This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,421) on Friday, May 27, 2022.
What do you think a librarian does? The answer to that question undoubtedly depends on your point of view, but I think most of us would believe a librarian is someone who keeps books and documents in a particular place. That answer is only partially correct, however.
One of the major jobs of a librarian is to select the books, documents, and other material that are to be included in the library’s collection. Collections differ according to the purpose of the library. A university library’s collection will necessarily be different from that of a county public library. Consequently, part of the librarian’s job is to select books, documents, and other material that are appropriate to the library’s purpose and users.
A good librarian makes these selections carefully based on a deep and studied understanding of what the library’s constituents—all of the constituents—will expect from the library.
All of this is just one reason why people who demand that a particular book be removed from the library’s shelves makes very little sense. Librarians are trained to make selections. They have the library’s entire constituency in mind when they do that. This is what they are paid to do. It is what they were expected to do.
One wonders at the arrogance of people who have no expertise or experience in making these decisions but who try to tell librarians how to do their jobs.
Have a great weekend.
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Roger Angell, pitch-perfect prose about the game and meaning of baseball
When Roger Angell wrote about baseball, which he did frequently but not often enough, he could put you in the seat next to him in the ballpark. It would be a good seat, not in the press box with all of the sportswriting swells and television hotshots, but right down there in the stands among the people who had paid good money to see a baseball game.
What you could see, from that seat, was the way that that particular game was being played. But what you could hear from Roger Angell was a funny, interesting, well-informed, and deeply-thoughtful commentary on the game of baseball itself.
You and Angell might watch a pitcher hang a curveball, and Angell the reporter would start in on how he had discussed with the team’s pitching coach that pitcher’s curveball and its lack of bite only last week. They were trying different things, he would quote the coach, and the important point was that the pitcher was open to suggestions. Some pitchers are like that, he would say. Others want to do everything themselves.
Angell cared about the game. He wrote with the assumption that you the reader cared about it too. After all, why would you be sitting there in the stands if you didn’t care about it. For Angell, baseball was not just another pastime. It was a way of examining the human condition without getting too pompous about it.
Angell never had an ax to grind, although he certainly had his opinions. Those opinions were most often presented in a humorous or self-deprecating form. You might disagree, but a disagreement never seemed like an argument. In fact, Angell was so well-informed that your humility, if it existed at all, would make you give way to what he had said.
His articles about baseball and other matters appeared in the New Yorker magazine where he had worked for several decades as an editor. To read his prose about baseball, it would not surprise you to learn that he was an editor of the first order who had mentored many of the best writers of his time. They testified that his criticisms were never pointed or harsh and were always formed to help writers improve their work.
For the rest of us who were never under his editorship, his best writing lessons are to be found in the prose that he’s so carefully composed. Even if you were not a baseball fan, you could read his articles and find how to write with care, precision, and empathy.
Angell was born in 1920, the son of Ernest Angell and Katharine Sergeant. His father was a World War I veteran, a graduate of Harvard law school, and eventually the head of the American Civil Liberties Union. His mother was the first female editor hired by the New Yorker magazine.
His parents were divorced, and he lived mostly with his father. He graduated from Harvard University in 1942, after which he joined the army and worked as a magazine editor for the remainder of the war.
He became a writer for Holiday magazine and also submitted pieces frequently to the New Yorker. Eventually the New Yorker asked him to join the staff as an editor. His first baseball articles appeared in 1962 when the editor of the magazine told him to go to Florida for spring training to see what he could find. That assignment began a series of essays that would continue over the next six decades. Many of those articles were collected into books, the first of which was titled The Summer Game and published in 1972. The book remains a standard volume of any baseball fan’s shelf.
Here’s an example of Angell’s writing, his description of a box score:
The box score, being modestly arcane, is a matter of intense indifference, if not irritation, to the non-fan. To the baseball-bitten, it is not only informative, pictorial, and gossipy but lovely in aesthetic structure. It represents happenstance and physical flight exactly translated into figures and history. Its totals—batters’ credit vs. pitchers’ debit—balance as exactly as those in an accountant’s ledger. And a box score is more than a capsule archive. It is a precisely etched miniature of the sport itself, for baseball, in spite of its grassy spaciousness and apparent unpredictability, is the most intensely and satisfyingly mathematical of all our outdoor sports. Every player in every game is subjected to a cold and ceaseless accounting; no ball is thrown and no base is gained without an instant responding judgment—ball or strike, hit or error, yea or nay—and an ensuing statistic.
If you grew up reading box scores, this writing is pitch-perfect—and typical of Angell. Angell’s work eventually landed him a spot in the writers section of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Angell died last week, May 20, 2022, at his home in Manhattan. He was 101 years old.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
The modernity of the crossword puzzle
Word games have been with us since the advent of words themselves, but one of the most popular of all word games, the crossword puzzle, is a relatively recent invention. We have only had crossword puzzles for about 100 years.
Wynne thought that the World readers could do with a new challenge, so he designed a diamond-shaped grid with an empty center and a list of clues that would help readers decide which words were appropriate for the squares. (See illustration.)
The clues themselves were fun, sometimes requiring readers to know obscure facts and other times leading readers in the opposite direction of what the clue actually meant.
