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Gordon Parks and “The Atmosphere of Crime, 1957”

Gordon Parks bought his first camera in 1938 when he was 25 years old and living in Seattle, Washington. Up to that time, Parks did not have much of a life. Born in Kansas in 1912, Parks was one of 15 children and experienced the cruelties of racism when some white kids pitched him into […]

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Mosley wins distinguished contribution medal from the National Book Foundation

Noted: this from the Washington Post: Walter Mosley has been named winner of the 2020 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation. He is the first Black man to win the foundation’s $10,000 lifetime achievement award, which was first awarded in 1988. The author of more than 60 books, Mosley […]

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Josephine Tey and her masterpiece of paranoia in postwar England

Those Americans of us who watch a lot of British-produced television — from Upstairs, Downstairs to Downton Abbey to Belgravia and many more besides — are often impressed, if not horrified, by the number of servants required to help the British upper-classes get through the day. Butlers, cooks, scullery maids, chambermaids — the list of […]

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Mary Mapes Dodge and her extraordinary editorship of St. Nicholas magazine (part 2)

The publishers of The Century Magazine, in 1872, had given Mary Mapes Dodge a golden opportunity — a “blank check,” as we would say today. She was determined to make the most of it. They wanted her to create a magazine for children, and they were convinced that Dodge was the right person for the […]

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Mary Mapes Dodge, the Silver Skates, and St. Nicholas magazine (part 1)

Mary Mapes Dodge, suffering from the disappearance and then death of her husband in 1857 and facing the need to support herself and her two sons, wrote one of the most beloved children’s novels of all time — Hans Brinkler or The Silver Skates. For that, she will always be remembered. But what she did beyond the […]

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Abandoned schoolhouse

More on Mary Mapes Dodge, Josephine Tey and paranoia, and a couple of podcast recommendations: newsletter, September 18, 2020

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,529) on Friday, September 18, 2020.   Getting a book that you have anticipated for a while and then having it live up to your expectations is a particular delight. That happened to me with the arrival of Ian Toll‘s Twilight of the Gods: War in the Western […]

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Gordon Parks’ “Atmosphere of Crime” photos, the war in Iraq, a look back at William Manchester, and reader reactions: newsletter, Sept. 4, 2020

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,531) on Friday, September 4, 2020.   The idea rattling through in my head for the last few days has been “gentleness.” Our modern human world doesn’t put much stock in the idea of gentleness, but nature does. I’m lucky in that I get to […]

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William Manchester: the sad end of a great writer

William Manchester was a magnificent writer and historian whose subjects were amazingly interesting. He made them more so. Manchester is the author of the three-volume biography of Winston Churchill (referred to in a number of previous posts including here and here), The Last Lion. Manchester reached the peak of prominence in the 1960s when he […]

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Racism, the 19th century, and the prescience of John Quincy Adams

Despite the fact that one of America’s great accomplishments of the 19th century was the ultimate abolition of slavery, racial attitudes did not advance toward accepting racial equality at all. By the end of the century, the nation had wrapped itself into the knots of Jim Crow laws that embedded segregation into just about every […]

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Dave Robicheaux and his creator James Lee Burke: both great stories

If you are a James Lee Burke or Dave Robicheaux fan, you will want to take a look this retrospective on Burke’s writing career by David Masciotra on Although Burke has written much that does not include the flawed detective Robicheaux, this character is by far his most popular and most developed creation. Throughout his […]

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Trained Nurses in Parade--March 3, 1913

The beginnings of a national strategy for women’s suffrage

America needed to see suffrage. By 1913 suffrage veteran Alice Paul and her friend Lucy Burns had decided that this was what the women’s suffrage movement needed was a national strategy, not the state-by-state plans that had been followed by the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) for so many years. Americans — particularly journalists […]

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Mary King Ward and the life she lived

Mary King Ward is remembered because of the way in which she died. She should be remembered for the way in which she and for the accomplishments she achieved as a 19-century female scientist. Ward died in 1869, thought to be the first automobile traffic fatality. That fact overshadows the many aspects of her life […]

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Richard Ben Cramer on ‘what it took’ for Joe Biden

Richard Ben Cramer, an extraordinary reporter, could pack enough energy into a paragraph to charge a lightning bolt. To read Cramer is to get caught up in his rhythm, to follow is thinking, and to come to his understanding of the subject he was reporting on. Cramer brought all of his writing and reporting talent […]

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Cat on watch

A top 19th century female scientist and writer remembered, the history of Aunt Jemima, and Richard Ben Cramer on Joe Biden: newsletter, August 28, 2020

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,5xx) on Friday, August 28, 2020. Sometimes you win the lottery, and then sometimes you get really lucky. Our household is still in a joyous state over the birth of our grandson a couple of weeks ago. It’s a big win, as they say these days. Thanks, […]

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Typos of the NYT: broadcasting the paper’s mistakes

Is reading the New York Times detrimental to your health, physical or mental? Probably not, but the jury is out on that question in the case of Twitter personality @nyttypos, or Typos of the New York Times. This guy reads the New York Times obsessively and sends out tweets every time he finds a typo, grammatical […]

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Should ex-presidents continue in public service?

Should a person who has been president of the United States continue in government service after leaving the White House? Throughout American history, the answer has been “No.” An ex-president has no place in any branch of government. Outside public service? Maybe, just as what Jimmy Carter has been doing in the 40 years since […]

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Georges Simenon

Baseball finally, the massive output of Georges Simenon, and the need for some creative thinking: newsletter, July 24, 2020

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,5xx) on Friday, July 24, 2020.   A memory rattled through my brain this week of a newspaper column I read many years ago. It was in the 1960s, and the column was by Russell Baker in the New York Times (I’m pretty sure), and […]

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Hugh Walpole, reactions to masks and COVID-19, First Amendment violations, and an international watercolor conspiracy: newsletter, July 3, 2020

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,5xx) on Friday, July 3, 2020.   An international cabal of industrialists and watercolorists has met in secret (not sure when, probably at night; not sure where, probably Switzerland) and decided that July will be International Watercolor Month. I will continue my investigations and report my […]

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Boyd's barbershop

An admiral floats while multiple writers write the same story, the scientific method, and more reasons to stay home and read a good book: newsletter, June 26, 2020

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,573) on Friday, June 26, 2020.   A few weeks ago in the newsletter, I mentioned blackberry winter. Well, it is now officially blackberry summer here in East Tennessee. I have declared it so this week. The wild blackberries are  bright red, and a few are […]

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A few of Motown’s one-hit wonders

When I asked for suggestions about where (if anywhere) to take the Motown series, my friend Steve W. had a good suggestion: what about the one-hit wonders — the songs that were hits but we never heard from the artist again. Grab your favorite search engine and ask for Motown’s one-hit wonders, and you will […]

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