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Ben Franklin’s method of making friends out of enemies

The highest compliment that you can give someone is not to make a public knowledge moment of their appearance or of their talents and accomplishments. Even when sincerely given, words of this nature are shallow, cheaply rendered, and temporary. They may also be disputed. No, the highest compliment comes with words such as, “I need […]

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The everlasting lure of the Big Apple

Author Stacie Murphy, who grew up in Nashville and currently lives in Virginia, can’t get New York off her mind. She wouldn’t want to live there — too big, crowded, and overwhelming, she says — but still, she finds the place irresistible. As she writes in a recent article: And so from the moment […]

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Cornell Woolrich

Cornell Woolrich, the forgotten master of noir fiction

Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler are the two most prominent images in the pantheon 20th century American detective and crime fiction. Earle Stanley Gardner is also a consensus pick to be among the greats. But who comes after these writers? James Cain, Ross MacDonald, and John McDonald certainly have their fans who could argue articulately […]

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Elizabeth I, England’s great failure as a monarch. Really?

You may have grown up thinking – if you thought about it at all – that Elizabeth I of England was one of the Great British monarchs in the history of the kingdom. After all, she reigned for nearly 45 years during the age of Shakespeare and the flowering of the English language. By clever diplomacy, she kept […]

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The Sherlock Holmes look, Elizabeth I’s mediocrity, Heads and Tales, and Highsmith at 100: newsletter, February 5, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,401) on Friday, February 5, 2021.     The ability to learn is one of our highest values. Gathering facts and information and marrying them to our previous knowledge and experience is the essence of what it means to be human. But what about our […]

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Patricia Highsmith: a centenary celebration in 2021

This year 2021 is the centenary of the birth of the talented Miss Patricia Highsmith, and we shouldn’t let that go without taking note of this famous, infamous, and unique voice in American letters. Highsmith is more acclaimed and appreciated among British critics these days than she is by her native counterparts. The British love her […]

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What did Sherlock Holmes look like?

Sherlock Holmes is taller than average, a bit lanky, and thin. He has an angular face with a pointed nose and chin, and he has a receding hairline and very little facial hair. Possibly some sideburns. He wears a deerstalker hat and an Inverness cape. He pays relatively little attention to what he eats. Thus, his […]

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True crime – 2020 was a very good year

The year 2020 might not have been so great overall, but if you are a true crime fan, things did get a little bit better over the last 12 months. In some people’s eyes, they got a lot better. That’s the view of author Sarah Weinman, whose new book, Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit […]

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Arséne Lupin – a version of Robin Hood – this time in French

The myth of Robin Hood – the charming outlaw who “steals from the rich and gives to the poor” — is an enduring one, and also an international one. We are seeing that play out with the current popularity of the Arséne Lupin series on Netflix. Robin Hood is a guy who plays by his own rules, who […]

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Heads and Tales: Caricatures and Stories of the Famous, the Infamous, and the Just Plain Interesting

My latest literary and artistic efforts are coming to fruition in the next couple of weeks with the publication of a new book: Heads and Tales: Caricatures and Stories of the Famous, the Infamous, and the Just Plain Interesting. The book will be in paperback and ebook form, but it will be accompanied by something else: a podcast […]

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Lawrence Block, a writer both prolific and successful

When an intelligent but smart-alecky High School junior got his English composition assignment in a 1943 Buffalo High School, he decided to treat it like the intelligent but smart-alecky kid he was. He would make some fun of it. The assignment was to write about his own career possibilities. He wrote about all of us […]

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Susan Glaspell, a not-quite-forgotten feminist writer

John Hossack, a well-to-do farmer near Indianola, Iowa, was attacked with an ax while he slept in his bed on the night of Dec. 1, 1900. His wife, Margaret, was in bed beside him but said she heard nothing of the intruders who did it until they were in another part of the house. Margaret, […]

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Bag Man, the crimes of Spiro Agnew

If you lived through the Watergate scandal in the 1970s, or if you know much about it, you will remember that Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon’s vice president, resigned his office in October 1973 because he faced criminal charges that had nothing to do with anything involving Watergate. The Agnew episode has come to be regarded […]

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Inaugural images, the Braille month, 5 minutes with the flute, and a podcast recommendation: newsletter, January 22, 2021

During the last few weeks, I am more and more  reading short stories rather than novels. Up to now, I have never paid much attention to short stories. It began, I think,  when a newsletter reader mentioned Ed Hoch, whose name I had never heard and stories I had never read. And it’s gone on from […]

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5 minutes with the flute will make you a believer

A couple of weeks ago in this newsletter, I mentioned that I learn to play the flute when I was young. Well, right on time and with perfect pitch (see this December newsletter), the New York Times has put into words many of the feelings that I have for that instrument. Not only have they used words, […]

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Picturing the inauguration for the first time

Presidential inaugurations have taken place in America every four years since 1789 when George Washington first took the oath of office, but it was more than 50 years after that event that the public saw a news image and got an idea of what an inauguration really looks like. That image, however, was not seen first by Americans. […]

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Louis Braille and a new way of reading and writing

January should not escape us without noting that it is Braille Literacy Month. No name is more associated with reading and writing by the blind than that of Louis Braille. Braille’s method of writing so that the blind could read was not the first such system, however. Another system of writing and reading prevailed and was well […]

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Edward Hoch, grand master for the mystery short story

When you talk about the Agatha Christies and the Ross McDonalds of the world — the great mystery and detective fiction writers of the 20th century — you probably don’t think of Edward W. Hoch (pronounced Hoke). That’s too bad because his fiction should be listed among the pantheon of the greats. The problem with […]

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Aphra Behn: a marginalized voice restored

She is thought to have been the first woman to make her living purely by writing. But that one fact — whether or not it is actually true — does not do justice to the person or to the work of Aphra Behn. Behn lived from 1640 to 1689, a time known as the Restoration […]

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Playing the cello

Dickens manipulates, we review, and readers react: Merry Christmas: newsletter, December 25, 2020

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,480) on Friday, December 25, 2020.   Merry Christmas. Part of the genius of the Christmas story is that it is about a baby. There is something about a baby that calls forth the depth and the best of our Humanity. Human babies are the […]

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