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A new podcast examines the Jeffrey Epstein case

Julie K. Brown, the reporter for the Miami Herald who would not let the Jeffrey Epstein story go when just about every other reporter and prosecutor would, has a just-out series of podcasts about this sad and sorted tale. Epstein recently committed suicide rather than face a trial for his multiple assaults on underage girls, but his name […]

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Banned Books Week, Sept. 22-28, 2019: Keep the Light On

We’re coming up on the annual Banned Books Week, a celebration of intellectual freedom sponsored by the American Library Association. This year’s theme is Keep the Light On. If your local library is having an event, be supportive and take part. If not and you have other means of promoting this idea (a website or […]

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Malcolm Gladwell talks books and more books

Malcolm Gladwell (The Outliers, The Tipping Point, David and Goliath) is an author who has achieved fame — and a good bit of success — by examining parts of society that don’t often get attention or by casting a new light on things we thought were familiar. He’s just published a new book titled Talking to […]

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Diedrich Knickerbocker

The father of American illustration – F.O.C. Darley

Illustrators deserve a more prominent place in the history of American art — and in our own minds — than they have been given. This is especially true in America, where we have a rich cadre of great artists who have made their living, and their fame, by being illustrators. Chances are, with just a […]

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Romance readers, take heart: you have a history

Anyone who knows anything about book publishing knows that the genre of the romance novel is one of the most lucrative in the industry. Thousands of titles are published each year, and these books sell in the millions of copies. The reputation of these books is not, well, high-minded or intellectual, to say the least. I doubt […]

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Joseph Campbell, a scholar whose work was made famous by the movies

Joseph Campbell, a scholar of comparative literature, had been studying the history, development, and functions of “myth” since his young adulthood in the 1920s, but outside of academic and intellectual circles, he remained relatively unknown. That all changed in 1977. Campbell noted how stories — myths — developed in ancient and modern societies, as well […]

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The Hero’s Journey, romance has a history, and the “Father of American illustration”; newsletter, September 13, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,671) on Friday, September 13, 2019. ​ My email bag was delightfully full last week with readers commenting on a variety of items that they had seen in the newsletter. I try to range around the web to find interesting things, and I am always glad […]

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Tools of the fiction writer: dialogue, action, explanation – in that order

Having written a little fiction and read a lot of it, I hereby humbly offer a few thoughts as to the tools that a fiction writer has when structuring a story. These tools are secondary to character and plot, but they are the engines of storytelling: Dialogue. Characters have to talk to each other and […]

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The House of Rest

Verse and Vision, updated list

The following is an updated list of the Verse and Vision videos. I am always open to suggestions about poets, poems or topics for videos. I’ve received several and would love to have more. Meanwhile, here’s the complete list of videos I have made since the beginning of April: Lines Written a Few Miles above […]

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Henry Timberlake, his adventure and his sad end, part 2

When Henry Timberlake floated from the Holston River into the Tennessee in December 1761 and saw a small band of Cherokees on the bank, his first emotion was fear. He was in the middle of a harrowing journey where he had come close to freezing to death, starving, and being eaten by a bear. He […]

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A better lexicographer than Webster, tools of the fiction writer, and what we think we see: newsletter, September 6, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,674) on Friday, September 6, 2019. Summer has drifted into September in East Tennessee with the temperatures unduly hot and the land remaining dry. Despite that, the bees seem to be thriving. We have been feeding them since July when we took our share of […]

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Joseph Emerson Worcester produced a better dictionary than Noah Webster

If any American name is associated with dictionaries, it is Noah Webster. The name we should remember, however, is Joseph Emerson Worcester. Webster, whom I wrote about last year, made a fortune by producing the Blue Back Speller and by his determination, in the early days of the Republic, to produce a dictionary that put […]

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What we see, and what we think we see

One of my favorite artists — and YouTube video star — is James Gurney, who produces amazing paintings on-site (plein-air is the artistic term) and videos the process so that he can share them with his thousands of subscribers. Gurney also has a website on which something new appears just about every day. This past […]

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The Grapes of Wrath, written in 100 days, by a man with a mission

It took John Steinbeck less than 100 days in 1937 to write one of the 20th century’s great novels, The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck was a writer and resident of Salinas, California, at the time. It was a town located near a migrant worker camp, and Steinbeck had witnessed the poverty, degradation, and oppression of those […]

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Women and true crime: a new book examines the archetypes

True crime fascinates many of us, but are women more drawn to it than men? Yes, says journalist Rachel Monroe, who has recently authored a book examining in-depth case studies of four archetypes: Detective, Victim, Defender, and Killer. The book is Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession. Monroe was recently interviewed […]

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Robert Sherwood, wordman for FDR

When Franklin Roosevelt was president during World War II, the words he spoke publicly took on a heightened importance and had to be weighed carefully. When he had to give a speech or a radio address, he turned to the people he trusted the most to help him weigh those words. One of the people […]

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‘In Cold Blood’ murderers may have committed a similar crime in Florida

Richard Eugene Hickock and Perry Smith murdered four members of a Kansas family — Herb, Bonnie, Nancy, and Kenyon Clutter — in November 1959. Their crime, for which they were both hanged in 1965, was the subject of Truman Capote‘s most famous book, In Cold Blood. In Cold Blood became iconic because, after extensive interviews […]

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Henry Timberlake, his adventure and his sad end (part 1)

Henry Timberlake‘s short life came to a sad end. He died in 1765 in debtor’s prison in London, there because of some unfortunate but well-meaning decisions and some truly bad luck. He was somewhere between 30 and 35 years. We’re not exactly sure when he was born. We probably wouldn’t remember Timberlake at all except […]

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Teddy Roosevelt: "I am DEE-lighted."

One of TR’s many foes: the banana peel

Before Theodore Roosevelt battled the Spanish on San Juan Hill, before he fought the trusts in Congress, he had a more obscure but just as dangerous arch-enemy: the banana peel. Roosevelt was police commissioner of New York City in the 1890s when there was little or no garbage service. People simply threw their garbage in […]

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John Wesley, the history of Methodism, and the clash of biographies

Most of what happened to Methodism after John Wesley‘s death in 1791 was highly predictable. Wesley had created Methodism, a religious movement within the Anglican Church, in the 1740s by his interpretative theology, his going outside the church walls to preach to those neglected by the church, and by forming “classes” of his followers who […]

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