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A newspaper depiction of Typhoid Mary (National Institutes of Health)

Typhoid Mary: not an ogre from the Dark Ages

Typhoid Mary is not just an expression, and she’s not a ghost from some mysterious past. She was a real person who lived in the 20th century and whose story is a sad one. Her name was Mary Mallon. She lived and worked in New York City during the first decade of the 20th century. […]

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Winston Churchill caricature

Winston Churchill’s World War II saga (part 3): Churchill the writer

In November 1895, Winston Churchill sailed for America for the first time. His ultimate destination was Cuba, where the Spanish government was attempting to put down an insurrection by Cuban rebels. The twenty-year-old Churchill (he turned twenty-one while in Cuba) was a Second Lieutenant in the British Army, and he was going to Cuba as […]

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Winston Churchill caricature

Winston Churchill’s World War II saga (part 2): Obliterating the obstacles

Compelling reasons for Churchill to write his much-anticipated history of World War II presented themselves forcefully by early 1946. There were also monumental obstacles that stood in the way of Churchill’s efforts to write his memoirs. Churchill either found a way around them or turned them to his advantage as he began plans for his multi-volume saga […]

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Winston Churchill caricature

Winston Churchill’s World War II saga (part 1): Motive and opportunity

More than a few times, Churchill expressed the sentiment that “history will be kind to me for I will write it.” Through his life and particularly in his later years, Churchill would say that, sometimes as a threat to others but usually just as a comfort to himself. But Churchill went much farther than other […]

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A new biography of Agatha Christie 

Despite her worldwide fame and gigantic audiences, her life was as mysterious as one of her books. Now a new biography is available to American readers (it has been available to British readers for a while), and the book is getting rave reviews.

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lovelang

Peter Piper and his pickled peppers: Our love for alliteration

Mark Forsyth, of InkyFool.com, and author of several books on the language, cites in his The Elements of Eloquence (pages 10-11) an example of William Shakespeare, our old friend, lifting a passage from Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch’s Lives for some lines in Antony and Cleopatra. From North we get this description of Cleopatra’s boat: […]

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The Chandos portrait

Shakespeare’s appearance remains a mystery – but we have lots of clues

We have a general idea of what William Shakespeare looked like, but we do not have a confirmed contemporary portrait of him. Like many other things about The Bard, his appearance remains a mystery.

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samueljohnson

Inside the making of a dictionary

Dictionaries are marvels of any language. But English has resisted the orderly cataloguing that has been routine for many other tongues. Early lexicographers believed they could impose some necessary order on the language by setting down spellings and definitions and making them permanent. But the language quickly showed them who was boss.

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William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare and the development of the English language

The Bard is not highly popular with college students these days. In fact, he has rarely been popular, although his genius is universally recognized. As a student, you might go to one of his plays (because it’s required or you’re getting extra credit), but you’d rather be buried in a toxic waste dump than be […]

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Point Spread by Jim Stovall

‘The Feminine Mystique’ and the change in women’s status in the 1960s

The book summed up many of the frustrations that middle-class women had experienced, especially if they had set aside ambitions and careers to become suburban housewives and mothers. From the day it was published, it sparked criticism from many quarters (and continues to do so today), but it struck a chord with many women and […]

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WilliamShakespeare-3

Inspiration for a genius: recent discovery of a book that Shakespeare may have used for his writing

Because Leonardo da Vinci kept a vast quantity of journals, we have a good idea about how his mind worked, what he was thinking about, and what he saw. With William Shakespeare, we have no such record. And William Shakespear is the reason we have the English language as it is today.

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Leonardo's drawings of cats

Leonardo’s journals: A large window into the mind of a genius

The mind of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) still fascinates observers even after 500 years. He was interested in so many things, and he observed the world with the mind and attitude of a scientist, mechanic, inventor, naturalist, and philosopher. He was also a writer. And an artist, of course. We know about Leonardo’s mind because […]

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KTQcoverrough-300

Another painting giveaway; Amazon gift cards; Pliny the Younger, Rome’s great eyewitness reporter; newsletter, Feb. 2, 2018

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (4,222) on Friday, February 2, 2018. Hi, I watched a super moon, a blood moon, and a lunar eclipse this week. Not as spectacular as the solar eclipse we saw last summer but still pretty phenomenal. Nature has its moments — many of them, in fact, if we would […]

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Pliny the Younger

Pliny the Younger: a top-notch Roman journalist, Part 1: An insight into the early Christian community

Pliny the Younger is never listed as a journalist, but he should be. This extraordinary Roman (he lived from 61 to about 113 A.D.) was a lawyer, politician, author, poet, and government official whose stated goal was to be famous and to be remembered. He was, indeed, all of those things. We would remember Pliny […]

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Ursula Le Guin

The passing of writer Ursula K. Le Guin sparks an important reconsideration of her work

Whatever she was, she had a special talent for keeping readers in her grip, for making them see what they had never seen before, and for making them think about what she had written long after they had finished reading.

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Ross Macdonald

Ross Macdonald takes hard-boiled fiction to new levels of style and plot

Just when the reading world thought that the hard-boiled detective novel had reached its zenith with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, along comes Ross Macdonald. The similarities among the lives of Hammett, Chandler, and Macdonald (whose real name was Kenneth Millar) are striking and significant: All had difficult and disruptive childhoods. Each, for a time, […]

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Don’t miss this NYT interview with Philip Roth

Author Philip Roth, now nearly 85 and retired from writing, has given an interview to New York Times journalist Charles McGrath, and it is fascinating. Roth talks about what it was like to be a writer: Exhilaration and groaning. Frustration and freedom. Inspiration and uncertainty. Abundance and emptiness. Blazing forth and muddling through. The day-by-day […]

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girl reading

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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