New biography of Agatha Christie; loving alliteration; remembering the Sabbath; newsletter March 16, 2018

March 19, 2018 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: newsletter.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (4,088) on Friday, March 16, 2018.


Lots of readers have reacted to lots of different things in previous newsletters, and I include many of those reactions in this week’s missive. I have said this many times: I love hearing from you on any topic. And I am happy to share what you say with everyone else. Please keep writing.

My wife and I watched the movie The Darkest Hour this weekend, and that got me to thinking about Winston Churchill, so I started a little digging. I am turning up some interesting things, and I will tell you about some of it next week.

Important: The newsletter usually includes this:

Viewing tip: Click the display images link above if you haven’t done so already.

But that, I am told, has confused some folks, so here’s the point: Make sure that the images in the newsletter are displayed. Some browsers and email programs will display them automatically. For others, you must click on a link to make that happen. However it’s done, please make sure that happens. That’s how we know that you have opened the newsletter, and that’s important. Thanks.

A new biography of Agatha Christie

All of us have heard of Agatha Christie, many of us have read at least one of her books, and some of us have read several. I met a man once who said he had read all 80 of her mysteries, and I do not doubt him. Agatha Christie was, by some calculations, the best selling author of all time. By other calculations, she was the second best, behind only William Shakespeare.

But who was she — really?

Agatha Mary Miller was born in 1890. She married Archibald Christie in 1914, had a daughter Rosalind, and divorced him in 1928. Two years later she married Max Mallowan and stayed married to him for 46 years until her death in 1976. She published her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in 1920 and never stopped writing.

Despite her worldwide fame and gigantic audiences, her life was as mysterious as one of her books. Now a new biography is available to American readers (it has been available to British readers for a while), and the book is getting rave reviews.

The book is Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life by Laura Thompson. Hear what Maureen Corrigan, National Public Radio reviewer, has to say about it here. If you are a Christie fan, you will want to check this out.

So, dear readers, how many Agatha Christie mysteries have you read? And which is your favorite?


Remembering the Sabbath

Whether we consider ourselves religious or not, we all observe the Fourth Commandment in some way: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. (Exodus 20: 8)

That doesn’t mean we all go to church or pray or even believe in God (though some of us do all of those things). We don’t even call it the Sabbath. We call it the weekend. Still, it’s the Sabbath, and it’s built into our culture. We think differently about it than we do the rest of the week, and we act differently on that day (whether it’s Saturday, Sunday, or some other day).

The concept of the Sabbath, the weekend, comes from ancient Jewish culture — directly from the Fourth Commandment. It is one of the “gifts of the Jews,” according to Thomas Cahill, author of The Gifts of the Jews, the second volume of his brilliant Hinges of History series. Cahill says there is more to the Sabbath than simply taking a day (or two) each week to honor God.

As important as that is (again, to some but not all of us), the Sabbath is a day of rest, a day of recreation. The Sabbath means not doing what we normally do.

“The connection between both freedom and creativity lie just beneath the surface of this commandment: leisure is appropriate to a free people, and this people so recently free (the Jews being led out of Egypt) find themselves quickly establishing this quiet weekly celebration of their freedom; leisure is the necessary ground of creativity, and a free people are free to imitate the creativity of God. The Sabbath is surely one of the simplest and sanest recommendations any god has ever made; and those who live without such septimanal punctuation are emptier and less resourceful.” The Gifts of the Jews, p. 144

(This is the beginning of a post I have written about the Sabbath. Read the rest of it here.)

Peter Piper and his peck of pickled peppers

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers; if Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.

She sells seashells by the seashore.

English language speakers love alliteration. We use it to do slapstick, such as the Peter Piper ditty above. When we were kids, we would say that and as a result, spit all over each other. We thought it terribly funny.

We use alliteration to learn to pronounce words, as with the She sells . . . line. Say that quickly five or ten times, and see what happens. Chances are, you’ll learn to slow down when you’re speaking — at least for a sentence or two.

Mark Forsyth, of, and author of several books on the language, cites in his The Elements of Eloquence (pages 10-11) an example of William Shakespeare, our old friend. Shakespeare lifted a passage from Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch’s Lives for some lines in Antony and Cleopatra. From North we get this description of Cleopatra’s boat:

. . . the poop whereof was of gold, the sails of purple, and the oars of silver . . .

Shakespeare takes that and makes it into these alliterative lines:

. . . the poop was beaten gold;

Purple the sails and so perfumed that

The winds were lovesick with them . . .

And that’s not the only instance, Forsyth points out, even in that one passage. “Nobody knows why we love to hear words that begin with the same letter, but we do, and Shakespeare knew it,” he says. Forsyth also says that alliterations don’t really have to make sense or even be accurate. Try these:

curiosity killed the cat

throw out the baby with the bathwater

right as rain

dead as a doornail

He’s got a point. We love it.

What’s your favorite alliteration?


Why stand during the Hallelujah chorus?

