What ‘Nancy Drew’ really means

Those of us who read Nancy Drew mysteries as children did not realize that Nancy had a “social context” and that she had become a cultural icon. We just enjoyed the stories and wanted to know what Nancy would encounter next. We probably missed what Olivia Rutigliano points out in her excellent and thought-provoking review […]

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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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More on Nancy Drew, Charles Finch on writing a mystery, and Tunnel 29: newsletter, October 25, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,653) on Friday, October 25, 2019.   We got rain again this weekend, and we got more on Monday night. After a two- to three-month stretch with almost no rain at all, the world is beginning to feel good again in East Tennessee. In the […]

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J.K. Rowling on the importance of reading to writing

The paragraph below comes from J.K. Rowling‘s website, so if you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ll want to check out the site and especially this page. This is especially for younger writers. You can’t be a good writer without being a devoted reader. Reading is the best way of analysing what makes a good book. […]

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Podcast recommendation: The Ratline from BBC Sounds, a gripping, intriguing tale

Hundreds of Nazi criminals escaped justice at the end of World War II through something called the Ratline. But few were as high on the wanted list as Otto von Wächter, an Austrian SS officer whose administrative positions during the war had him overseeing the deaths of thousands of Jews, Poles, gypsies, and others who the […]

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How Mildred Wirt became Carolyn Keene – and changed the culture

If you were a young reader, you know that Carolyn Keene wrote the Nancy Drew mysteries. And if you remained aware of that into adulthood, chances are that you found out that Carolyn Keene didn’t exist. So who was Carolyn Keene? The creator of Nancy Drew was Edward Stratemeyer, about whom we have written before […]

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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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Vietnam Combat Artists Program

Combat art has a long, distinguished, and often underappreciated place in our historical record and in the history of American art itself. George Washington and the Continental Army depended not only on winning battles (or avoiding defeats) but also on public opinion and the support of the American people to continue in existence. Consequently, artists […]

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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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Frances Glessner Lee, the godmother of modern forensic science

Like so many females born in the 19th century, Frances Glessner was denied an education and the opportunity to pursue her interest. Daughter of an industrialist who eventually owned much of the International Harvester company and an eventual heir, Glessner was confined by an overbearing father — her “jailer,” she once said — to a […]

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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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