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Walt Whitman chases fame, Verse and Vision, libraries, and a podcast recommendation: newsletter, June 7, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,7xx) on Friday, June 7, 2019.     Celebrations of great moments and memories in the history of the United States continue during these weeks with Memorial Day, followed by D-Day (June 6), Flag Day (June 14), and then July the Fourth. Each of these times calls for clear-eyed reflection and assessment […]

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Sir Walter Scott writes himself out of debt, more on libraries, competing definitions of journalism: newsletter, May 31, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,7xx) on Friday, May 31, 2019. For the past six or seven weeks, we have left our beehives alone. This is the main honey-making season, and we did not want to do anything to disturb them. That changed this week when I opened them to make […]

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Overcoming debt and grief, Sir Walter Scott wrote – and wrote some more

Despite fame and great fortune, Walter Scott found himself in 1826 at a low point in his life. The year before, a banking crisis had plunged the nation into a depression, and Scott went from being a man rich with assets to a man with 130,000 pounds of debt (the equivalent of 10 million pounds […]

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What good are libraries, The Winds of War, and getting away with murder in the U.S.:newsletter, May 24, 2019

  For the last 105 weeks or so, this newsletter has been winging its electronic way to subscribers each Friday, rain or shine, hot or cold. We just passed our second birthday, and when I realized that the anniversary had come and gone, it was something of a shock — in a good way. I started […]

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Television could barely contain “The Winds of War” and its author Herman Wouk

When The Winds of War mini-series premiered on the ABC television network in 1983, the small box in the living room could barely contain the gigantic tale of worldwide proportions that its author Herman Wouk had conceived. It was the story of the coming of World War II in Europe and elsewhere, and its central character […]

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Bert Garner, a simple life of complexity

Bert Garner (1885-1970) was a man well-known in East Tennessee and beyond. Some referred to him as the Sage of the Smokies, and others thought of him as the Appalachian Thoreau. For the last third of his life, he lived in a two-room cabin near the Great Smoky Mountains without plumbing, running water, or electricity. Garner was no […]

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Andrew Marvell: Had we but world enough and time

  Andrew Marvell (1621-1678), in this his most famous poem, To His Coy Mistress, speaks with the passion of a lusty young man who tires of being put off by the woman he is wooing. The lines of the poem range from high-flown descriptions of his desire to mundane concepts and comparisons — all in typical metaphysical […]

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Ridge Running: A Memoir of Appalachia

My good friend Chris Wohlwend, an award-winning big-city journalist, has just published a memoir of his life growing up in Knoxville titled Ridge Running: A Memoir of Appalachia. I had the privilege of helping Chris get this thing into print and ebook form, so I can tell you that it is an interesting, humorous, and engaging book to […]

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Charles Darwin and his way of thinking

Charles Darwin achieved the most important breakthrough in the annals of scientific thinking with the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859. But Darwin did not see himself as a great intellect or even a particularly clever person. His self-awareness was not the product of humility, as Shane Parrish points out in a short […]

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America’s first female police officer, Dan Jenkins, lots of emails, and a modest proposal: newsletter, March 22, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,866) on Friday, March 22, 2019.   The tractor came out of the barn and had a pretty good workout this week. We had a string of dry days that allowed me — finally! — to get into the garden with some much-needed sub-soiling and […]

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Emma Lathen: a dual force in mystery literature

If you were an avid reader of mystery novels in the 1960s, you were probably aware of three female mystery writers more than any others: Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Emma Lathen. Emma Lathen? While Christie and Sayers have achieved immortality in the realms of mystery fiction, Lathen has all but disappeared. Yet her […]

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Dan Jenkins, 1928-2019, RIP

Back in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, if you had a sacred cow — particularly if it had to do with sports or anything connected — Dan Jenkins would come along and push it over. And make you laugh while he was doing it. Jenkins was one of an elite group of sportswriters who worked […]

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Dick Francis, forensics, jury trials, and Ole Bert: newsletter, March 15, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,875) on Friday, March 15, 2019.     The news of this week of a major scandal in the collegiate admissions process has captured, and in some cases (mine) captivated, the attention of the nation, and rightly so. Having spent much of my adult life […]

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Dick Francis, a top jockey and an even better mystery writer

When Dick Francis took his horse Devon Loch up over the last hurdle at the 1956 Grand National Steeplechase, he was on top of the British racing world — which was quite a place to be since racing, literally, was the sport of kings. He led the field, and the finish line was in sight. Devon […]

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Who was Jack the Ripper? That’s not the important question

Who was Jack the Ripper — possibly the most famous murderer in history? Decades of evidence and speculation have surrounded that question and provided no definitive answer. But for Hallie Rubenhold, author of the recently-published The Five, that’s not the important question. The really important question is this: Who were his victims? We know their […]

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Ireland, the first female detective, and Aristotle on storytelling: newsletter, March 1, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,980) on Friday, March 1, 2019.     Ireland (rather than Georgia) has been on my mind this week — purely by coincidence. I mentioned last week that I was reading my first Tana French book, Faithful Place, which is set in Dublin. Then I heard from […]

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Lincoln’s first inaugural, the best-selling mystery writer you’ve never heard of, podcasts and more: newsletter, Feb. 22, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,914) on Friday, February 22, 2019.   Still painting, still writing, still editing, still reading — if I can do those things, then the massive amount of rain that East Tennessee has been getting fades is not as significance as it might be otherwise. It’s also […]

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Galbraith, Rowling and the losing art of anonymity; football and P.D. James: newsletter, Feb. 15, 2019

  Books stack themselves up around me (I don’t have the faintest idea how this happens). Some books I start and give up on; some I start and continue, though intermittently; and some I start and interrupt all other reading until I am well on the way to finishing. Joyce Carol Oates’ Jack of Spades is the current […]

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Robert Galbraith and J.K. Rowling and the losing game of staying anonymous

When Robert Galbraith finished The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first of the C.B. Strike series, the book was sent to a publisher for consideration. It was rejected. That likely happened again — but we don’t know how many times. We do know that it was accepted by Sphere Books, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company, and […]

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Robert Caro’s interviewing trick; something new in Nashville; and reader recommendations for the cold winter: newsletter, Feb. 1, 2019

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (x) on Friday, February 1, 2019.   Despite snow interruptions in East Tennessee (and much, much worse elsewhere), this has been a busy week of discoveries and revelations. Another volume in the Baseball Joe series has been uploaded — see the list below […]

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