My item last week on George Frederick Handel mentioned that we traditionally stand during the Hallelujah Chorus, but we don’t know why. That provoked several responses:

Alice C.: “Messiah” was first performed in Dublin in 1742. It was a benefit concert for charity. According to one source, proceeds freed 142 men from debtors’ prison.

A year later, King George II was present at the first performance of “Messiah” in London. Is it said that the monarch fell asleep, and at the opening of the “Hallelujah” Chorus, he rose to his feet, thinking it was his cue. Whatever the reason, he stood, and that has been the custom ever since—to stand during the “Hallelujah” Chorus.

About 100 years later, even the aged Queen Victoria, who sat in her wheelchair as the chorus began, struggled to her feet as the choir sang, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” She said, “No way will I sit in the presence of the King of kings.”

Frank C. and Jean T. also sent in the story about George II. In addition, Frank wrote this about the Messiah oratorio:

The first performance was here in Dublin. Gentlemen were asked not to wear swords and ladies to remove their hoops as a crush was expected. One of the singers was a well-known high-class escort. After she sang. “I Know My Redeemer Liveth,” a man in the audience was so moved he called out to her “for that many sins are forgiven you.”


Art of the Arcane: Ides of March Mystery, Thriller, and Crime Giveaway. Once again, I have teamed up with a number of excellent writers to put together a truly fine selection of books to give away to our email lists and newsletter reades. This one has some great titles in it (including, of course, Kill the Quarterback), and you have an excellent chance of finding a great weekend read. Head on over there right away and see what’s available:…

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. Suspense and Thrillers Giveaway.This giveaway, which includes Kill the Quarterback, is a carefully compiled selection of high-octane, fast-paced mystery-suspense-thrillers, full of action, suspense and drama from debut to bestselling authors. Some of the books are already available while others are coming soon. Take a moment to check them out and claim any that intrigue you for absolutely free.

A name for this newsletter? (continued)

Suggestions continue to come in for a name for this newsletter — some facetious, some not so:

Robyn K: I like Seventh Inning Stretch.

Jim S.: I saw some of the suggestions for a title for your newsletter and most seem to do a play off of your name. This just gave me a thought for a title: Cookin’ All on the Stove. Corny? Yeah. Just what came to me.

Scott D.: Have you considered Stovall’s Oven? Camp Stovall? Campy Stove for All? (that last one might be a bit thin 😊)

Jean H.: I still like First Inning Press best!

Jenelle T.: If you are still contemplating names for your newsletter using baseball terms, I’d like to suggest The On Deck Circle. To me that area of a baseball field shows fans who is next in the batting order or who is being brought in to pinch hit. It’s an informative place on the field. Just a thought…

Vietnam, Robert McNamara, Daniel Ellsberg, and the Pentagon Papers (continued)

After last week’s item on Vietnam, I received this from Vicki G.: Vietnam was NEVER a declared war-it was a police action! I will be 72 next month and I had a lot of friends that went over there, some under orders & some that volunteered. Some came back and some didn’t, and some were forever changed. Yes, I lost most of my trust in the government and the news media during that long incident, I’m trying to regain that, but it needs to be earned!

Thanks, Vicki.

Dictionary diversions (continued)

We have talked about dictionaries now for a couple of weeks, so this came in from my friend Dan C. in Las Vegas:

Glamping, mansplain, among 850 new words added to Merriam-Webster Dictionary and they also added a new word for people who love words: a wordie! My daughter has long said I was guilty of what is now officially mansplaining. I told her that actually, I was guilty of Dansplaining. I talk to most people as if they don’t understand things…


Author! Author! (continued)

Last week I issued a call for any authors among newsletter readers to let me know if you want me to say something in the newsletter about your book. I did not get any responses to that, but the offer is still open. I did hear from a reader to wanted to make a recommendation.

A.J. N.: I’m not the writer, but I enjoy Alison Morton’s Roma Nova series … and the first book is free on Amazon.

Maybe some of your readers would like these? They are part mystery, part thriller, part history and fun to read, with some military aspects and a strong female lead character. I’ve read the first 3 and am about to start the fourth, I hope … if I ever finish the work I’m supposed to be doing today!

First Family of Radio and Television

The Roosevelts, as noted last week, were in command of radio in the 1930s and 1940s. In the early 1960s, the Kennedys had television. Reader and friend Tod responded with this:

As noted below, Jack and Jackie were known as the first family of TV. I don’t know if you recall Vaughan Meader’s hit album, The First Family, in which he lampooned the Kennedys.

Here is the Wikipedia article about the album:

Here is the audio of one of my favorite tracks:

And here is the entire album:

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Blount County Courthouse, Maryville, TN

I haven’t concentrated on landscapes too much lately, so I thought I would try one of the county courthouse building where I live in east Tennessee.

Best quote of the week:

Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth. Albert Einstein, physicist, Nobel laureate (1879-1955)

Helping those in need

This is my weekly reminder to all of us (especially me) that there are many people who need our help. It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here). When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Handel, down and out; ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’ up and away; more Shakespeare and Vietnam: newsletter March 9, 2018


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