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New theories on why we can’t – or don’t – read

Scientists and scholars are taking a closer look at that question these days and are coming up with some interesting, and occasionally surprising, answers.

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Henry Watson Fowler

A bit of wisdom from Henry Watson Fowler

Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage is still one of the best references for those interested in how the language is used.

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Edgar Allen Poe

Edgar Allen Poe and the development of the mystery novel

Poe lays down the rules of a mystery novel.

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Sue Grafton

G is for Grafton: Mystery writer Sue Grafton succumbs to cancer at age 77

Sue Grafton’s private eye, Kinsey Millhone, has taken her place beside Hammett’s Sam Spade, Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe, and Macdonald’s Lew Archer.

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Dashiell Hammett (watercolor, Jim Stovall, 2017)

The ‘private eye,’ in the beginning: Dashiell Hammett

Dashiell Hammett knew what a private detective should be. He knew because he had been one, and he had been taught by the very best. Born in Maryland in 1894, Hammett had failed at most everything he tried in the first two decades of his life. Intelligent, tall, and handsome, he did not finish school, […]

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The Private Eye (watercolor by Jim Stovall)

Trouble is their business: the ‘private eye’ and the writers who created them

The opening scene of Raymond Chandler’s story Trouble is My Business tells you a lot in a very few words about Chandler’s “private eye,” Phillip Marlowe. Marlow is talking to a woman who runs a detective agency, a big one with several agents. But none of her people is suitable for the job she has. […]

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Lillian Ross

Lillian Ross, reporter and precursor of the 1960s New Journalism movement

Was she the mother of the New Journalism movement of the 1960s — the movement that showcased the deep reporting of people like Truman Capote and Gay Talese? Many people thought so. Lillian Ross, who died Sept. 20, 2017, at the age of 99, was doing that kind of reporting and writing for the New […]

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Bat Masterson, gunslinger first but then first-class sports writer

The world today knows him as one of the Old West’s most famous gunslingers, fearless associate of the famous lawman Wyatt Earp. But in 1921, the world knew Bat Masterson as a world-class sports writer for the New York Morning Telegraph and one of the foremost experts on the second most popular sport of the […]

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Philip Yancey on reading and building a ‘fortress of habits’

Read. Think. Meditate/Pray. Listen. Who among us does enough of these vital activities? Who has the time? Who has the power to turn away from our Facebook feeds, tweets and texts, television ads, sidebars and come-ons — even our Distractor-in-Chief — to do the things we know would nourish us emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually? Religious […]

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Another passing: the NYT copy desk

The copy desk saved me — more than once. In old-times newspaper terms, the copy desk in a newspaper’s newsroom was a horseshoe shaped table around which sat a number of editors who read what reporters wrote. On the other side of the table in the “slot” was the chief copy editor who handed out […]

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Dean Acheson

Clear thinking, clear writing – and words relevant for today

For a long time we have gone along with some well-tested principles of conduct: that it was better to tell the truth than falsehoods; that a half-truth was no truth at all; that duties were older than and as fundamental as rights; that, as Justice Holmes put it, the mode by which the inevitable came […]

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Author: I didn’t want to resort to self-publishing, but it’s an exhilarating change

Louise Walters: My debut novel did very well with conventional publishers, but they weren’t interested in the ‘difficult second’ – so I’m going it alone Source: I didn’t want to resort to self-publishing, but it’s an exhilarating change Louise Walters describes what it’s like to have a second novel turned down after success with a […]

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Richard Ben Cramer

A journalist needs something to write about: Richard Ben Cramer, Alex Rodriguez and the book that did not get written

In 2006 Cramer sold both his publisher and his subject on a book about Alex Rodriguez, the star of the New York Yankees who was recently banned for a year by Major League Baseball for taking banned substances. The book had the title, The Importance of Being Alex: A Life with the Yankees. He had […]

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Laputa_-_Grandville

Jonathan Swift, writer ‘to the vulgar’

Jonathan Swift wanted his writing to be “understood by the meanest.” It’s the standard we want our journalism students to shoot for.

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The kind of fight I like — over a man of letters

A tussle over the legacy — and the body — of Edgar Allen Poe pits Philadelphia against Baltimore. This is the kind of fight I like. I’m pulling for Bal’mer. According to an article in the New York Times this weekend, two scholars have gotten into a clash over which city — Philadelphia or Baltimore […]

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A literary flame who died too soon

Those who die too young provoke particular sadness. Earlier this summer, we noted the 100th anniversary of the day American letters lost one of its brightest and briefest flames — Stephen Crane. Crane’s one novel was the Red Badge of Courage, which contained descriptions of the confusion and terror of a Civil War battle so […]

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The anniversary of the death of a literary light

Like that of Robert Kennedy, the anniversary of the death of an American who died too young occurred this past week. Part of our collective conversation this past week has been remembering the death of Robert Kennedy, which happened 40 years ago. Kennedy, shot by an assassin in Los Angeles on the night he won […]

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Writers writing: Anthony Trollope

Anthony Trollope wrote for money. He made out a schedule and stuck to it. The way writers write – their habits, productivity, quirks, methods of procrastination, etc. – fascinate a lot of people, including me. One of my favorite stories in this vein is that of Anthony Trollope, the mid-19th century British novelist and author […]

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The audacity and hope of Barak Obama, the writer

Barak Obama wrote his own book — no ghostwriters or co-authors. He did the literary heavy-lifting himself. It was with plenty of audacity and no small amount of hope that Barak Obama sat down in the early 1990s to write his life story. He had just turned 30 in 1991 and could reasonably assume that […]

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