The latest plagiarism controversy: The Woman in the Window

You could argue that everything is plagiarized. Nothing is original. Mark Twain did, as Alison Flood points out that the beginning of her excellent article on plagiarism in the Guardian this week (Secondhand books: the murky world of literary plagiarism | Books | The Guardian): “As if there was much of anything in any human […]

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Lincoln’s first inaugural, the best-selling mystery writer you’ve never heard of, podcasts and more: newsletter, Feb. 22, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,914) on Friday, February 22, 2019.   Still painting, still writing, still editing, still reading — if I can do those things, then the massive amount of rain that East Tennessee has been getting fades is not as significance as it might be otherwise. It’s also […]

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Galbraith, Rowling and the losing art of anonymity; football and P.D. James: newsletter, Feb. 15, 2019

  Books stack themselves up around me (I don’t have the faintest idea how this happens). Some books I start and give up on; some I start and continue, though intermittently; and some I start and interrupt all other reading until I am well on the way to finishing. Joyce Carol Oates’ Jack of Spades is the current […]

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Is American football dying? Not yet, but the longterm outlook is unclear

Football is still the most popular sport on American television, but the thrill of the game seems somehow diminished. Professional football has taken some serious hits during the past few years: divisive political controversies, misconduct of players, the continued and illogical denial by the NFL of links between on-field play and concussion effects, low ratings, […]

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Robert Galbraith and J.K. Rowling and the losing game of staying anonymous

When Robert Galbraith finished The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first of the C.B. Strike series, the book was sent to a publisher for consideration. It was rejected. That likely happened again — but we don’t know how many times. We do know that it was accepted by Sphere Books, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company, and […]

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Pablo Casals on staying young, an interesting blast from the past, and post-prison rehab: newsletter, Feb. 8, 2019

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (2,912) on Friday, February 8, 2019.   This week’s newsletter takes a short break from writers and writing (mostly) and explores a couple of other topics, such as post-prison rehabilitation and the interesting story of a 1960s folk music classic. But you can […]

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Cellist Pablo Casals, at 93, told us how to stay ‘young’

If you feel that you are piling up the birthdays and that you are “growing old” — a phrase that has become part of our natural conversation these days — consider the words of Pablo Casals, the famous cellist: On my last birthday I was ninety-three years old. That is not young, of course. In […]

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Robert Caro’s interviewing trick; something new in Nashville; and reader recommendations for the cold winter: newsletter, Feb. 1, 2019

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (x) on Friday, February 1, 2019.   Despite snow interruptions in East Tennessee (and much, much worse elsewhere), this has been a busy week of discoveries and revelations. Another volume in the Baseball Joe series has been uploaded — see the list below […]

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Lyndon Johnson biographer Caro reveals a secret weapon of interviewing

Robert Caro’s magisterial four volumes on Lyndon Johnson is, in my view, one of the great works of nonfiction of the 20th and 21st centuries. They will stand for many decades as an amazing work of prose and scholarship. Volume 4, which covers Johnson’s vice presidency and his taking over the presidency after the assassination […]

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The many origins of English, gathered into a British Library exhibit

Those interested in the deep history of the English language will want to take a look at this article on the BBC website: BBC – Culture – What the earliest fragments of English reveal. And if you’re in London anytime soon will want to view the exhibit it describes at the British Library. The exhibit, Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, […]

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Benjamin Disraeli, another dream-come-true for the caricaturist

Some years ago, the BBC produced a 90-minute documentary on the parallel lives and careers of Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone titled  Gladstone and Disraeli: Clash of the Titans. (You can watch it on YouTube, irritatingly divided into six 15-minute segments with the first here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4CHsWMV3Es) When it comes to 19th-century British politics, the title is […]

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The unfair fate of Bulwer-Lytton; Margaret Drabble and Benjamin Disraeli; the week of the Brits: newsletter, January 25, 2019

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (2,918) on Friday, January 25, 2019.   The newsletter this week has a decidedly British flavor to it. That was not deliberate, but I’m pretty pleased with the way that things have turned out. How can you go wrong with Margaret Drabble, J.K. […]

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Nazis burned books, certainly, but they stole even more

The images are indelible: large bonfires fueled by books with Nazi soldiers and citizens tossing them into the flames. Flames, of course, do not destroy information or ideas, and the Nazis understood this as well as anyone. That’s why the Nazis stole far more books than they burned. Libraries of Jewish families who fell under […]

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Beginning the modern idea of the American West, the real target of Prohibition, and forensic science reform: newsletter, January 18, 2019

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (2,927) on Friday, January 11, 2019.     You may have heard this story already. When the newspaper in Portland, Maine, announced it would no longer pay freelancers to book write reviews, the most famous author among their readership — Stephen King, no […]

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Capt. Mayne Reid and the beginnings of the modern idea of the American West

“Go West!” has been the clarion call for Americans since the days of the early Republic. West across the Alleghenies, west across the Mississippi River, west across Texas and the Great Plains — whatever is west of where we are has represented openness, wonder, opportunity, and adventure. In more modern times, writers like Zane Grey […]

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Kurt Vonnegut’s rules for writing, the Rommel myth, Becky Sharp and Baseball Joe: newsletter, January 11, 2019

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (2,941) on Friday, January 11, 2019.     The first full week of the New Year has been notable around here (East Tennessee) for what it wasn’t: It WAS NOT “a dark and stormy night.” For the first time since just about anyone […]

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New edition of the Baseball Joe series and an Amazon giveaway

A recent newsletter of mine carried an item about the incomparable Edward Stratemeyer whose publishing syndicate produced for us young 20th-century readers series of books like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. One of those series was titled Baseball Joe, and Stratemeyer published 14 volumes between 1912 and 1928. The “author” of the series was Lester […]

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Amazon giveaway: Seeing Suffrage

  Several years ago I wrote a book about the 1913 Woman Suffrage Parade that was held on March 3, 1913, in Washington, D.C. It was the day before Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated. Not only did this event turn out to be a pivotal one in the history of the suffrage debate, but it also was […]

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Erwin Rommel, the Desert Myth

One of the luckiest men of the 20th century in terms of having a continuing and positive public image is Erwin Rommel. Rommel was “Adolph Hilter’s favorite general.” He was the Desert Fox, a moniker applied to him by British journalists. He was a chivalrous soldier who fought a “clean” war and refused Hitler’s orders […]

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Kurt Vonnegut’s rules for writing fiction: rule number 4

For those of us coming of age in the 1960s and 1970s and seeking a voice to articulate the absurdities we were seeing and experiencing, Kurt Vonnegut was a God-send. Vonnegut (1922-2007), a World War II veteran and a survivor of the Dresden fire-bombing as a prisoner of war, wrote in a light, delicate prose […]

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