Martin Luther, Isaac Asimov, and the value of libraries; 50-plus true-crime books; and more; newsletter, April 27, 2018

April 30, 2018 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: newsletter.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (4,067) on Friday, April 20, 2018.

Finally, the crimson clover has started to bloom (about a month late, due mostly to cold weather). Agriculturally, that’s the big event in our lives this week. The bees have started to work the clover, and now, maybe, the order of the universe will turn toward normal. I’ll have more to say about crimson clover, the bees, and what happens next inside the hives next week.

Meanwhile, this week’s big theme is libraries. If you haven’t been inside one lately, get thee to a library. You’ll be surprised at what you find happening there.

It’s been a great week for me, and next week promises to be better. I hope the same goes for you.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.


50 great true-crime books: which ones have you read

Katie McLain at has done all of us true-crime fans a real service. She has put together 50 of the best true-crime books into one simple list.

She writes:

What is it about true crime books that are so addicting? Is it a voyeuristic, “train wreck” sort of reading experience? Is it an opportunity to understand trauma and the dark impulses of human nature? Is it the chance to play detective and investigate real crimes? Source: 50 Must-Read True Crime Books to Add to Your TBR Right Now

She answers those question with her list. Chances are, you have read some of these books already. You might even have read most of them. But there will still be a few that you have missed and want to check them out.

For good measure, I will add a couple of my favorites that aren’t on Katie’s list:

The Stranger Beside Me, by Ann Rule. The chilling story of serial killer Ted Bundy. Chilling.

Fatal Vision, by Joe McGinnis. It’s the classic true-crime thriller. Some call it the best ever. Here’s the Amazon description: “Fatal Vision is the electrifying true story of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, the handsome, Princeton-educated physician convicted of savagely slaying his young pregnant wife and two small children, murders he vehemently denies committing.” The book definitely lives up to the Amazon description.

Okay, readers, time to weigh in: Which of the books on Kate’s list (or my additions) have you read? What’s your favorite true-crime book?


Martin Luther: Writing, designing, and printing the Protestant Reformation

Most of us know that when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1517, the Protestant Reformation began. We probably also know that Luther’s life, ideas, and actions coincided with the development of the printing press. And we may even know that the printing press was a major factor in spreading his ideas.

But did you know how much of a 16th-century nerd Martin Luther was — nerd in the sense that Luther knew and understood this new technology (printing) as well as any man on the planet. Luther was a clear and concise writer who knew how to state ideas in accessible and understandable ways. He also knew that printers of his day could make money by printing tracts (usually eight pages or so) rather than by printing books, so Luther wrote much of work in easily digestible (and marketable) tracts. Finally, Luther paid close attention to the way those tracts looked, understanding that the design of the printed work determined it readability.

All of these ideas (and more) are explored and ex by Andrew Pettegree in Brand Luther: How an Unheralded Monk Turned His Small Town into a Center of Publishing, Made Himself the Most Famous Man in Europe–and Started the Protestant Reformation, a fascinating book about how Martin Luther drove the Protestant Reformation by understanding the new technology of his day. I have written a short post on this topic on


Library of Congress celebrates its 218th anniversary 

The strain of anti-intellectualism that pervades American culture is always at war with those of us who value learning and believe that life is more than just a set of economic facts.

We have many valuable and visible allies. One of the most visible is the Library of Congress.

And this week is special. The Library is celebrating its 218th birthday (April 24, 1800).

So what is this thing, the Library of Congress? In its own words:

The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with more than 167 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves. The collections include more than 39 million books and other printed materials, 3.6 million recordings, 14.8 million photographs, 5.5 million maps, 8.1 million pieces of sheet music and 72 million manuscripts. Source: Fascinating Facts | Library of Congress

There are lots of things about the Library you should know:

When the British army invaded Maryland and set fire to Washington in August 1814, it burned the Library and its collection of 3,000 books. Five months later the Library purchased the collection of Thomas Jefferson, some 6,000 volumes, for about $24,000.

Jefferson’s personal papers, notes, accounts, and correspondence were added later, and the collection now consists of about 27,000 items — including a draft of the Declaration of Independence.

There’s more about the Library of Congress — interesting stuff! — on this post I wrote for



The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.

