This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,237) on Friday, December 31, 2021.
Happy New Year.
Janus is the two-headed god who looks both backward and forward. For a couple of weeks, we will be looking back through the weekly newsletter and picking some of my favorite item because of their stories and/or caricatures and paintings. You might have missed a few of these stories on their first presentations, so here’s a second chance.
I’ll be doing this look back both this week and next week. All of the items below are from 2019 newsletters.
Have a great weekend, and may your favorite football teams win (if they haven’t done so already).
Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,237 subscribers and had a 23.4 percent open rate; 1 person unsubscribed.
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Becoming George Eliot (part 1): The progress of Mary Anne Evans
Mary Anne Evans was one of the sharpest and most wide-ranging minds of the 1800s in London’s ground-breaking intellectual ferment of the mid-century. She mixed with the most radical and forwarding thinkers of the day and was the driving force behind the resurgence of the Westminster Review between late 1851 and 1853.
Her title was assistant editor. In reality she was the one who put together the monthly publication — selecting the subjects, gathering the authors, and writing much of the content herself. The breadth of her knowledge and understanding was wide-ranging.
But Mary Anne Evans had a big problem. She was a woman. MORE
Robert Galbraith and J.K. Rowling and the losing game of staying anonymous
When Robert Galbraith finished The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first of the C.B. Strike series, the book was sent to a publisher for consideration. It was rejected. That likely happened again — but we don’t know how many times. We do know that it was accepted by Sphere Books, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company, and appeared in bookstores in April 2013.
The book sold reasonably well for a first-time, unknown author. By midsummer, the sales number for the print book had reached about 1,500, and another 7,000 had gone to ebook and audiobook buyers. The book had received some reviews, mostly positive. The author was anonymous, the name Robert Galbraith being identified as a pseudonym on the book jacket.
Han van Meegeren: His Vermeers fooled everyone (part 1)
Van Meegeren (1889-1947) did not set out to be a con artist. He simply wanted to be an artist. Born in the provincial Dutch city of Deventer, he grew up with a love of art and an ability to draw and paint. He exhibited his paintings first in 1917 and by the 1920s had become famous throughout Holland. His Dutch heritage led him to paint in the style of the Old Masters, something that more and more displeased the art critics of the time. Critics saw his talent as imitation, not in breaking any new ground, and one wrote that he showed “every virtue except originality.”
Such reviews enraged van Meegeren, and he decided to use his talent for imitation and take his revenge. MORE
We remember Emma Lazarus — if we remember her name at all — for one thing: the poem “The New Colossus,” which is inscribed on a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty.
Emma Lazarus and the huddled masses
The two lines from that poem are two that most of us can repeat:
In those two lines, Lazarus encapsulated an idea of America that many of us cherish and that seems under constant threat. It’s the idea that America’s doors are open and that we welcome those who have been rejected by other nations or who have chosen to leave for more opportunity for a better life.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
Arthur Ashe and his hard road to literary glory
Arthur Ashe we remember as a tennis star whose quickness and grace on the court masked a concentration and preparation that few athletes have matched. Ashe’s tennis career was cut short by health problems and his life ended tragically early by a medical accident.
Ashe was many things besides a tennis champion. Among them, he was an author.
Ashe wrote and co-authored a number of autobiographical volumes, inspirational books, and instructional books on tennis. His most interesting work, however, is hard to classify. It was a three-volume history of black athletes in America under the general title of A Hard Road to Glory.
Bouton’s ‘Ball Four’: a book that afflicted the rich and comfortable of the baseball world
That was the case when Jim Bouton, briefly a star pitcher for the New York Yankees, wrote his tell-all memoir Ball Four that centered on stories from inside the locker room of the then most successful team in Major League Baseball.
When it was published in 1970, “Ball Four,” which reported on the selfishness, dopiness, childishness and meanspiritedness of young men often lionized for playing a boy’s game very well, was viewed by many readers, either approvingly or not, as a scandalous betrayal of the so-called sanctity of the clubhouse. Source: Jim Bouton, Author of Tell-All Baseball Memoir ‘Ball Four,’ Dies at 80 – The New York Times
Bouton was thoroughly excoriated by the likes of Bowie Kuhn, . . .
Joseph Emerson Worcester produced a better dictionary than Noah Webster
If any American name is associated with dictionaries, it is Noah Webster.
Webster, whom I wrote about last year, made a fortune by producing the Blue Back Speller and by his determination, in the early days of the Republic, to produce a dictionary that put forward American words with American definition and American spellings.
That he did, finally, in 1828 after years of work, a religious conversion, a refusal to expand his reach beyond New England, and largely fanciful and meaningless trips into the supposed etymologies of words. In addition, Webster was a prickly, difficult personality whose dislike of Samuel Johnson was well known, even though he ended up borrowing many of Johnson’s definitions for his own use.
How Mildred Wirt became Carolyn Keene – and changed the culture
If you were a young reader, you know that Carolyn Keene wrote the Nancy Drew mysteries. And if you remained aware of that into adulthood, chances are that you found out that Carolyn Keene didn’t exist.
So who was Carolyn Keene?
The creator of Nancy Drew was Edward Stratemeyer, about whom we have written before here, but the person who gave her life and pluck was an Iowan named Mildred Augustine Wirt Benson.
And Benson’s life was as remarkable as anything Nancy did in her books.
Sarah W.: I was pleased to read an article about Margaret Wise Brown–she graduated from Hollins University (then Hollins College, as you said) and she’s a bit of a literary legend for the Children’s Literature department there and a writer we all looked up to in the master’s program. There is a beautiful simplicity in Goodnight Moon, and it’s a wonderfully peaceful read-aloud book–another reason why it’s often given to new parents. I also adore Runaway Bunny and its powerful message of a mother’s enduring love. Brown’s writing style was truly revolutionary at the time, and it’s no wonder Moore, who favored more highbrow reads, was not a fan of this simplistic style. Moore actually kept a stamp in her desk drawer that said “Not Recommended for Purchase by Expert” and she wasn’t afraid to use it for books that didn’t meet her standards. Though Moore had valuable advice and perspective as a children’s librarian, I’m glad the publishers didn’t take her expert opinion on this book.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: The little one
If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try pray-as-you-go.org. The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.
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: Margaret Wise Brown and Goodnight Moon, an influential arts critic: newsletter, December 24, 2021
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