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JoeandDon_20181225_0001

Don vs. Joe: the fight over Anonymous

When the novel Primary Colors was published in 1996, it caused a sensation inside the core of political and journalistic elites from Washington to New York. The novel was a thinly veiled recounting of the 1992 presidential campaign of Bill Clinton, and it was none too flattering to its protagonists, Bill and Hillary. The novel […]

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ArtemusWard_20181225_0001

A description of Artemus Ward for the caricaturist

If ever there was a description that demanded a caricature, it is this one of Charles Farrar Brown, aka Artemus Ward. His fellow editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, George Hoyt, wrote: His desk was a rickety table which had been whittled and gashed until it looked as if it had been the victim of […]

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GeorgeEliot_20181210_0001

Becoming George Eliot (part 2): the progress of Mary Anne Evans

When Mary Anne Evans published her first work under the pen name of George Eliot in 1856, there is no evidence that she ever planned to reveal her identity. She was successfully hiding behind the general rumor that George Eliot must be some country parson because the next of her writings, Scenes from a Clerical Life, […]

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The Poe-English feud: two poets come to blows

Edgar Allan Poe once wrote of Thomas Dunn English that he is “a man without the commonest school education busying himself in attempts to instruct mankind in topics of literature.” This after they had once been friends — or at least on friendly terms (although some in the Poe camp dispute even that). In the 1840s, […]

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GeorgeEliot_20181210_0001

Becoming George Eliot (part 1): The progress of Mary Anne Evans

Mary Anne Evans was one of the sharpest and most wide-ranging minds of the 1800s in London’s ground-breaking intellectual ferment of the mid-century. She mixed with the most radical and forwarding thinkers of the day and was the driving force behind the resurgence of the Westminster Review between late 1851 and 1853. Her title was assistant […]

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ZeldaandSoctt

Thousands of copyrighted works set to enter the public domain today

The intellectual property dam that has withheld thousands of copyrighted works — books, art, plays, films, etc. — from the public domain is about to burst. It’s about time. Copyright is a useful concept that helps protect an author or artist from having others benefit unduly from the work he or she has created. But […]

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ArtemusWard_20181225_0001

More literary deceptions, Artemus Ward, and JFK on open government: newsletter, Dec. 28, 2018

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (2,951) on Friday, Dec. 28, 2018.     This is the last newsletter of the year and time, once again, to thank all of you newsletter readers for reading and responding. You have given me so many good tips about articles and books. […]

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CharlesDickens

Back on the road, in a literary sort of way; libraries; and writing advice from Elmore Leonard: newsletter, Dec. 21, 2018

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (2,962) on Friday, Dec. 21, 2018.     The Christmas holiday season, Hannukah, the winter solstice, the beginning of the college football bowl season — they all collide for the next couple of weeks, provoking an increase in shopping, singing, television watching, and […]

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AlexanderSolzhenitsyn_20181212_0001

The writer and the empire: who wins? The words win.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, during the 1970s, was a hero in the West because as a Russian writer, he chose to stand against the Soviet empire and expose its corruption and inhumanity. His weapon was a short novel titledA Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which recounted the experiences of a Russian man sentenced to a Soviet […]

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Literary deceptions, caricature, and a writer vs. an empire: newsletter, Dec. 14, 2018

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (2,967) on Friday, Dec. 7, 2018.     Literary deceptions and caricatures (again) — those are the items we focus on in this week’s newsletter. But there more, too. When is it okay for an author to deceive readers? We have two instances […]

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SaulBellow_20181211_0001

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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MattDamonMrRipley_20181203_0001

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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LouisaMayAlcott_20181203_0002

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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BretHarte_20181127_0001

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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MurielSpark2_20181122_0002

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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