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ThomasMayneReid_20190116_0001

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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Ulm, Beisetzung Rommel

Erwin Rommel, the Desert Myth

One of the luckiest men of the 20th century in terms of having a continuing and positive public image is Erwin Rommel. Rommel was “Adolph Hilter’s favorite general.” He was the Desert Fox, a moniker applied to him by British journalists. He was a chivalrous soldier who fought a “clean” war and refused Hitler’s orders […]

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ZeldaandSoctt

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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JoeandDon_20181225_0001

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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ArtemusWard_20181225_0001

A description of Artemus Ward for the caricaturist

If ever there was a description that demanded a caricature, it is this one of Charles Farrar Brown, aka Artemus Ward. His fellow editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, George Hoyt, wrote: His desk was a rickety table which had been whittled and gashed until it looked as if it had been the victim of […]

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GeorgeEliot_20181210_0001

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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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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ZeldaandSoctt

Thousands of copyrighted works set to enter the public domain today

The intellectual property dam that has withheld thousands of copyrighted works — books, art, plays, films, etc. — from the public domain is about to burst. It’s about time. Copyright is a useful concept that helps protect an author or artist from having others benefit unduly from the work he or she has created. But […]

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CharlesDickens

Back on the road, in a literary sort of way; libraries; and writing advice from Elmore Leonard: newsletter, Dec. 21, 2018

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (2,962) on Friday, Dec. 21, 2018.     The Christmas holiday season, Hannukah, the winter solstice, the beginning of the college football bowl season — they all collide for the next couple of weeks, provoking an increase in shopping, singing, television watching, and […]

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Josephine Herrick: her World War II legacy for veterans continues today

When it comes to paying a lasting tribute to veterans, few people can match the work of Josephine Herrick. Herrick was a professional photographer in the 1930s and 40s with a successful studio in New York City when the United States went to war in 1941. She organized a group of 35 fellow-photographers to take […]

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Patience, or how to suffer fools lightly

You’ve heard the expression, “He/She doesn’t suffer fools lightly.” It is almost always said as a compliment. But I wonder: Is it really a compliment? Is it a trait that we should want to develop? If you were a teacher, as I was for four decades, you had to put up with lots of fools. […]

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Kim Jung Gi, pen and ink artist extraordinary

If you don’t know about this guy or have never seen him in action, you should probably take a few minutes to watch. His name is Kim Jung Hi, and he is famous in the art world for his drawing performances. That’s right, performances. In front of an audience, he produces large, highly detailed, realistic […]

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AlexanderSolzhenitsyn_20181212_0001

The writer and the empire: who wins? The words win.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, during the 1970s, was a hero in the West because as a Russian writer, he chose to stand against the Soviet empire and expose its corruption and inhumanity. His weapon was a short novel titledA Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which recounted the experiences of a Russian man sentenced to a Soviet […]

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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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SaulBellow_20181211_0001

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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The Education of Little Tree – heartwarming tale or major league hoax?

It’s a heartwarming tale: a small Cherokee boy is raised by his aging grandparents and taught to love the land and be tolerant of others. It is “the way” of the Cherokee tribe, and the writing is simple, ironic, and at times hilarious. The Education of Little Tree was written not by a person raised […]

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MarkZuckerberg_20181205_0001

Facebook’s public image deteriorates as more of its private actions come to light

After a scathing two-part documentary by Public Broadcasting Service’s Frontline in October (The Facebook Dilemma, discussed in a JPROF.com post a couple of weeks ago), Facebook’s reputation as an idealist company that wants to change the world and do go continues to deteriorate. Here’s the lead paragraph from a New York Times story (Facebook Used […]

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AgathaChristie

Radio dramas from the BBC Radio 4

One of the great pleasures I had when I spent a couple of multi-month stretches in Great Britain in the 1970s (London for eight months and Edinburgh for seven) was listening to the radio — specifically BBC Radio 4. I didn’t have a television, but the radio dramas presented by the BBC more than satisfied my […]

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