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Howard Phillips Lovecraft: The Life of a Gentleman of Providence

It’s good to have friends, even after you have died. In 1939, the year H.P. Lovecraft died, he considered himself a failure. His life had been a series of mental and emotional battles. His relationship with his mother had been strange and destructive. His marriage had ended in divorce. His view of non-Nordic, non-white people […]

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Accused: a top-notch true-crime podcast, now into Season 3

After June 18, 1984, no one ever saw David Bocks again. He was a divorced father of three and, despite the divorce, a devoted dad. He worked as a pipe-fitter at the Fernald Feed Production Center, which was a cover for a U.S. Department of Energy facility that processed high-grade uranium for use in nuclear […]

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Patricia Highsmith and her first job as a writer

Patricia Highsmith achieved international fame in the mid to late 20th century for her deeply psychological and suspenseful novels and short stories that often took the reader into a world of violence. Her first novel, Strangers on a Train (1950), cemented her reputation when Alfred Hitchcock made it into an award-winning movie.  Her Repliad series, […]

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The library of Ashurbanipal: its discovery changed our view of history

Ashurbanipal was as cruel and ruthless as any of his Assyrian predecessors. All of the kings who had come before had sought to strike fear into their enemies by their spectacularly horrid treatment of those who opposed them — treatment that included blinding their children and jerking them around as their tongues were impaled by […]

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The library of Ashurbanipal, Obama’s audacity of hope, and Highsmith’s first job: newsletter, January 10, 2020

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,632) on Friday, January 10, 2020.   One of the post-Christmas-New-Year’s gifts I gave myself was Tom Richmond’s book, The Mad Art of Caricature, and it is both delightful and informative. If you remember Mad Magazine (or still read it), you would know that Richmond is one […]

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Writing: It started with the Sumerians

The earliest writing that is anything close to what we do today comes from the Sumerians, the ancient civilization that occupied the Tigris and Euphrates valley (now Iraq and Iran) more than 3,000 years ago. Paper and ink, as we know it, were nonexistent then in that part of the world. Instead, the Sumerians made […]

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Gretchen McCulloch and the ‘new way’ of writing

Gretchen McCulloch, the author of Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, has written an interesting piece for the New York Times hailing the new freedom that Internet writers, especially texters and Twitter scribes, have in using the language to exhibit their meaning and emotions.   They’re doing for the written word, she argues, what […]

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Candice Millard finds her real story, the demise of the death penalty, and Vietnam in fiction: newsletter, December 27, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,646) on Friday, December 27, 2019.   We are in the midst of the holiday season with plenty of song, food, beverage, and fellowship. I hope that we all (especially me) can take a few moments for those who aren’t so blessed. Actions on behalf […]

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Martha Gelhorn and the wars of the 20th century, parkour considered, and plenty of reader reaction: newsletter, December 20, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,661) on Friday, December 20, 2019.    Readers of this newsletter know that I am partial to good stories, especially when they are true; they involve writers and journalists; and they are women. We hit the trifecta this week with some good stuff about Martha Gelhorn, who is often […]

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Advice to Robert Caro, America’s fourth man at Los Alamos, M-W’s word of the year, and more: newsletter, December 13, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,661) on Friday, December 13, 2019.   This newsletter, I say with some pride, is read by folks in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, and other places of which I may not be aware. As the year ends, I thank […]

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A look back at the year of book production and the decade of true-crime books, and the deaths of famous females: newsletter, Nov. 29, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,661) on Friday, November 29, 2019.     The gardens are, for the most part, sub-soiled and will be tilled in the next few days before the truly cold weather sets in. The bees are still alive in their three hives, although I do not […]

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The necessary element for espionage thrillers

We all know what the essential element of a murder mystery is. It’s the murder. The essential element of an espionage thriller is more elusive, but I have a candidate in mind. It’s betrayal. And thereby lies the tale. What drives a person to betray friends, family, colleagues, and/or country? How deeply will the element […]

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Mr.Lindoln in sepia

The significance of Nov. 22, the politics of pronouns, and the impact of World War I: newsletter, Nov. 22, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,663) on Friday, November 22, 2019.   Thanksgiving is upon us, and it is, for many reasons, my favorite holiday. Good food and a bit of idleness, along with some crisp fall weather, are on my agenda. Whatever is on yours, I hope that it […]

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The essential in espionage thriller, Gulf of Tonkin revisited, a remarkable mathematician, and more reader reaction: newsletter, Nov. 15, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,662) on Friday, November 15, 2019.   The Veterans Day event we had at the Blount County Public Library that launched the first volume of Vietnam Voices could not have been better. About 150 people showed up, the choral group from Maryville’s Broadway Baptist Church […]

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Edmund Morris and Richard Ben Cramer and unworthy subjects, a police procedural podcast, and reactions to the World Series: newsletter, Nov. 8, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,666) on Friday, November 8, 2019.    Baseball is a game you can share with others. That was the message I got from a large number of emails sent after the special report on my trip to the World Series in the last newsletter. Those emails […]

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Special report: World Series 2019; new information on Edith Cavell: newsletter, Nov. 1, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,666) on Friday, November 1, 2019. One of my life-long dreams was fulfilled last weekend when I had the opportunity to attend a World Series game at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. I have written a long report on it for this newsletter, divided it […]

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Podcast recommendation: Secrets and Spies: The Untold Story of Edith Cavell

Edith Cavell was a British nurse working in German-occupied Belgium in 1915 when she formed an escape network for British and allied soldiers who found themselves behind enemy lines. She helped hundreds of soldiers and put herself in great danger in the process. German authorities realized what was happening, and Cavell was arrested, tried for […]

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Charles Finch on getting started with a mystery

How do you write a mystery novel? Charles Finch, author of the Charles Lenox, says that plots don’t come naturally to him, so he has a trick: I start by writing a brief, extremely dull short story. No one will ever see one of these if I can conceivably prevent it; it’s usually only about […]

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Emma Hart Willard and the concept of ‘visual learning’

Long before the term “visual learning” came into being, Emma Hart Willard knew what it meant and how important it was. So important, she believed, that constructing the tools to put it into effect was well worth time and effort. In 1846, she drew a chart titled The Temple of Time (below) in which she attempted […]

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N.C. Wyeth: learning by heading west

In 1903, 20-year-old Newell Convers Wyeth, an aspiring illustrator, boarded a train and headed west. Actually, he could claim more than the adjective “aspiring.” He had just pulled off a coup in the world of illustration that had eluded artists who were two or three times his age. His illustration of a cowboy on a […]

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