Hemingway’s month, Rolling Stone’s Motown list, and a podcast recommendation: newsletter, April 9, 2021

April 11, 2021 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,368) on Friday, April 9, 2021.


The concept of ownership is so deeply embedded in our minds that, if we think about it at all, we probably consider it part of the natural world around us. It isn’t. It is a human concept. Even though our language has a whole case of pronouns devoted to it, possession and ownership are things that we have constructed, but we rarely any thought to them.

That’s why I found the book, Mine! How the Hidden Rules of Ownership and How They Control Our Lives by law professors Michael Heller and James Salzman, so fascinating. What do we own? How did we obtain it? These questions go far beyond legal concepts, and the authors of this book, using plain, everyday language, are happy to take us there. If we are standing in line, do we own that place in line? If we buy an airline ticket, do we own that seat and the space around it? When we go to the doctor, and the folks there record our weight, blood pressure, and heart rate, who owns those numbers?

The concept of ownership – something I had never considered – has offered me some new and fascinating thought problems that have been fun and enlightening to delve into. Whatever you are currently delving into, I urge you to have a great weekend doing it.

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We’re into April, Ernest Hemingway month

April 2021 will undoubtedly be the month of Ernest Hemingway, thanks in no small measure to the six-hour documentary produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick and broadcast on the Public Broadcast System this week.

Indeed, if you look on the PBS website, it seems to be all-Hemingway, all-the-time.

Once again, Burns and Novick selected a topic with broad appeal and treated it with the depth and the courage that its complexity deserves. Ernest Hemingway was not simply a writer. He was a truly great writer whose life and whose work forces us to pay attention, no matter what his faults were.

His faults were legion and obvious. He exhibited himself boldly with what many today would term as “toxic masculinity.” He glorified big game hunting and bullfighting. He used and then discarded women. He took credit for bold deeds and actions that were not his. His racism and antisemitism we’re barely concealed. His consumption of alcohol and its impairment to his good instincts are difficult to excuse.

Yet Hemingway’s talent, his work ethic, and ultimately the books and the short stories that he produced rerouted the world’s literature into a modern era, and no writer who came after him has been able to escape his influence.

Hemingway pioneered a new type of prose that broke sharply with the loquacious language employed by 19-century writers. One of his guiding principles was the words have extraordinary power in and of themselves. Hemingway used short words in short declarative sentences to convey this power to the reader. He is often quoted as saying that the writer’s job was to find that “one true sentence.”

He spent his life and his extraordinary gifts trying to find that one true sentence.

The Burns-Novick documentary covers all of this ground, and that in itself would make it worth watching. In some circles, Hemingway has fallen out of favor, and young people today do not read his books and short stories as much as they once did. That is a shame because, if anything, Hemingway seems to be directing his prose and his ideas to young adults.

The producers of the documentary say they are often confronted but people who know of Ernest Hemingway but who have never read anything by him, and they are often asked, “Where do I start?”

It’s a good question. It has many answers. My answer is The Old Man and the Sea. What’s yours?


Hemingway on occasion could be an absolute jerk. His treatment of his wives was often devious and cruel. One of my favorite stories is about Martha Gellhorn, his third wife who as a writer and particularly a war correspondent was his superior in many ways. In this particular instance, Gellhorn turned Hemingway’s cruelty into an asset.

Podcast recommendation: Spy Affair from Wondery

Podcast producer Wondery has come up with what sounds like another winning series: Spy Affair.

It’s the story of Russian operative Maria Butina, who came to America and inserted herself into politics at the time that Donald Trump was on the rise within the Republican Party.

Here’s part of the official description:

A charismatic Russian woman arrives in the US on a mission to improve relations between the two countries, and she soon makes some powerful friends. But who is Maria Butina? And who is she working for? As Maria gets closer to the rich and connected, she also attracts the attention of the FBI. In the politically charged world of US-Russia relations, everyone has secrets and almost nothing is what it seems. Source: ‎Spy Affair on Apple Podcasts

Hosted by Celia Aniskovich. several episodes are available with more to come. Wondery does its usual high level of audio production. The true-crime fans will enjoy this one.

Heads and Tales: Caricatures and Stories of the Famous, the Infamous, and the Just Plain Interesting

My latest literary and artistic efforts have come to fruition with the publication of a new book: Heads and Tales: Caricatures and Stories of the Famous, the Infamous, and the Just Plain Interesting. The book is now in paperback and ebook form, but also accompanied by something else: a podcast series.

The book contains many caricatures and stories that you have seen and read in this newsletter, plus some that have not made it here yet.

The podcast is me talking about some of the people that I have written about and caricatures that I have drawn. The podcast can be heard almost anywhere that you can find podcasts (like here on Apple podcasts), and the podcast website is this: heads-and-tales.simplecast.com

This week’s episode is about Churchill the Writer (part 2).

The book is currently on Amazon and can be accessed with this link: http://bit.ly/headsandtales.

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”

Rolling Stone identifies the top 100 Motown hits

The editors of Rolling Stone have done us Motown aficionados a solid favor by identifying the top 100 — that’s right, a cool hundred — Motown hits and tell us some of the stories behind the music.

