This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,232) on Friday, January 7, 2022.
Happy New Year.
With regard to Covid, it seems that as we turn the calendar to this new year, we are little better off than a year ago. Covid cases are surging, and our faith in the vaccines to protect us has been shaken. Yet, I find there is still much to be optimistic about and much to look forward to. People have found ways to cope, to soldier on, to find a way through the maze. I sincerely hope that is the case with you.
For the second week in a row, the newsletter looks back over the past couple of years to some of the best and most interesting (in my humble opinion) items we have published. I hope that these will be reminders to you or give you a second chance at some of the things you might have missed.
Also a word about the watercolor below: my co-artist on this one was my 16-month-old grandson, Leon. I think he did a spectacular job, and I hope you’ll enjoy looking at it.
Whatever you are looking at these days, have a wonderful and enjoyable and literate weekend.
Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,243 subscribers and had a 31.3 percent open rate; 1 person unsubscribed.
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.
It’s good to have friends, even after you have died.
In 1939, the year H.P. Lovecraft died, he considered himself a failure. His life had been a series of mental and emotional battles. His relationship with his mother had been strange and destructive. His marriage had ended in divorce.
His view of non-Nordic, non-white people made him sympathetic to Nazism and put him on the wrong side of history.
Elizabeth Blackwell’s husband, Alexander, was not to be trusted, especially with money. He tried to skirt the law, with little or no thought to his income, his wife, his family, or his own circumstances.
They had come to London from Aberdeen sometime in the 1730s, he with medical experience and lots of prospects. He set up a printing shop in London, even though he had not served an apprenticeship and was not licensed to do so. That put him at odds with trade regulations and earned him a hefty fine. Unable to pay it, he was hauled off to debtors’ prison.
Elizabeth’s prospects were bleak, with starvation a real possibility.
Chester Himes and the burden of being an African-American author
By the time he was 35 years old, Chester Himes had experienced enough tragedy and hardship for the lives of several people.
He had grown up in a middle-class black family that valued books and education, but that family was disrupted by the sudden blinding of a brother who was refused medical treatment because of his race. Himes had been expelled from Ohio State University for a prank, and he had served seven and a half years in prison for armed robbery. It was in prison that he began writing, and he managed to sell some short stories and work on his first novel.
Himes was paroled in 1936 and went to Los Angeles where he worked for a short time as a screenwriter. But he was fired from that job when the studio owner, Jack Warner, discovered that he was black.
When George Smith stood up before London’s most important people at the British Museum in late 1872, he was within walking distance of the neighborhood where he had been born, Chelsea, but he had traveled life’s road a great distance from his humble birth. The audience that day included William Gladstone, England’s prime minister and most important politician, and scholars, theologians, and many high-born gentlemen. They were all waiting almost breathlessly for what the young 32-year-old of humble birth had to say.
George Smith had spent the last several years studying the astonishing findings of Austen Henry Layard and Hormuzd Rassam when they stumbled upon the Library of Ashurbanipal while digging up the ancient city of Nineveh in Persia. Smith was fascinated by the clay tablets that contain cuneiform characters that were obviously from some ancient culture, likely the Sumerians who lived more than 4,000 years before.
Much of the cuneiform code had been broken through the work of Persian language expert Sir Henry Rawlinson, who had risked his life to find the secrets of the ancient languages of Mesopotamia. Despite Rawlinson’s work, the cuneiform impressions in the tablets were still damnably hard to read and decipher.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
When Ida Tarbell fired an arrow of words at a target, she aimed with the accuracy and power of a book full of facts.
John D. Rockefeller, probably the richest man in the world at the time, was “the oldest man in the world—a living mummy,” a “hypocrite” who was “money-mad.” She concluded, “. . . our national life is on every side distinctly poorer, uglier, meaner, for the kind of influence he exercises.”
The book of facts with which she supported such conclusions was her own A History of Standard Oil, something that she had spent five years of her life compiling. She had read through thousands of pages of documents, including many obscure court filings where entrepreneurs had filed suit against Rockefeller and Standard Oil for its corrupt and predatory practices. She had interviewed dozens of people—some inside the company itself and many victims of the company—to piece together the methods that Rockefeller had used to destroy his competition.
Walter Mosley on the ability to speak freely
Sometime in the middle of 2019, Walter Mosley joined the writers room of the third season of Star Trek: Discovery.
It was quite a coup for the producers of the show. Mosley is a well known, much-published author who has won numerous awards, particularly in the mystery genre. He is a giant among mystery writers and certainly one of the genre’s best known African-American authors.
One day, Mosley was telling a colleague a story and used the word “nigger.”
Despite a volatile temper and an extremely troubled personal life, Marvin Gaye was one of many Motown talents whose smooth tones and distinctive rhythms filled the rock ’n roll airwaves during the 1960s. Not only could he croon with hits such as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” and “Too Busy Thinking about my Baby,” but he also had a talent for writing and producing hit records.
By the spring of 1970 when you could still purchase AK47 rifles without a worry, Gaye’s successes could not shield him from the depths of depression.
His muse treatment for drug addiction, his constant fighting with his family, his endless professional disputes with Motown’s founder Berry Gordy weighed in on him as did his social concerns—the continued war in Vietnam, the persistence of poverty and social injustice, and the broken promises of the civil rights movement.
For more than five decades, Mort Drucker was one of the most subversive people in America.
Drucker was not some member of an anti-government cell plotting the violent overthrow of the rule of law. Rather he was an artist who could draw people like no other artist, revealing their pomposities and absurdities but in a light-hearted fashion. He put his talent to work for Mad magazine, and he and his cohorts attracted an audience in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s—many of them teenagers—looking for a laugh to help them through troubled times.
Drucker was a caricaturist, but he didn’t seem interested in exaggerating physical features. Rather, he went for expressions, and he put his real-life characters into absurdly funny situations where they could be surprised, angered, humiliated, and surprised—emotions that their normal pomposity would not allow.
No one that I know of has the title of Founder of Modern True-Crime Literature (or some such), but if such a title existed, the leading candidate would be a guy you have probably never heard of—a Scottish lawyer named William Roughead (pronounced ruff-head).
Roughead (1870-19) was a lawyer in Edinburgh and, by all accounts, was most competent and well-respected.
But instead of taking up an avocation such as woodworking or bird watching, Roughead was fascinated by a portion of his own profession. He loved murder trials, and it is said that he attended every major murder trial in Edinburgh from 1889 through the 1940s.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor (pan and wash): Abraham Lincoln – A New Birth of Freedom
Best quote of the week:
The soul would have no rainbow had the eyes no tears. John Vance Cheney, poet (1848-1922)
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: A few items from previous newsletters (part 1): newsletter, December 31, 2021
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