This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,234) on Friday, July 29, 2022.
How do you feel about your public library? Writer and poet Michele Herman, who lives in New York City, thinks of the two branches of the New York Public Library close to where she lives like she thinks of her children: “I’m lucky to have two; they spring from the same source but have unique personalities, and I love them equally.”
Readers of this newsletter know that I am an advocate of libraries—particularly in this stage of my life public libraries. I was fortunate to have an academic career during my working years, and the campuses where I taught had libraries that were central both figuratively and literally.
Now I am a resident of a county where a large, though underfunded, public library has sunk deep roots into its community. Whenever I am there, which is often, I see lots of children— another aspect of the library that is truly gratifying.
In Michele Herman’s essay on Lithub.com, she talks about how she and her children “grew up” going to the library. The public library, she writes, “is deeply embedded in us, and I am eternally grateful for all that our schleppy, perpetually strapped public libraries offered us and anyone else who steps through their doors.”
Herman’s words echo many of my own thoughts about the libraries in my life.
Have a great weekend.
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Independent bookstores: surviving, thriving, and growing in number
Despite Covid, despite Amazon, despite a general downturn in retailing over the last decade, independently-owned local bookstores seem to be making a comeback.
When Covid hit in 2020, it looked as though the health crisis would push independent bookstores over the cliff. That did happen in some cases, and the numbers of such businesses declined.
But independent bookstores have rarely been a high profit industry, and the owners have had to be creative and quick on their feet for the last two decades just to avoid being concerned about the Amazon behemoth.
According to a recent article by Alexandra Alter and Elizabeth A. Harris in the New York Times, bookstore sales dropped nearly 30% in 2020, and the publishing industry braced itself for big changes in the way it operated.
Instead, something unexpected happened: small booksellers not only survived the pandemic but many are thriving.
The article quotes an executive of the American Booksellers Association, a trade organization for independent book dealers, as saying that the turnaround made by small bookstores was “kind of shocking.”
In addition to the stores that have opened recently, the ABA expects 200 new independent stores to open within the next year. According to the Times article:
But one unexpected outcome of the pandemic was the way many communities rallied around their local bookstores in a time of crisis. When in-person shopping plummeted during the shutdown, bookstores rapidly scaled up their online sales operations, and found other ways to keep their customers, including curbside pickup, home delivery, outdoor pop-up stores and bookmobiles. Readers, it turned out, were eager for print books during the pandemic, and the spike in sales continued into 2021, when publishers sold nearly 827 million print books, an increase of roughly 10 percent over 2020, according to NPD BookScan.
Some stores went beyond selling books. In the case of Southland Books in Maryville, Tennessee, (where I live) the owners began offering fully-cooked takeout dinners from their cafe. Our household loved the dinners, and from what I could tell, so did others. I was rarely there to pick up our food when there weren’t others doing the same thing. Southland has developed other community-oriented services that, I assume, are developing customers and helping turn a profit.
Neighborly Books (right) will open in a downtown storefront later this summer, and a lot of folks are excited to see it happen. The owner is Laurie Meier, who is fulfilling a lifelong dream. After living in several locations, she and her husband have settled in Maryville and are determined to see that the community is well-supplied with books.
By sheer coincidence, Laurie is a graduate of the University of Alabama and took some of my classes when I taught there.
Maryville has been blessed to have Southland Books for the past three decades. Now we’re getting Neighborly Books. Life for the Maryville reader has been bookish and is getting better.
That appears to be the case elsewhere, too.
Monty’s double: A scheme to fool Hitler and the Nazis
One of the most recognizable leaders among the World War II Allies was Field Marshal Bernard “Monty” Montgomery. Montgomery never shied away from cameras, film crews, or any other publicity machine.
His appearance was indeed immediately recognizable. He was shorter than average, wore an unusual black beret, had a malleable face with a small mustache, walked with a peculiar gait, and spoke loudly and often with an accent of his own.
His contemporaries, particularly George Patton, resented his ability to draw attention to himself. When the D-Day invasion of June 1944 approached, however, Allied disinformation units decided that they could use Montgomery’s celebrity to their advantage. Montgomery, of course, was fully briefed and fully on board with the plan.
The Allies wanted to keep Germany guessing as to where and when the invasion would take place, and to do so, they thought up elaborate hoaxes and ruses.
Compared to other schemes that the Allies conceived, the ruse involving Montgomery was a fairly simple one. Disinformation officers found an Australian actor named M.E. Clifton James, who looked very much like Montgomery, and was a lieutenant in the Australian army stationed in Britain. Without knowing what his mission was, he was ordered to London and then briefed on what he needed to do.
He spent several days with Montgomery studying his speech patterns, his walking habits, his gestures, and the way in which he wore his uniform. On May 26, 1944, Lieutenant James donned one of the general’s uniforms and one of his black berets, got into a plane, and was flown to the Allied base in Gibraltar at the southern tip of Spain.
Awaiting him there was a great welcoming ceremony that the Allies hoped would be spotted by German spies. The thinking among the Allies was that Montgomery’s appearance in Gibraltar would convince the Nazis that the invasion was not imminent. What would a major Allied commander be doing in the Mediterranean if a large invasion was about to be mounted on the coast of France?
From Gibraltar the fake Montgomery then flew to Algiers and again showed himself publicly. Again, the hope was the German spies would see Montgomery and report this information back to Berlin.
After his appearance in Algiers, Lieutenant James was then flown to Cairo and kept in hiding until the invasion of Normandy beach was underway.
