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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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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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BaseballJoe01

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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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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Becoming George Eliot (part 1): The progress of Mary Anne Evans

Mary Anne Evans was one of the sharpest and most wide-ranging minds of the 1800s in London’s ground-breaking intellectual ferment of the mid-century. She mixed with the most radical and forwarding thinkers of the day and was the driving force behind the resurgence of the Westminster Review between late 1851 and 1853. Her title was assistant […]

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More literary deceptions, Artemus Ward, and JFK on open government: newsletter, Dec. 28, 2018

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (2,951) on Friday, Dec. 28, 2018.     This is the last newsletter of the year and time, once again, to thank all of you newsletter readers for reading and responding. You have given me so many good tips about articles and books. […]

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Literary deceptions, caricature, and a writer vs. an empire: newsletter, Dec. 14, 2018

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (2,967) on Friday, Dec. 7, 2018.     Literary deceptions and caricatures (again) — those are the items we focus on in this week’s newsletter. But there more, too. When is it okay for an author to deceive readers? We have two instances […]

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Bret Harte’s big newspaper scoop

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 […]

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Saul Bellow, a jerk and a determinedly great writer

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, […]

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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 […]

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A recommendation for a winter read from LitHub: The Talented Mr. Ripley

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 […]

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Points and Clicks, Nov. 23, 2018

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 […]

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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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BeatrixPotter

The scientific contributions and botanical art of Beatrix Potter

All the world knows Beatrix Potter as the author of the Peter Rabbit stories. Some of the world knows that Potter also illustrated those stories. Probably even fewer people know that Potter was a scientist and a scientific artist, and her specialty was mushrooms. As Maria Popova of BrainPickings writes: . . . no aspect […]

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EdgarAPoe

John Pendleton Kennedy: Edgar Allan Poe’s literary guardian angel

John Pendleton Kennedy is a man who lived in the 1830s in Baltimore, and chances are, you have never heard of him. That’s okay, but without Kennedy, who acted as a lifeline — a literary guardian angel, if you will — you might never have heard of Edgar Allan Poe. Poe lived a scant 40 […]

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The deaths of Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple, foretold

When Agatha Christie was living in London during World War II, she wasn’t sure she was going to survive. The Blitz by the German air force had inflicted heavy damage on London’s capital city, and thousands of people had died. Christie believed she might eventually be among them. She was famous, and so were her […]

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Philip Roth, 1933-2018

The death of Philip Roth on Tuesday (May 22) removes one of the great names from the living giants of American letters. In fact, many consider him to be the last of those giants, and they may well be right. Obituaries in the New York Times, Washington Post, and many other publications have praised and […]

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The woman who wrote the first American crime (not detective) novel

Metta Victoria Fuller Victor authored and published The Dead Letter in 1867. It is thought to be America’s first full crime novel. (Edgar Allan Poe’s stuff was short stories.) In its day, it was known as a sensation novel. But it’s not America’s first detective novel. The Dead Letter has a crime, of course. There […]

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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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