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Billy Wilder, a journalist before he was a screenwriter or director

The great movie director Billy Wilder, whose six Academy Awards rank him among the best who have ever stood behind a camera and told the people in front of it what to do – was once asked during an interview for a biographer the accomplishment for which she was most proud. The answer from Wilder, […]

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Firstmovement

The Army gets it right, Eleanor gets an audience, and the love triangle scandal of the 1870s: newsletter, April 30, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,374) on Friday, April 30, 2021. Nature is doing its random best, as usual, to confound us. Where I live, we had two nights of frost last week — unheard of after mid-April. Fortunately, the cooler temperatures this spring have prevented us from putting anything […]

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NormanMailer

Norman Mailer: Larger-than-life colossus of 20th century American letters

When Norman Mailer was 20 years old in 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. A precocious student, he had just graduated from Harvard University. He had initially majored in engineering, but he took writing and literature courses as his electives. During his undergraduate days, he had published his first story, “The Greatest Thing […]

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Youngartist

The first man in space, a controversial Union advocate, and possibly reviving the Verse and Vision videos: newsletter, April 23, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,374) on Friday, April 23, 2021. The ongoing fight to make public records public traditionally has been led by state press associations and independent members of the news media. As such, it has been viewed by state legislators and the public at large as self-serving. […]

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AnnaEllaCarroll 1

Anna Ella Carroll, strategic mastermind or relentless self-promoter?

Was Anna Ella Carroll the “military genius,” the “strategic mastermind,” and the “forgotten heroine” of the American Civil War that many of her adherents claim? What she the shadow member of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, unacknowledged because of her gender? Or was she simply a relentless self-promoter? Much time and effort among historians, both professional and […]

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SherwoodAnderson

Sherwood Anderson: Hemingway’s mentor and object of his ridicule

Even if you are the most avid Ernest Hemingway fan on your city block or country road, chances are you have not read his novel The torrents of spring. The novel itself is probably not worth reading, but the story behind it is worth knowing because of what it tells us about Hemingway the human being. […]

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Earlymorning

Sherwood Anderson, deliberate practice, and the stolen Vermeer: newsletter, April 16, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,374) on Friday, April 16, 2021. The six-hour Ken Burns-Lynn Novick documentary on Ernest Hemingway has sparked hundreds of articles (including one below) and tens of thousands of comments about the man, his writing, and his life. Hemingway died 60 years ago, but his work […]

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Flute player

Hemingway’s month, Rolling Stone’s Motown list, and a podcast recommendation: newsletter, April 9, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,368) on Friday, April 9, 2021.   The concept of ownership is so deeply embedded in our minds that, if we think about it at all, we probably consider it part of the natural world around us. It isn’t. It is a human concept. Even […]

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ErnestHemingway

We’re into April, Ernest Hemingway month

April 2021 will undoubtedly be the month of Ernest Hemingway, thanks in no small measure to the six-hour documentary produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick and broadcast on the Public Broadcast System this week. Indeed, if you look on the PBS website, it seems to be all-Hemingway, all-the-time. Once again, Burns and Novick selected a […]

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ElizabethCochran-NellieBly

Elizabeth Cochran Seaman – Nellie Bly: allowing the girls to dream

When Elizabeth Cochran was 16 years old, she lived with her family in Pittsburgh. The year was 1880, and Elizabeth was intelligent and precocious. The Pittsburgh Dispatch ran an article titled “What Girls are Good For,” and the author concluded the girls were good for having babies and keeping house. It was not an unpopular […]

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WandaGag

Wanda Gág and her Millions of Cats

Illustrator-genius Wanda Gág (pronunciation: rhymes with “bog”) must have liked cats. Her most famous book was Millions of Cats, published in 1928 and for many years as much a part of a child’s literary shelf as Goodnight, Moon or Where the Wild Things Are are today. Millions of Cats was not only a wildly popular book (which still sells well today), but it […]

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OpeningDay2021

Millions of Cats, Passing notes, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and more on Opening Day: newsletter, April 2, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,369) on Friday, April 2, 2021.     The 2019 college admissions scandal that resulted in the indictments of more than 50 people — most of them the well-off and well-intentioned parents of college-aged children — was based on an idea that many people carry […]

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WilliamMcIlvanney

‘Tartan noir’ – you can probably figure it out

Tartan noir is not a term I had heard before a couple of weeks ago — but you can probably figure it out. It refers to crime and detective fiction that is either set in Scotland or by Scottish writers. It’s not an especially good term either. Tartan as a reference to Scotland is pretty […]

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1940s lady

The first of the modern female reporters, Handel’s revival, baseball’s Opening Day: newsletter, March 26, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,374) on Friday, March 26, 2021. Some of the best news of the week concerns one of my favorites: libraries. The recent stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed by President Joseph Biden contains $200 million to aid public libraries. That amount sounds like a lot, […]

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MyGrandfather

Coleridge and his Rime, Hastings and his impeachment, and the messy path toward the 20th amendment: newsletter, March 19, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,381) on Friday, March 19, 2021. The phrase “spring planting” denotes more than just an activity for me. It’s a season. Lots of things happen. Yes, I get to literally dig into my garden with unbounded ambition that should be tempered by experience — but […]

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RobertLittell

Robert Littell: the game of spying with a bit of irony and humor

Spy novelist Robert Littell has been called the American John le Carre, but there is a key difference that Sarah Weinman, in a recent review of his work for InsideHook, points out: Where John Le Carre channeled barely suppressed rage into realist narratives steeped in bureaucracy, and Charles McCarry took the adage that “the average intelligence […]

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Gristmill

Spy novels with a dash of humor and irony, an advocate of racial equality in the 19th century, and the results of denying readers: newsletter, March 12, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,392) on Friday, March 12, 2021.   One of the writing roles that I have never pictured myself fulfilling is that of a memoirist. Tell other people’s stories, I would say to my journalism students, not your own. Your job is to write about other people, not yourself. I […]

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JohnKeats

John Keats: a short life that was long on accomplishments

John Keats lived for only about a quarter of a century, but his effect on English literature is nothing less than astonishing. Keats is currently being celebrated by the world of English letters because we have just passed the 200th anniversary of his death. This mini-revival of interest in Keats is a good one because […]

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MaxineCheshire

Maxine Cheshire: a reporter’s instinct and a little luck

Maxine Cheshire was a reporter who knew how to get under people’s skin. She irritated Frank Sinatra into a drunken, expletive-ridden rant that was witnessed by dozens of people. She made Jacqueline Kennedy cry and provoked a presidential call to her publisher. She exposed the Nixon family’s greed in keeping gifts from foreign leaders. More […]

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MarthaGelhorne

Martha Gellhorn: the first woman on Normandy beach, June 7, 1944

Martha Gellhorn had more than just her gender working against her when you wanted to cover the D-Day invasion for Collier’s Weekly magazine in 1944. She had her husband, Ernest Hemingway. Gellhorn and Hemingway had been together, off and on, since 1936 when they left America to cover the Spanish Civil War. Gelhorn was a […]

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