The first feminist, the power of the story, Golden State Killer followup, Shakespeare, and more: newsletter, May 11, 2018

May 14, 2018 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism, newsletter.

This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (4,022) on May 11, 2018


This week found me doing more woodworking than anything else. The project I spent so much time with is nearly complete, and I plan to have pictures next week. We’ll see how that goes.

But there was also time for books this week, and I dove into one suggested by a reader (Katherine C.)last week: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerdale. This is an exciting book to read because it tells us so much about the beginnings of modern police detection. I’ll have more to say about it soon.

I am a huge advocate of public libraries, as you know from reading the last few newsletters. As always, I urge you to go to the library near you, find out what’s going on there, talk with a librarian, and check out a book (or two). You won’t regret it for a moment.

Have a great weekend.

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.

Mary Wollstonecraft, the first feminist

You may never have heard of Mary Wollstonecraft — or if you have, it might be only because of her much more famous daughter, Mary Godwin Shelley, author of Frankenstein and wife of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) died at the age of 38, just a few days after the birth of her daughter Mary. It was a tragic death in many ways, not the least of which was that it cut short the life of a bold, creative, and courageous writer.

Mary WollstonecraftWollstonecraft lived a tumultuous life, determined to make her own decisions and to think for herself. As a young adult, she envisioned situations where she and other women could support themselves without dependence on men. She was a strong and forceful writer and had the courage to address the great issues of the day and take on the nation’s political eminences. She was especially supportive of the French revolution when much of the English middle and upper classes viewed it with alarm.

Wollstonecraft joined the circle of English radical Joseph Johnson in 1788 and began editing and contributing to his publication, the Analytical Review. Within four years, she had formulated a truly revolutionary view of women that critiqued their place in society and even how they viewed themselves. She published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792 and called for educational reform to correct the situation.

Nothing like that had ever been written about the role of women and what needed to change to give them an equal place in society. The book continued to stir controversy and have an effect on feminist thinking long after her death.

Read more about Wollstonecraft in this post on


Golden State Killer follow-up

A good follow-up to the entry in last week’s newsletter about the Golden State Killer and the book that the late Michelle McNamara wrote about it. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. is the New York Times’ The Daily podcast interview with Paul Holes, an investigator in California who helped to crack the case. This is a fascinating interview that details some of the procedures that police used in identifying the killer. It’s a 26-minute interview that is well worth listening to. (See also the post on McNamara’s book.) Here’s the way the Times introduces the podcast:

Paul Holes was on the verge of retirement, having never completed his decades-long mission to catch the Golden State Killer. Then he had an idea: Upload DNA evidence to a genealogy website.



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

Amazon gift card raffle. A group of independent authors with whom I am associated have gotten together to offer a chance at one of five (count ’em, 5) $75 Amazon gift cards to the folks on our email lists. Sign up for the raffle here:

The raffle runs through May 15, so sign up today.


Shakespeare fans, listen up! has begun a new podcast series titled Lend Me Your Ears. It’s about Shakespeare and politics. Because politics is is one of the chief themes throughout the Bard’s plays, there should be plenty to talk about. The host of the series is Isaac Butler, who writes this about the series:

Lend Me Your EarsShakespeare also wrote at a time of vigorous censorship. It was literally against the law for the theater to directly comment on current events. All plays back then had to be approved by an official who could demand changes to scripts or ban them outright. The political undercurrents of Shakespeare’s period are hidden in his plays, but they’re in there, helping to shape these works that would in turn shape our own understanding of the world.

So what political currents are likely influencing Shakespeare while he’s writing his plays? What can we learn about our present political moment from reading his works now? How have theater makers wrestled with staging the politics of Shakespeare’s plays? Those are the questions we’re investigating in Lend Me Your Ears, my new podcast miniseries for Slate.

The first episode is about Julius Caesar.


The power of the narrative

Why do we love stories so much? What it is about fiction that compels us to pay attention.

We’re not talking about genre fiction here, as in “I really like detective stories more than romance stories.” This is about the power of the narrative — any narrative: The characters and their interactions, the decisions and actions they take, the consequences of those actions.

Think about those dinner table discussions, telling the same family stories that we have heard again and again.

What fascinates us about the narrative?

