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Saul Bellow, a jerk and a determinedly great writer

Saul Bellow is one of the giants of 20th century American literature — a writer of the first order who could mesmerize the reader with his prose. Yet personally, he could be — and often was — a jerk, demanding, demeaning, and thoroughly foul-tempered. What’s a biographer to do? The answer comes from Zachery Leader, […]

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Joseph Priestly’s big writing idea, a winter’s read recommendation, and radio drama from the BBC: newsletter, Dec. 7, 2018

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (2,977) on Friday, Dec. 7, 2018.     In light of the reduction of our beehives, which I reported last week, I have come across a couple of substantial articles about bees and insects in this environment. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance […]

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The Education of Little Tree – heartwarming tale or major league hoax?

It’s a heartwarming tale: a small Cherokee boy is raised by his aging grandparents and taught to love the land and be tolerant of others. It is “the way” of the Cherokee tribe, and the writing is simple, ironic, and at times hilarious. The Education of Little Tree was written not by a person raised […]

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Louisa May Alcott, stealth novelist of the blood and thunder genre

Louisa May Alcott lived a double-literary life. The world knew her as Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women and other widely popular and deeply-loved books that have been read by children for generations. These she called “moral pap” and said she wrote them only for the money. An extremely small circle of people knew […]

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MattDamonMrRipley_20181203_0001

A recommendation for a winter read from LitHub: The Talented Mr. Ripley

As we head into the depths of winter — don’t worry, Christmas will be over soon, and then we’ll find ourselves there — Emily Temple, a senior editor at the excellent LitHub.com website has a good reading recommendation: Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. It is, in my opinion, the perfect winter holiday book. It’s […]

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Bret Harte: object of Mark Twain’s praise and derision

Bret Harte probably deserves a higher station than the one he occupies in the pantheon of American letters. A big part of the reason he doesn’t have it lies with his one-time friend, Mark Twain. Twain had known Harte from their days in the West when Harte achieved national fame in writing about the tall […]

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JosephPriestly_20181203_0001

Joseph Priestly and his Big (writing) Idea

Joseph Priestly, the Englishman we remember as a great scientist and the one who first discovered oxygen, was a writer before he was a scientist. And he was a writer with a Big Idea. Priestly (1733-1804) lived in an age when interest in “natural philosophy,” what we would call “science” today, had exploded, and people […]

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Sinclair Lewis and the Great American Freedom of travel

Few novelists have explored the American mind and character as deeply and perceptively as Sinclair Lewis, who in 1930 became the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. The freedom of movement — the ability for Americans to travel — is, according to Lewis, one of the most important parts of the American […]

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A writer who didn’t want to be edited, the ‘real’ Moriarty, and your good words: newsletter, Nov. 23, 2018

  Thanks for the many emails about the words that we use and the ones we don’t hear enough. This week’s word, of course, is gratitude, in line with the Thanksgiving holiday that Americans have celebrated this week. All of us have much to be thankful for. I do my best to remind myself of that […]

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Points and Clicks, Nov. 23, 2018

Edinburgh, a mecca for crime fiction? British author Paul French has an excellent article on CrimeReads.com about Edinburgh, Scotland as a mecca of crime and detective fiction. The first association you’re likely to make in this regard is between Edinburgh and Ian Rankin‘s booze-laden detective John Rebus. But there is more to Edinburgh’s literary crime […]

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Muriel Spark, the writer who couldn’t abide being edited

Muriel Spark, the author of 22 novels including The Prime of Miss Jean Brody, always wanted to be in full control of her writing, and once she achieved a measure of fame and recognition, she got it. She refused to be edited unless she could have the final say in the matter. Just as The Prime of Miss […]

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Reginald Birch, the book illustrator who had to keep apologizing

Reginald Birch, one of the top book illustrators in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, spent a good part of his life apologizing for what he had done. Birch was a first-class artist. His skill as a draughtsman is evident in the illustrations that he drew for the more than 40 other books he […]

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RingLardner

Ring Lardner: when baseball no longer seemed like baseball

The story is that Ring Lardner was finished with baseball after news of the 1919 Black Sox scandal came out. Lardner had spent much of his journalism career covering baseball, first for the South Bend Times in 1905 and eventually for the Chicago Tribune in 1913. He knew the Chicago White Sox well. He had […]

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WinstonChurchill

Winston Churchill: yet another biography, but just what we need

By Andrew Roberts’ count, there are slightly more than 1,000 biographies of Winston Churchill. That’s one for almost every page of his massive new biographyChurchill: Walking with Destiny. So, why write another one — particularly one of such length. Surely by now, we should be able to reduce Churchill to just three or four hundred […]

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GKC-close

The detective story, according to G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton, the great British author of the early 20th century, liked detective stories, read them, and wrote them. He had the formula down pat. It went like this: The bones and structure of a good detective story are so old and well known that it may seem banal to state them even in outline. […]

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The difficult Noah Webster and his difficult times

Noah Webster was a difficult man living in a difficult time. In 1806, when he published the first edition of his dictionary, it was judged not for its content but by for the political positions of the author. Webster was a Federalist, but he had with Republican attitudes about the language Americans spoke.  Because of his apostasy, […]

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GKChesterton

G.K. Chesterton: Everything about him was big, including his ‘colossal genius’

In so many ways, Gilbert Keith (G.K.) Chesterton (1874-1936) was an enormous man. — Physically, he was massive: 6 feet 4 inches tall, he weighed more than 250 pounds. He had a shock of hair that on many days looked like it had exploded out of the right side of his head. — His writing production almost […]

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GenGrant

Good advice for the General: Write like you talk

As a writing teacher of several decades, I never cared for the advice “write like you talk.” Most people don’t talk all that well. Besides, writing is a different process from talking. Talking is easy. Writing is hard. But “write like you talk” was the advice that Ulysses S. Grant got from Robert S. Johnson, […]

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JosephPlumbMartin

The American Revolution from the common soldier’s point of view: Joseph Plumb Martin

Joseph Plumb Martin, an otherwise quiet New England farmer in the first half of the 19th century, did three remarkable things in his life: — He lived to be 90 years old, dying in 1850. — He wrote and published his memoirs, to little acclaim, when he was 70 years old in 1830. — He […]

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LawrenceOsborne

What you do when you’re writing a Phillip Marlowe novel

Raymond Chandler died in 1959, leaving the fans of his detective anti-hero Phillip Marlowe wanting more. In the ensuing years, two excellent writers, Robert Parker and John Banville, have attempted to satisfy those desires. Parker took up Chandler’s unfinished novel and finished it as Poodle Springs in 1989. Then he wrote a second Marlowe novel, […]

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