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The Hellman-McCarthy suit, apostrophes again, and an easy-to-use thesaurus: newsletter, March 13, 2020

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,601) on Friday, March 13, 2020.     The threat of the coronavirus that is now spreading through the United States and other western nations brings to mind other contagions that have plagued human beings throughout our history. Sometimes they have colorful names; sometimes they […]

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Dorothy Thompson, America’s leading voice denouncing Nazism in the 1930s

Winston Churchill is rightly remembered as the lonely voice of 1930s Britain who recognized the dangers of Nazism and loudly and regularly denounced Adolph Hitler and his thugs while his nation was sleepwalking through the decade. America had a similar voice, but unfortunately, we hardly have any memory of her. The voice was that of […]

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The thrillers of Jack Higgins, the rise of Dorothy Thompson, plus some March literary madness: newsletter, March 6, 2020

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,602) on Friday, March 6, 2020.   The tornados that roared through Nashville and Middle Tennessee earlier this week left death and destruction in their wake and broke more than a few hearts — one of them being mine. I grew up in east Nashville […]

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March literary madness: Hilary Mantel and Erik Larson

Two major literary events of the season are occurring this month: the release of new books by Hilary Mantel (The Mirror and the Light, due out March 10) and Erik Larson (The Splendid and the Vile, available now). Mantel caused a sensation with her Wolf Hall, the first of a trilogy of historical novels that […]

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Eleanor Taylor Bland, a pioneer in African-American mystery fiction

In the mid-1980s, Eleanor Taylor Bland had to feel as though her life was falling apart. She was divorced from her husband of 31 years. Living in Waukegan, Illinois, she was half a country away from where she grew up in Massachusetts. She had a job that was less than inspiring. Worst of all, a […]

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Chester Himes and his mysteries, the books you love and hate, and Agatha’s greatest story: newsletter, February 7, 2020

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,617) on Friday, February 7, 2020. One night this week, I foolishly counted the number of novels that I was reading simultaneously. It was five (count ’em, 5). A couple of them I have just started; another couple I’m well into and don’t feel like quitting yet. […]

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The mysteries of Eleanor Taylor Bland, the firing of Dorothy Parker, and reader reactions: newsletter, February 14, 2020

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,617) on Friday, February 14, 2020. Two forces overwhelmed me at the end of last week. The good one was a higher-than-usual number of emails from you readers that I always find enlightening, fascinating, and thoughtful. Some of them were fairly lengthy, and that’s a good […]

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Science fiction’s first Hugo, assassinating the PM Mantel-style, Stephen Fry’s podcast, and reader reaction: newsletter, January 31, 2020

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,617) on Friday, January 31, 2020.     Death, unfortunately, is much in mind this week as we hear the tragic news of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and the others who perished in a helicopter accident earlier this week. I knew who Kobe Bryant was […]

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Hilary Mantel, Margaret Thatcher, and the story of an assassination that didn’t happen

On a Saturday in the middle of 1983, author Hilary Mantel looked out of the bedroom window of her flat in Windsor, west of London, and saw something she never expected to see: Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wandering around the garden of a nearby hospital. Thatcher was by herself, and Mantel could see her clearly. […]

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Patricia Highsmith and her first job as a writer

Patricia Highsmith achieved international fame in the mid to late 20th century for her deeply psychological and suspenseful novels and short stories that often took the reader into a world of violence. Her first novel, Strangers on a Train (1950), cemented her reputation when Alfred Hitchcock made it into an award-winning movie.  Her Repliad series, […]

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The library of Ashurbanipal, Obama’s audacity of hope, and Highsmith’s first job: newsletter, January 10, 2020

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,632) on Friday, January 10, 2020.   One of the post-Christmas-New-Year’s gifts I gave myself was Tom Richmond’s book, The Mad Art of Caricature, and it is both delightful and informative. If you remember Mad Magazine (or still read it), you would know that Richmond is one […]

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Rose O’Neill, creator of the Kewpie doll and the richest illustrator of her time

In 1887 when she was 13, Rose O’Neill entered a drawing contest sponsored by the Omaha World-Herald. Her entry was by far the best submission, and she was declared the winner. But there was a problem. Some of the editors did not believe that the drawing was original. It was too good, and they thought […]

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Candice Millard finds her real story, the demise of the death penalty, and Vietnam in fiction: newsletter, December 27, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,646) on Friday, December 27, 2019.   We are in the midst of the holiday season with plenty of song, food, beverage, and fellowship. I hope that we all (especially me) can take a few moments for those who aren’t so blessed. Actions on behalf […]

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Martha Gelhorn and the wars of the 20th century, parkour considered, and plenty of reader reaction: newsletter, December 20, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,661) on Friday, December 20, 2019.    Readers of this newsletter know that I am partial to good stories, especially when they are true; they involve writers and journalists; and they are women. We hit the trifecta this week with some good stuff about Martha Gelhorn, who is often […]

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Mary Beard, every Latin word, and the author accused of fraud: newsletter, December 6, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,661) on Friday, December 6, 2019. The week after Thanksgiving is a time filled with shopping both in stores and online. Many retail establishments depend on this time to make up for loses incurred by staying open during the rest of the year. In addition, […]

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Emma Hart Willard and the concept of ‘visual learning’

Long before the term “visual learning” came into being, Emma Hart Willard knew what it meant and how important it was. So important, she believed, that constructing the tools to put it into effect was well worth time and effort. In 1846, she drew a chart titled The Temple of Time (below) in which she attempted […]

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J.K. Rowling on the importance of reading to writing

The paragraph below comes from J.K. Rowling‘s website, so if you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ll want to check out the site and especially this page. This is especially for younger writers. You can’t be a good writer without being a devoted reader. Reading is the best way of analysing what makes a good book. […]

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How Mildred Wirt became Carolyn Keene – and changed the culture

If you were a young reader, you know that Carolyn Keene wrote the Nancy Drew mysteries. And if you remained aware of that into adulthood, chances are that you found out that Carolyn Keene didn’t exist. So who was Carolyn Keene? The creator of Nancy Drew was Edward Stratemeyer, about whom we have written before […]

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Summer reading, the huddled masses, ALA’s ‘most challenged’ list, and more: newsletter, July 19, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,727) on Friday, July 19, 2019. Two of the history tomes that I am working my way through this summer are Rick Atkisson’s The British Are Coming and Nigel Hamilton’s The Mantle of Command: FDR at War 1941-42. Both are first volumes of trilogies, one that examines the […]

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Emma Lazarus and the huddled masses

We remember Emma Lazarus — if we remember her name at all — for one thing: the poem “The New Colossus,” which is inscribed on a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty. The two lines from that poem are two that most of us can repeat: “Give me your tired, your poor, […]

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