Amazon gift card raffle. In the next couple of weeks, I will be joining with a number of other independent authors to raffle off an Amazon gift card. We don’t know how much the card will be worth yet, but it should be the largest amount we’ve had for quite some time. Watch for it.


In case you’re wondering: James Comey’s book sold 600,000 copies in the first week

The New York Times reported this week that James Comey’s book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, has sold about 600,000 copies during its first week in print.

Here’s how that compares to other recent political blockbusters.

The early sales figures for Mr. Comey’s book dwarfed other recent political best sellers. Hillary Clinton’s memoir, “What Happened,” sold more than 300,000 copies in all formats in its first week on sale. And “Fire and Fury,” Michael Wolff’s explosive look inside the Trump White House, sold around 200,000 hardcover copies in its first full week on sale, according to NPD BookScan, which tracks about 85 percent of print sales. Mr. Wolff’s book, which came out in January, has sold more than 2 million copies to date. Source: Sales Figures for Comey’s ‘A Higher Loyalty’ Dwarf Recent Political Best Sellers – The New York Times

Comey’s book came out with a well-planned marketing blitz centered around Comey being interviewed by just about every radio, television, and cable show that would have him. And most of them did.

Donald Trump contributed amply to the success of the book by tweeting about it numerous times.


Isaac Asimov on thinking and writing clearly

“I try only to write clearly, and I have the very good fortune to think clearly so that the writing comes out as I think, in satisfactory shape.” Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov was a writer of extraordinary breadth, depth, and output. He was a professor of biochemistry at Boston University for much of his career, but he wrote fiction, literary criticism, textbooks, and mysteries — just to name a few. When he wasn’t writing, it seems, he was editing. His name as an author or editor is in just about every section of your local library.

In his 72 years (1920-1992), he wrote or edited more than 500 books and as many as 90,000 letters and postcards. An asteroid, a crater on Mars, and an elementary school in Brooklyn are named after him.

Asimov’s usual daily routine was to rise by 6 a.m., or before, sit down at his typewriter by 7:30 a.m. and write until 10 p.m. that night. According to his obituary in the New York Times, this routine came from his youth:

In “In Memory Yet Green,” the first volume of his autobiography, published in 1979, he explained how he became a compulsive writer. His Russian-born father owned a succession of candy stores in Brooklyn that were open from 6 A.M. to 1 A.M. seven days a week. Young Isaac got up at 6 o’clock every morning to deliver papers and rushed home from school to help out in the store every afternoon. If he was even a few minutes late, his father yelled at him for being a folyack, Yiddish for sluggard. Even more than 50 years later, he wrote: “It is a point of pride with me that though I have an alarm clock, I never set it, but get up at 6 A.M. anyway. I am still showing my father I’m not a folyack.”

The New York Times, April 7, 1992

And he said this about himself and his writing:

[T]he only thing about myself that I consider to be severe enough to warrant psychoanalytic treatment is my compulsion to write … That means that my idea of a pleasant time is to go up to my attic, sit at my electric typewriter (as I am doing right now), and bang away, watching the words take shape like magic before my eyes. 

Asimov, Isaac (1969). Nightfall, and other stories. Doubleday. pp. 205, 244.

Two more things about Asimov:

He was a claustrophile; he liked small, enclosed spaces.

He was afraid of flying; he did so only twice in his life.


It’s official: Writer-in-Residence for the next two years

The good folks at the Blount County Public Library made it official this week. I am to be the library’s writer-in-residence for the next two years. I am certainly honored and humbled by this. BCPL’s staff is an amazingly talented and dedicated group of folks, and they provide the county — indeed, the whole region — with a marvelous physical and intellectual resource. I am happy to be part of it.

In my experience, libraries everywhere are much like the one we’re blessed with in Blount County, Tennessee. They do their very best to serve their communities and make life better for everyone. So here’s an appeal: 

Wherever you are, use your local library, find out what’s going on there, and join the group of good citizens that supports it.


Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor — actually, it’s a pen and wash: Library of Congress

Best quote of the week:

“When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President. I’m beginning to believe it.”  Clarence Darrow, lawyer and author (1857-1938) 

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 ( 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: Starting beehives; surviving March; sketching in the urban; more on Darwin: newsletter April 13, 2018


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