That question has drawn the attention of evolutionary social theorists who recognize that every society and culture has its stories and across societies and cultures, many of these stories have the same elements. David Robson has an interesting essay about all that on the BBC website. BBC – Culture – Our fiction addiction: Why humans need stories

Robson cites the earliest piece of literature that we know about — the 4,000-year-old story of Gilgamesh from the ancient Sumerian society —  as containing the same things that many of our modern stories have:

What is even more astonishing is the fact that it is read and enjoyed today, and that so many of its basic elements – including its heart-warming ‘bromance’ – can be found in so many of the popular stories that have come since.

Such common features are now a primary interest of scholars specialising in ‘literary Darwinism’, who are asking what exactly makes a good story, and the evolutionary reasons that certain narratives – from Homer’s Odyssey to Harry Potter – have such popular appeal.

This is an excellent article with much to consider. (It will probably take less than 10 minutes to read.



Best true-crime books

Deborah D.In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.

Jeannie H.: I still like In Cold Blood!

Tanya W.: Can I cheat and do a tv show instead? Wives with Knives

Jane R.: A great true crime book from New Zealand is A City Possessed The Christchurch Civic Creche Case. By Lynley Hood.    It’s a brilliant look at NZ and world societal factors leading to and through the travesty/persecution and imprisonment of one man who works in preschool childcare. This case certainly captured the attention and divided New Zealanders. 

Robin K.: I ran across this title while browsing Parents Who Killed Their Children. I am creepily curious about this title. It’s on sale today, Kindle version, for $0.99.

Elsa H.: oh Jim I live for true crime. The things people do to one another isn’t even thouching a realm of fantasy.

For instance, the young runaway girl who was given a lift in the 70’s by a man she thought looked like a grandpa. He raped and beat her. Then he hacked off both her arms under her elbows and threw her off a 30ft cliff. She broke many ribs. Rubbed the stumps in the ground and managed to walk to the tarred road to get help.
Last night I watched as an abusive husband in a small town in the south kept up his threats and killed his mom in law by shooting her in the back, held his own kids hostage for hours before finally giving up. His ex-wife and kids still live in fear.
South Africa is very violent. On Friday a young man was sentenced to effectively 32 years in prison for killing his girlfriend, carrying her body out f the flat in a big rubbish bin – and setting it alight. Her dad couldn’t identify her.
People are nasty things.
David P.: Mine (my favorite true-crime books) are Fatal Vision and Helter Skelter.

The bees and crimson clover

Kitty G.:  As my husband is just getting into bees(we have 2 huge nests in an outer wall of an old house on our property), I especially enjoy reading about your beekeeping experience.

Robin K.: Thanks so much for the photo of the crimson clover. I have some light purple clover and wondered if it was the same. You’re photo cleared that up – it’s gorgeous and something I’ve never seen before! 

The clover you have is “red clover,” very much a misnomer. We have planted that before, and the bees are not very interested in that, oddly enough. They love white clover, however. White clover lasts through the month of June around here and becomes a major source for the bees when the crimson clover plays out.
Dan C.: Re: Crimson and Clover: Tommy James (and the Shondells) constructed this slice of psychedelia from his favorite color and his favorite flower. In an interview with Tommy James, he told “They were just two of my favorite words that came together. Actually, it was one morning as I was getting up out of bed, and it just came to me, those two words. And it sounded so poetic. I had no idea what it meant, or if it meant anything. They were just two of my favorite words.”
Frank C.: re Pravda
There was an old Soviet era joke based on Pravda meaning truth and Izvestia (the other major newspapers title also) meaning news.  “In Pravda net Izvestia; in Izvestia net Pravda”  Pardon my Russian – I don’t have a Russian keyboard. the word “in” should be the Cyrillic equivalent of “ve.”
. . . and I couldn’t resist
Cindi K.: I wanted to let you know that I love your newsletters! They are always so interesting! I learn something new with every new one. They are never boring at all and I look forward to reading each one. Thank you for the time and effort that you put into them. 


Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor (pen and wash): Mary Wollstonecraft 

Mary Wollstonecraft


Last week’s best quote of the week (repeated):

“Taught from infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.” Mary Wollstonecraft, reformer and writer (1759-1797)

Best quote of the week:

“A prince who is not wise himself will never take good advice.” Niccolo Machiavelli, political philosopher and author (1469-1527)


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: Washington’s image, a killer in California, and the joys of crimson clover and newsletter, May 4, 2018

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