This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,332) on Friday, May 28, 2021.
Do you know a secret? This week’s newsletter has an item about a secret that “only librarians know.” It’s a fun piece, and I recommend the link. But it got me to thinking that as a long-standing member of the teaching profession, we also had a secret that no one else knew.
That secret was this: Teachers, when they teach, learn more than their students. That is particularly true when we tackle a new subject, and it is somewhat — though not entirely — less true when we teach the same thing again and again. This secret, in part, drove me to volunteer to teach a wide range of courses within our curriculum, and I never fully understood some of my colleagues who insisted on teaching the same thing year after year.
There are many aspects to this idea — too many to explore here. But the simple truth is that teaching something is the best way to learn it.
Whatever you are learning these days, I hope wonderful and educational weekend.
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The vivid life and imagination of Ian Fleming
When Ian Fleming accompanied his boss, Admiral John Godfrey, chief of British Naval Intelligence, to America in May 1941, they had to stop over in neutral Portugal. There, they visited a casino.
Twelve years later in 1953, Fleming’s Casino Royale introduced James Bond to the reading world with the following lines:
The scent and smoke of a casino are nauseating at three o’clock in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling — a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension — becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it.
James Bond knew that he was tired. . . .
Bond, the gentle reader soon learns, is a secret agent for the British government, and on a mission for Her Majesty’s government. He is in the process of cleaning out an enemy agent at the gaming table.
Bond became one of the most iconic characters in all of the literature and cinema of the twentieth century. It was a remarkable beginning for a novelist who up to that point had lived an extraordinary life. With Casino Royale, Fleming had begun to put the scenes and characters of his life and his vivid imagination into a set of books that would capture the attention and devotion of millions of readers around the world.
James Bond has never lost his appeal even though Fleming has been dead for more than 50 years.
Ian Fleming was born in London in 1908 into a family that was privileged and well-connected. His father, who was a good friend of Winston Churchill, was killed in World War I, but despite that devastating loss, Fleming never lacked for much. He attended Eton and Sandhurst Military School but found himself unsuited for military life. As he grew into adulthood and searched for a suitable career, he was able to travel across Europe and to develop and end various romances.
In 1931, he took the foreign service exams and despite fluency in French and German was unable to secure a position with the foreign office. Finally, through family connections, he went to work for the Reuters news service. Journalism — and more particularly writing — was his life’s calling.
In 1933 Reuters sent him to Moscow to cover the show trial of six British engineers who were accused of espionage and sabotage. Fleming took advantage of his time in the Soviet capital to learn all he could about the USSR and its secret police. He also wrote a letter to the Soviet Premier Josef Stalin, asking for an interview. Stalin turned him down but did so with a letter that he signed himself, something that Fleming kept the rest of his life.
Fleming’s reports on the trial were vivid and well-written, and when he returned to London, the Foreign Office asked him to submit his impressions of what he had seen and heard. In doing so the British government marked Fleming as a man who might be good at intelligence work should the need ever arise.
The need did indeed arise. With tensions growing among nations throughout Europe in the late 1930s, Fleming was asked by the Foreign Office to accompany a trade mission to Moscow in 1939. The real purpose of his trip was to find out what he could about the Soviets’ military preparedness.
Fleming landed in the office of Naval intelligence, and part of his charge was to come up with outlandish but doable schemes that would confound the Germans. His imagination was well suited for such an assignment. While he was never involved in direct combat, he oversaw or participated in the planning and execution of many such missions. One of those was Operation Mincemeat, the now-famous plan to fool the Nazis as to the location of the Allied invasion of Italy.
Next week: The writing life of Ian Fleming
American Library Association’s list of “most challenged books” for 2020
Chances are, there’s a group in your community that wants to dictate what books you and your children can read. They often do this by telling public libraries what they should not put on the shelves.
Most libraries resist this kind of pressure, and the American Library Association keeps track of these challenges. Here is a list of the 10 most challenged books for 2020 and the reasons for the challenges:
George by Alex Gino
Reasons: Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community”
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds
Reasons: Banned and challenged because of author’s public statements, and because
of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism, and because it was thought to promote anti-police views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now”
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint and it was claimed to be biased against male students, and for the novel’s inclusion of rape and profanity
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct by the author
Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin
Reasons: Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote anti-police views
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience
Of Mice and Men by John SteinbeckReasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes, and their negative effect on students
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Reasons: Challenged for profanity, and it was thought to promote an anti-police message
This list and lists from previous years can be found at this ALA site.
Notably absent from last year’s list is the Harry Potter series, which has appeared in many previous lists.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
From the archives: John Wesley and money
— Make all you can.
— Save all you can.
So far, so good. The advice is financially sound and rings responsibly in our ears. The third piece of advice might not:
— Give all you can.
Sometime early in his ministry, Wesley found that he could live comfortably 30 pounds a year. He determined that after earning that sum, he would give everything else away. And so he did — for the rest of his life.
Wesley stayed on the road for most of his life. He never owned a house, and he never had a family or children to provide for. (His marriage later in his life was to a widow with four children who was financially well off when they married. He made sure that she kept her income and that he used none of it.)
