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Breen’s research on the truly Revolutionary War

Just how revolutionary was the American Revolutionary War? Pretty revolutionary, according to historian T. H. Breen, who has written a recently-published book examining the thinking that went on behind the American colonies’ break with the mother country. What we call the American Revolution cannot be linked to a single moment such as the signing of […]

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The woman who created Nancy Drew, the Ratline podcast, and reader reactions; newsletter, October 18, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,665) on Friday, October 18, 2019.     Rain finally arrived in East Tennessee this week after an absence of about 45 days. It was greatly welcomed. There wasn’t a lot of rain but enough to begin turning the ground from brown to green. The hope […]

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Else Ury perished, but her young readers clung to her books

There’s something about a book that doesn’t die — even in a regime as authoritarian as Nazi Germany. In the 1920s, one of the most popular authors in the Weimar Republic of Germany was Else Ury, who wrote a series of children’s books known as the Nesthäkchen series. These ten books featured a fiesty, blond-headed girl Annemarie […]

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Philip Kerr’s last book

Author Philip Kerr got very bad news in July 2017. He had stage 4 cancer, and the doctor gave him between one and two years to live — although, she said, she had had a patient in his condition that lived for five years. “I’ve got five years,” Kerr said to his wife, Jane, when […]

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Philip Kerr’s last book, the difference between dogs and cats, Else Ury’s books: newsletter, October 11, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,6xx) on Friday, October 11, 2019.   When does a dry spell become a drought? In East Tennessee, we have had only one good rainstorm in the last two and a half months. But no one yet is calling it a drought, probably because from last October through […]

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Emma Hart Willard’s visual learning, N.C. Wyeth’s trip west, and JK Rowling on what it takes to write: newsletter, October 4, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,6xx) on Friday, October 4, 2019.     The continued record-breaking heat and dry weather in East Tennessee threaten to disrupt our fall gardening plans. Last year, we had so much rain that there was never a chance to sub-soil and till our garden plots […]

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Alan Furst and ‘the death of Europe,’ readers’ reactions to Joseph Campbell and Frances Glessner Lee, and a podcast recommendation:newsletter, September 27, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,6xx) on Friday, September 27, 2019.   Without giving it too much thought, I seem to have shifted my main medium this week with lots of pen and ink drawings showing up in my sketchbook, on my art table, and in this newsletter. Sometimes that happens, and […]

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Malcolm Gladwell talks books, banned books, Beatles books, and the godmother of forensic science: newsletter, September 20, 2019

American Watercolor, an e-zine begun by Kelly Kane, has a short feature on my watercolors — thanks in great part to you, my faithful newsletter readers. I was named ambassador of the week and got into the running for that title because, several weeks ago, I asked those of you who were interested to sign up […]

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Mark Lewisohn: A life devoted mostly to researching and writing about the Beatles

When Mark Lewisohn published the first volume, Tune In, of his trilogy about the Beatles (The Beatles: All These Years) six years ago, it turned out to be massive: 390,000 words, which is about four times the length of a good mystery novel and at least twice as long as most nonfiction books. It took […]

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Refining and visualizing Joseph Campbell’s “A Hero’s Journey”

Jennifer S., my good friend, valued colleague, and fellow reader and writer, responded to an item in last week’s newsletter about Joseph Campbell’s concept of “A Hero’s Journey” with this: I enjoyed encountering the wonderful Joseph Campbell within the virtual pages of your newsletter! Campbell’s work was very eye-opening to me as a young reader, […]

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A new podcast examines the Jeffrey Epstein case

Julie K. Brown, the reporter for the Miami Herald who would not let the Jeffrey Epstein story go when just about every other reporter and prosecutor would, has a just-out series of podcasts about this sad and sorted tale. Epstein recently committed suicide rather than face a trial for his multiple assaults on underage girls, but his name […]

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Banned Books Week, Sept. 22-28, 2019: Keep the Light On

We’re coming up on the annual Banned Books Week, a celebration of intellectual freedom sponsored by the American Library Association. This year’s theme is Keep the Light On. If your local library is having an event, be supportive and take part. If not and you have other means of promoting this idea (a website or […]

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Malcolm Gladwell talks books and more books

Malcolm Gladwell (The Outliers, The Tipping Point, David and Goliath) is an author who has achieved fame — and a good bit of success — by examining parts of society that don’t often get attention or by casting a new light on things we thought were familiar. He’s just published a new book titled Talking to […]

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Romance readers, take heart: you have a history

Anyone who knows anything about book publishing knows that the genre of the romance novel is one of the most lucrative in the industry. Thousands of titles are published each year, and these books sell in the millions of copies. The reputation of these books is not, well, high-minded or intellectual, to say the least. I doubt […]

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Joseph Campbell, a scholar whose work was made famous by the movies

Joseph Campbell, a scholar of comparative literature, had been studying the history, development, and functions of “myth” since his young adulthood in the 1920s, but outside of academic and intellectual circles, he remained relatively unknown. That all changed in 1977. Campbell noted how stories — myths — developed in ancient and modern societies, as well […]

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The Hero’s Journey, romance has a history, and the “Father of American illustration”; newsletter, September 13, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,671) on Friday, September 13, 2019. ​ My email bag was delightfully full last week with readers commenting on a variety of items that they had seen in the newsletter. I try to range around the web to find interesting things, and I am always glad […]

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Tools of the fiction writer: dialogue, action, explanation – in that order

Having written a little fiction and read a lot of it, I hereby humbly offer a few thoughts as to the tools that a fiction writer has when structuring a story. These tools are secondary to character and plot, but they are the engines of storytelling: Dialogue. Characters have to talk to each other and […]

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A better lexicographer than Webster, tools of the fiction writer, and what we think we see: newsletter, September 6, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,674) on Friday, September 6, 2019. Summer has drifted into September in East Tennessee with the temperatures unduly hot and the land remaining dry. Despite that, the bees seem to be thriving. We have been feeding them since July when we took our share of […]

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Joseph Emerson Worcester produced a better dictionary than Noah Webster

If any American name is associated with dictionaries, it is Noah Webster. The name we should remember, however, is Joseph Emerson Worcester. Webster, whom I wrote about last year, made a fortune by producing the Blue Back Speller and by his determination, in the early days of the Republic, to produce a dictionary that put […]

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The Grapes of Wrath, written in 100 days, by a man with a mission

It took John Steinbeck less than 100 days in 1937 to write one of the 20th century’s great novels, The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck was a writer and resident of Salinas, California, at the time. It was a town located near a migrant worker camp, and Steinbeck had witnessed the poverty, degradation, and oppression of those […]

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