Wynne had decided that this puzzle would be one of a kind. What he did not anticipate was its popularity with readers. Readers demanded more, and the newspaper began to run a weekly crossword puzzle. Other newspapers followed suit, so that by the 1920s crossword puzzles were a regular feature in many newspapers across the country.
In 1924, Richard Simon and Lincoln Schuster had begun a publishing venture, and Schuster’s aunt, who loved crosswords, had asked him to publish a book of crossword puzzles. Their first such book did not carry the name of the publishers, according to an article in Smithsonian magazine:
. . . . The first crossword puzzle book—an untested and decidedly nonliterary format—worried the firm so much that the firm’s name did not appear on the book, which had a small printing of 3,600 copies.
The publisher needn’t have been concerned; the book was an immediate success. The first run sold out quickly and the company ran additional printings. The book eventually sold more than 100,000 copies, perhaps spurred on by groups like the Amateur Cross Word Puzzle League of America, itself a creation of marketing-savvy Simon & Schuster.
Crossword puzzles developed specific rules and shapes, and they spread themselves around the world and into other languages. Crossword puzzle designers have made them large and elaborate as well as small and quick.
Like many other inventors, Arthur Wynne had no idea about what he was starting when he sat at his desk on that cold winter day in 1913.
Kill the Quarterback is part of a group giveaway, May’s Free Mystery and Suspense, a BookFunnel giveaway that runs through the month of May. This giveaway is exclusively for all sorts of crime-related books and novels.
The giveaway includes more than 40 books of various sub-genres. You can download any or all of them in exchange for your email address. The email address will be shared among all authors participating in the giveaway. The purpose of these giveaways is to get books into the hands of readers and to increase email lists for the authors. The link for this giveaway is https://books.bookfunnel.com/pka-crime-thriller-giveaways/glkpa6m4vw.
A second BookFunnel.com giveaway also includes Kill the Quarterback. This one is the Free Crime Thrillers-Fiction Giveaway. There are more than 50 books in this one, so it is well worth the look. The link for this giveaway is https://books.bookfunnel.com/fictiongateway-crimethriller/11nxy99fxh.
Finally, a third giveaway that you might be interested in is the Crime and Police Procedurals, also from BookFunnel.com. This giveaway has more than 40 books in this genre, so have a look and download anything that looks interesting. Remember: they’re all free; the price is your email address. The link for this one is https://books.bookfunnel.com/crimeandpoliceprocedurals/7bf1f98hsl.
Both of these giveaways are open through the month of May. It helps me if you use this link to take a look at the offerings even if you don’t select any of these books.
Elizabeth F.: Stellar issue! I forwarded it to a friend whose current goal is to play the infamous piccolo solo on the Fourth of July. She resembles your lovely lady of the piccolo.
Marcia D.: Obviously Walter Duranty did not tell the truth.
The Holodomor, killing by starvation, took place in Central and Southern Ukraine. Stalin killed between 4-10 million people. He and Hitler were a lot alike. Should have been tried for Crimes Against Humanity. Fortunately my grandparents and great-grandparents and grandpa’s siblings left the Ukraine before Communism!
Freida M.: Thanks for the links to Gareth Jones’ articles on Nazi Germany. He was a wise and succinct man. I’d love to get his take on Russia’s abominable expansion and war in Eastern Europe.
Finally . . .
This week’s pen and wash: The delivery
Best quote of the week:
“The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.” Bernard Malamud, (1914-1986), writer
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: The tale of journalists Duranty and Jones, the obvious alternative to eugenics, group giveaways, and decapitating the British government: newsletter, May 20, 2022
Murder Most Criminous (Volume 1): resurrecting the father of true crime writing
William Roughead, the Scottish barrister who attended and reported on every major British murder trial for nearly six decades and wrote about each of them in detailed and yet interesting accounts, is returning from obscurity. Roughead died in 1952 but not before he built a huge following for his work both in America and Great Britain.
His name and work, unfortunately, have fallen into obscurity. First Inning Press is bringing him back to life.
Murder Most Criminous: The Cases of William Roughead, Father of Modern True Crime Literature (Volume 1) has just been published. It is the first of several anticipated volumes of Roughead’s work. The editors, Jim Stovall and Ed Caudill, have worked not only to reproduce this great writer’s work but also to give it new life for modern audiences.
The first volume of this series includes four of Roughead’s cases, all from a time before he was able to attend their trials. They include
- Mackcoull and the Begbie Mystery
- The Secret of Ireland’s Eye: A Detective Story
- The Ghost of Sergeant Davies
- The Parson of Spott
Each case has unique features that Roughead interprets with his unique and fascinating writing style. The links above will take you to a JPROF page that contain
We have done a lot of work with editing these cases and trying to make them presentable to modern readers.
We have introduced some typographical innovations that include footnotes, more readable paragraphing, and subheads—all of which we believe will aid the reader. The essential Roughead is still there, and we believe the reader will be captured by his exquisite phrasing and point of view.
During March and April, the first volume of this series is being offered to readers at a special ebook price of $1.99. It can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other ebook platforms. Paperback and hardback editions of this work are also available.
Volume 2 in this series, which will include the Oscar Slater case, is due out later this spring.
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