 1912 and 1928. The “author” of the series was Lester […]

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Amazon giveaway: Seeing Suffrage

  Several years ago I wrote a book about the 1913 Woman Suffrage Parade that was held on March 3, 1913, in Washington, D.C. It was the day before Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated. Not only did this event turn out to be a pivotal one in the history of the suffrage debate, but it also was […]

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Kurt Vonnegut’s rules for writing fiction: rule number 4

For those of us coming of age in the 1960s and 1970s and seeking a voice to articulate the absurdities we were seeing and experiencing, Kurt Vonnegut was a God-send. Vonnegut (1922-2007), a World War II veteran and a survivor of the Dresden fire-bombing as a prisoner of war, wrote in a light, delicate prose […]

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Fighting poets, the public domain, the genius behind what you read as a kid, and the American cult of ignorance: newsletter, January 4, 2019

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (2,940) on Friday, January 4, 2019.   For me, the new year has seen the completion of at least one project, the continuation of several others, and the beginning of a new one. Here I’ll just talk about what’s been completed. Several years […]

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Don vs. Joe: the fight over Anonymous

When the novel Primary Colors was published in 1996, it caused a sensation inside the core of political and journalistic elites from Washington to New York. The novel was a thinly veiled recounting of the 1992 presidential campaign of Bill Clinton, and it was none too flattering to its protagonists, Bill and Hillary. The novel […]

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Becoming George Eliot (part 2): the progress of Mary Anne Evans

When Mary Anne Evans published her first work under the pen name of George Eliot in 1856, there is no evidence that she ever planned to reveal her identity. She was successfully hiding behind the general rumor that George Eliot must be some country parson because the next of her writings, Scenes from a Clerical Life, […]

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The Poe-English feud: two poets come to blows

Edgar Allan Poe once wrote of Thomas Dunn English that he is “a man without the commonest school education busying himself in attempts to instruct mankind in topics of literature.” This after they had once been friends — or at least on friendly terms (although some in the Poe camp dispute even that). In the 1840s, […]

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Edward Stratemeyer, the genius behind the series you probably read as a kid

If you were a child in the 20th century, chances are that you owe a great deal to Edward Stratemeyer. Chances are, too, that you have never heard of Edward Stratemeyer. But as a young person, you probably did read books like the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, the Rover Boys, Baseball Joe, the […]

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