ElizebethFriedman

America’s chief WWII codebreaker, language and dialect in Appalachia, new season for Serial; newsletter, September 14, 2018

This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (x) on August 30, 2018 At this writing, a major hurricane is about to slam into the east coast of the U.S., and predictions are that it will cost lives and do great damage. In the middle of this past week, as we were traveling […]

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ElizebethFriedman

‘The Woman Who Smashed Codes’ taught her biographer cryptology after her death

Journalist Jason Fagon, when he set out to write a biography of the extraordinary Elizebeth Friedman, America’s chief codebreaker during World War II, had an obstacle to overcome that most biographers don’t face: He had to learn cryptology, the art and science of secret writing. Fortunately, Fagon had a good teacher: Elizebeth Friedman herself. Friedman […]

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Cades Cove in winter, watercolor

Appalachian language and other myths about the region

You’ve probably heard this rural legend (as opposed to urban legend): The people of Appalachia speak a dialect of English that harkens back to the English of Chaucer; it’s older even than the English of Shakespeare. No, they don’t. Just as everyone else’s English has done, the English of rural Appalachia has constantly evolved and […]

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Left-brain-right-brain: Time to get a new theory

You probably run into the left-brain-right-brain theory of behavior a lot, as I do. It’s undoubtedly a popular way to explain why people are different. The left side of the brain is the analytical side; the right is the creative side. Or maybe I have that backward. Anyway, one side is supposed to be dominant, […]

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FrancesHBurnett

A 19th century writer-rock star, King James’ obsession, costly commas, and the Clinton impeachment revisited: newsletter, Sept. 7, 2018

This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (x) on August 30, 2018 Too much good stuff to read, too little time. I am in the middle of an excellent novel by a well-known author at the moment, and I will tell you about it in a week or two. I’ve also started […]

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King James I, perpetrator of a Biblical translation, hunter of witches

The famous opening scene of The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare begins with the speeches of three witches. They predict what will happen in the play, but they are more than a dramatic device. They were a very pointed and obvious political statement. That statement — something of a cheerleader’s “We’re with you all […]

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BeatrixPotter

The scientific contributions and botanical art of Beatrix Potter

All the world knows Beatrix Potter as the author of the Peter Rabbit stories. Some of the world knows that Potter also illustrated those stories. Probably even fewer people know that Potter was a scientist and a scientific artist, and her specialty was mushrooms. As Maria Popova of BrainPickings writes: . . . no aspect […]

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Costly commas

God save the Queen! God, save the Queen! The presence or absence of punctuation — particularly the ubiquitous comma — can change the meaning of a sentence. And it can have massive consequences. This BBC website article,  Pocket: The commas that cost companies millions,  tells about how the absence of a comma in a contract cost […]

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Frances Hodgson Burnett, a rock-star writer of the 19th and early 20th century

Frances Hodgson Burnett, another of The Secret Garden and Little Lord Fauntleroy, wrote prolifically and made a ton of money doing it. She traveled extensively, lived peripatetically, spent extravagantly, and maintained a lavish lifestyle that most of us could only imagine. During her 30 years atop the world’s literary stage, she was one of the world’s […]

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Screen Shot 2018-09-03 at 10.02.59 PM

Slow Burn, Season 2: Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky, and impeachment

It’s been almost two decades now (really? that long!), and the impeachment of Bill Clinton still rubs up against raw feelings on the part of Clinton’s supporters and opponents. And even if you don’t have feelings about it that were generated at the time (maybe you weren’t old enough to really remember), you should list […]

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Lincoln-Douglas

Lincoln-Douglas debate, every word; the art of Beatrix Potter; future of English; newsletter, Aug. 30, 2018

This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,136) on August 30, 2018 In the past few days, we’ve noted the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein‘s birth and the 20th anniversary of the first appearance of J.K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter’s books (September 1, 1998). Rowling is the literary phenomenon of this generation, producing […]

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typewriter-cup

Self-publishing workshop at Blount County Public Library, Oct. 6, 2018

My duties and responsibilities as writer-in-residence at the Blount County Public Library (Maryville, Tennessee) continue to evolve. On the first Saturday of October, I will be offering a half-day workshop on getting started with self-publishing. If you’re in the area and are interested in this topic, sign up here: http://www.blountlibrary.org/FormCenter/Public-Library-9/Introduction-to-SelfPublishing-OCTOBER-6-111 Here’s the description: Introduction to […]

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Lincoln-Douglas

The Lincoln-Douglas debates, every word. How did that happen?

Two days after that debate, newspaper readers were able to read almost every word that was uttered during those three hours that were given to each of the debates. With no modern recording devices at hand for journalists to use, how did this happen?

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Three dulcimers

Dulcimer, Dorothy Parker, book buyers, and hot cities; newsletter, August 24, 2018

This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,152) on August 24, 2018 August is speeding to a close, and in East Tennessee, we’re looking toward September for some relief from the heat. Speaking of hot, it’s getting hotter, and The Guardian is taking a deep look worldwide at the heat and what […]

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WillWadLongfellow

The long life of Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride”

When William Wadsworth Longfellow wrote “Paul Revere’s Ride” in 1860 and published it in The Atlantic in the January 1861 issue, he had a goal in mind. He wanted to create a clarion call to his fellow citizens to recognize the danger to the Republican by the secession of Southern states and for those citizens […]

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What makes readers buy books?

Why do readers buy books? It’s an ancient question with no definitive answer, but fortunately folks keep searching for one. Maggie Lynch, author of numerous books and articles, has a roundup (Opinion: What Makes Readers Buy Books? | Alliance of Independent Authors: Self-Publishing Advice Center) of some of the latest research on the Alliance of Independent Authors […]

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DorothyParker

Always wit, often wisdom, under a heavy cloud: Dorothy Parker

When they told her that the taciturn ex-President Calvin Coolidge was dead, she said, “How could they tell?” Dorothy Parker never like the monicker or the reputation she had acquired as a “wisecracker,” but that is indeed what she was. She was more, however. She was a poet, critic, screenwriter, and political activist, and as a […]

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PaulRevere

Road warrior Paul Revere, the concept of zero, and the odd beginning of the book of world records: newsletter, August 17, 2018

This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,166) on August 3, 2018 Still thinking about the American Road this week, I took a deep dive into history and found a perfect and obvious connection: Paul Revere. Of course. See below. People of a certain age will have memorized all or most of […]

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BBC: What is the future of English in the U.S.?

A few weeks ago, I recommended an article where the writer claimed the English language was a “bully,” elbowing out other languages and dialects. While I don’t agree with the descriptor “bully,” I did think the writer made some interesting points and had a good take on the issue. Here’s another article about the position […]

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European game birds, settling arguments, and the world’s best-selling copyrighted book

Well, what do you think? Does a grouse fly faster than a golden plover? They’re both game birds, popular with hunters in Europe, and in 1950 they were the subject of this debate — or rather, argument — that Sir Hugh Beaver was having with his hunting buddies. Beaver was the managing director of Guinness Brewery. How do […]

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