You know the list is a good one when the 100th song on the list is “Shop Around” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. This is what RS had to say about “Shop Around”:

If you want to hear how Berry Gordy fine-tuned Detroit R&B for wider (and whiter) pop appeal without watering it down, compare the two versions the Miracles recorded of this 1960 Smokey Robinson classic. A few days after the first was released locally, Gordy second-guessed himself — “too slow, not enough life,” he grumbled — and he brought everyone back to record the peppier version that became Motown’s first million-seller. A Number One R&B hit, “Shop Around” was only kept out of the Number One slot on the pop charts by Lawrence Welk. —K.H. Source: Best Motown Songs: Supremes, Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson – Rolling Stone

They also provide soundtracks for all the songs.

The magazine has the song divided up into 10 each per page, and that lets you skip to their top choices immediately. I confess that’s what I did, but I won’t steal the magazine’s thunder by revealing any of the top 10.

Here are a few of their choices:

99. Martha and the Vandellas, “Jimmy Mack” (1966)

88. The Four Tops, “It’s the Same Old Song” (1965)

77. Brenda Holloway, “Every Little Bit Hurts” (1964)

66. Marvin Gaye, “I Want You” (1976)

55. The Temptations, “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” (1971)

44. Gladys Knight and the Pips, “If I Were Your Woman” (1970)

33. The Commodores, “Nightshift” (1985)

22. Marvin Gaye, “Got to Give It Up” (1977)

11. Marvin Gaye, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (1968)

I’ll let you take it from there.

If I had to pick a number one favorite, I don’t think I could do it. Still, I have a lot of affection for The Marvelettes (above) “Please, Mr. Postman,” (1961), which comes in at 19 on the Rolling Stone list.


Curtis D.: As a former educator (high school band director), I completely agree about being able to get a good education anywhere if you actually want one.
My favorite Larry McMurty was The Last Picture Show.

Marcia D.: It is definitely up to the student to do well at college.  I did extremely well in college over high school, probably because I had been bullied from elementary school through high school.

Dan C.: I disagree with your opening statement, and it isn’t solely because all three of the colleges I attended are considered top-tier institutions. I spent my freshman year at West Point, took two literature courses at UCLA one summer to meet the requirements for a dual major while still graduating on time. I graduated from Claremont Men’s College (now Claremont McKenna College due to the integration of women in 1977).
According to major rating organizations, CMC and Pomona College are both top-ten Liberals Arts Colleges, while Harvey-Mudd College is a top ten Engineering Colleges. I know I twice encountered the difference between CMC and California State University Fullerton and California Polytechnic University in Pomona. My advisor once asked me why I didn’t attend Cal State where I could put in the amount of work I did to get my B’s and C’s (at CMC) and get A’s.

One semester the school registrar messed up and did not close registration for the Accounting Class and wound up with 60 students enrolled. They had to hire a teacher from down the freeway at Cal Poly to take half the students (at thirty students it was my only time in the three years I was there that there were more than 15 students in my classroom). On the first day of the class, the teacher told us the number of points we would need in order to get each grade (the system she used at Cal Poly). After the final, she posted our grades and I was to get an A. When I received my grades in the mail it showed a B. I went to the registrar and asked why. I was told that too many students in the class had received As and the grades were changed to reflect CMC’s policy of grade deflation. In the end, I wound up graduating 197th in my class … out of 197, though I must admit, there were 205 seniors in my class, At the time, all I saw was 20 to 30 years in the Army. I did not know six months later I would break my back in a parachute jump, which eventually ended my career early.

I attended Claremont primarily for its name, with the secondary advantage of its exceptional ROTC program, I do believe that how a school is rated does come into play when the selection of a school. When I went to get my MBA (nearly 20 years after my Dual BA in Economics and Literature) at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, they were not allowed to offer an MBA. There was a state policy that if two state schools were located in the same city, they could not offer the same advanced degrees. Alabama A&M, the historically black college, also in Huntsville already offered an MBA.
I received an MS in Management of Technology (based on MIT’s Sloan School of Business curriculum). Alabama A&M’s business school was not accredited, while UAH’s program was accredited. Would you say that the two schools’ programs were equivalent? 
In 1980, as a young second lieutenant, I (and all the newly minted butter bars) took part in an Army-wide testing program. It was a comprehensive math and English test. This test was given to college graduates, but the highest level the results rated was 13th-grade plus. A concern the testing raised was that graduates of the historically black colleges averaged an 11th grade understanding of math and English. Again, I cannot blame that on the students not having the desire to get a good education, but a failure at the university level.
I know that students from Claremont, Harvard, or MIT will be looked at differently than those from many state colleges or universities when it comes to graduate school admissions. Even when it comes to schools within the same university system. While the minimum admission standards for the University of California Berkley and UC Merced are the same, I do not think the actual admission standards are the same. 

Bruce H.: Totally agree that you can get a good education whether you’re at Harvard or UT-Martin. But you tell me: If the University of Tennessee is hiring a new faculty member and one has a Ph.D. from Harvard and the other from UT-Martin, who will be the favorite to win the post? For the parents involved it wasn’t about the quality of education; it was about the brand, and securing a place in the elite for the offspring, not to mention parental pride and competition with other parents.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Another flute player


Best quote of the week:

Everybody, that is, everybody who writes, is interested in living inside themselves to tell what is inside themselves. That is why writers have to have two countries, the one where they belong and the one in which they live really. The second one is romantic, it is separate from themselves, it is not real, but it is really there. Gertrude Stein, writer, 1874-1946

Helping those in need

Fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them 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 (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or 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: Millions of Cats, Passing notes, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and more on Opening Day: newsletter, April 2, 2021

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