As Wesley gained fame and as he published more and more pamphlets and books, his income increased. He never deviated from his income limit, however, and at the end of his life, it was estimated that he had given away more than 30,000 pounds. He once wrote:
“Not, how much of my money will I give to God, but, how much of God’s money will I keep for myself?”
A secret only librarians know
Will Thomas, a librarian at the Tulsa Public Library in Oklahoma, has written a delightful piece for CrimeReads.com that tells a secret only librarians know.
No, I am not going to disclose it here. It’s his secret, so if you want to know, you’ll have to read the article.
If you do, Thomas, author of a dozen historical mystery novels, will tell you a bit about how he does his research for his books, which often include real historical characters.
I’ve often been asked how I get away with using historical characters in my novels, as if any day now there will be a knock at my door and I will be given a cease-and-desist order or be led off in handcuffs.
So far this hasn’t happened, but I definitely believe I have a file with the FBI. Sometimes in the writing of a mystery novel, especially a historical one, the opportunity to toss a historical character into the mix presents itself. I believe this is fine, even relevant, especially in my novels, which frequently center on a societal danger (anti-Semitism, Imperialism, etc.) or an event (Jack the Ripper, a royal wedding), as long as the person in question was actively involved in whatever I am writing about. If W.B. Yeats was an IRA sympathizer, or the Duke of Clarence a suspect in the Ripper murders, they are fair game. Source: Confessions of a Librarian and Historical Mystery Novelist ‹ CrimeReads
This one is worth five minutes of your time and may even lead you into his books if you are not already familiar with them.
Verse and Vision: Poems and painting from a couple of years ago
(I shared this list last month in a newsletter but later found out that none of the links in the original version of the newsletter work. I have tried to correct that with the list below.)
A couple of years ago a colleague at the Blount County Public Library asked me to record a poem because April is National Poetry Month. One thing led to another, and by September, I had made about 20 video recordings of poems recited as voiceovers for watercolor paintings that had some relationship to the poem or the poet.
Before April 2021 gets away from us, I thought it might be a good idea to reprise that list in honor of this year’s National Poetry Month, and I hereby invite you to revisit any of those videos with the links below:
Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abby by William Wordsworth
The Village Blacksmith by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
1492 and The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus: http://bit.ly/lazarus-newcolossus
To Althea, from Prison by Richard Lovelace
The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The House of Rest by Julia Ward Howe: http://bit.ly/howe-houseofrest
Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scott
Ole Bert: In His Own Words by Bert Garner
In the Highlands and Consolation by Robert Louis Stevenson
To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell
Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer
The Old Clock on the Stairs by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Evening Star and Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe
Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray
My Heart and I by Elizabeth Barrett Browning:
The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare
Most of these videos were recorded out of doors on a small porch at the side of my house. I did that because the natural light is better than anything I can set up inside. Now that the weather is turning warmer, I may revive this Verse and Vision series. Any suggestions about poems or paintings would be greatly appreciated.
Vic C.: Apropos of detectives (see the item about Eugene Francois Vidocq in the May 14 newsletter), when I was a young teen (early 50s), I had an Aunt and Uncle who loved in Mamaroneck, NY. One afternoon, I was introduced to Clayton Rawson. At the time, I had not yet read any of his books but he entertained a bunch of us by doing magic tricks. I clearly remember him doing one of them — twice — and we could not figure out how he did it despite being “up close and personal” while he performed. Now, I’ve got his five “Great Merlini” books and the two “Don Diavolo” books he authored as Stuart Towne. Every now and again, I’ll reread them and enjoy the “magic” he put into them.
At the same time, I was also introduced to a guest: Judith Merril. Yes, I know, her real name was Judith Grossman, but her nom de plume was how she introduced herself. At the time, I had already started reading (consuming) sci-fi novels and knew who she was. I can remember, distinctly, that part of our discussion was about telepathy. She said that she thought it was possible. Fast forward to 1969 and I was home on leave. My parents urged me to go to synagogue with them to listen to a guest speaker. The speaker was Isaac Asimov. When I got the chance to tell him of my earlier conversation with Ms Merril and asked his opinion, he said that he did not consider telepathy to be real. This, of course, did not stop him from having used it in one of his Robot novels. He also used a variation of telepathy, empathic projection, as a key factor in his character “The Mule” in “Second Foundation”, the third of the original “Foundation” trilogy.
I have read the entire series many times and, despite the quaintness of the originals, they’re still fun to read. The thing that makes them endure, I believe, is that the science therein is an established fact. There is no “wow” factor involved; it’s simply part of everyday life. One of the devices (fanciful at the time of my first reading) was the “transcriber.” This was a device that typed what you spoke. Again, it was a completely normal device for a student to use. It, by the way, also appeared in “Second Foundation.” I can remember my first exposure to voice recognition in the 80s and how delighted I was at the development and have always wondered whether Asimov ever got the chance to use it, even in its primitive form. Today, my psychologist wife uses that technology to record her session notes and is distraught when it’s not available.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: Goal kick
Best quote of the week:
A change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points. Alan Kay, computer scientist (b.1940)
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.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: Ambrose Bierce, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, all in the same space: newsletter, May 21, 2021
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