As things turned out, there is no evidence that this plan, known internally as Operation Copperhead, had any real effect on the Germans. After the war, Lieutenant James wrote a book about the operation titled I Was Monty’s Double, which was later adapted into a film that starred James himself.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
From the archives: Margaret Fuller packed more than a lifetime into her 40 short years
This post first appeared in this newsletter in 2017.
What I mean by the Muse is that unimpeded clearness of the intuitive powers, which a perfectly truthful adherence to every admonition of the higher instincts would bring to a finely organized human being. It may appear as prophecy or as poesy. … and should these faculties have free play, I believe they will open new, deeper and purer sources of joyous inspiration than have as yet refreshed the earth.
Let us be wise, and not impede the soul. Let her work as she will. Let us have one creative energy, one incessant revelation. Let it take what form it will, and let us not bind it by the past to man or woman, black or white.
Margaret Fuller, born in 1810, has these “firsts” to her credit:
- first full-time book reviewer in American journalism
- first woman allowed to use the library at Harvard College
- first female foreign correspondent for a major newspaper in the U.S.
But that is just the beginning to understanding and appreciating this remarkable woman who thought far ahead of her time.
Margaret Fuller was as smart as any man around her. In an age when the educational and professional opportunities were limited, Fuller elbowed her way into the top intellectual circles of her day with a depth of knowledge and understanding that could not be matched. Her personality could be grating. She was assertive in an age when women were supposed to be demure. She talked when most women would have stayed silent. She showed up in public places when most women would have stayed home.
She was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, into a family that valued education and had an extensive library. She had some periods of formal education at various schools, but in the main, her education was directed by her father and conducted by herself. By the time she was in her late 20s, her family had moved to Groton, Massachusetts, her father had died, and her financial troubles—which would plague her for the rest of her life—had begun.
But she had begun an intellectual journey that would take her a long way in a very short time.
She had met Ralph Waldo Emerson and those who would become known as the Transcendentalists, America’s first literary movement. In fact, she was so involved with them that they asked her to edit their publication, The Dial, and she did so, contributing a number of articles of her own. To sustain herself financially, she began teaching, and in 1839, she began a series of conversations, seminars in which women were invited to discuss the status of females in modern society. During all of this time, she wrote extensively—articles, essays, reviews, and books.
Fuller knew most of the major literary figures of the day including Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Edgar Allen Poe, who called her a “busy-body” when she intervened with him for a friend.
Her writing caught the attention of Horace Greeley (right), editor of the New York Tribune, who invited her in 1846 to move to New York and become a columnist and reviewer. Before doing that, however, Greeley encouraged her to expand her writings on gender inequality into a book. She did so, and the book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century, became a founding document of modern feminism. Her subsequent work at the Tribune as a reviewer and columnist greatly expanded her audience for her radical views on gender equality.
Those radical views included abolitionism (the freeing of slaves) and suffrage (the right of women to vote).
In August 1846, she sailed for Europe. She had been hired to tutor the son of a wealthy Quaker family, but she continued to write for Greeley’s Tribune. As such, she became American journalism’s first female foreign correspondent. Her travels took her to Italy where she met and fell in love with Giovanni Ossoli, an Italian nobleman of no particular wealth or intellectual virtue. He was involved in the Roman revolution of the period, however, and Fuller sent dispatches about that movement to the Tribune, thus becoming American journalism’s first female war correspondent.
Fuller and Ossoli had a son, but there is no record that they were ever married. In 1850, they returned to America on board a merchant ship. As it approached Fire Island, New York, the ship was caught in a violent hurricane. Fuller, Ossoli, and their son were killed, and their bodies were never recovered. A cobbled-together anthology of her works after her death was a best-seller in the 1850s until it was replaced at the top of the charts by Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Here’s another sample of her writing:
We would have every arbitrary barrier thrown down. We would have every path laid open to Woman as freely as to Man. Were this done, and a slight temporary fermentation allowed to subside, we should see crystallizations more pure and of more various beauty. We believe the divine energy would pervade nature to a degree unknown in the history of former ages, and that no discordant collision, but a ravishing harmony of the spheres, would ensue.
Yet, then and only then will mankind be ripe for this, when inward and outward freedom for Woman as much as for Man shall be acknowledged as a right, not yielded as a concession.
Another first should be added to Margaret Fuller’s list of credits at the beginning of this piece:
She was America’s first female public intellectual. Her mind and her pen never stopped, and her life was too short.
Fuller’s life has inspired several biographies, which are amply cited in a 2013 New Yorker article on Fuller’s life by Judith Thurman: An Unfinished Woman | The New Yorker
Thanks to https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Margaret_Fuller#Woman_in_the_Nineteenth_Century_.281845.29 for the quotations in this piece.
Group giveaways for July
Each of these giveaways includes more than 20 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.
It helps me a great deal if you use these links to take a look at the offerings even if you don’t select any of these books. Many thanks.
Vic C.: Like you, I received my draft notice (June, 1966) with 30 days to report. Not wanting to get my ass shot off in ’Nam, I opted for the Air Force. I had received my degree in Accounting but that was definitely not my preferred career path. I wrote my first computer program in 1961 and, since virtually all the computer courses at Temple U were Accounting electives (obviously this was way before there was such a thing as an IT major), I ended up with the Accounting degree.
I was working at Boeing in what was supposed to be a draft-exempt job (but they “forgot to send in the paperwork”) while living in Philadelphia—a high profile Draft Board location—so I was ripe for a role as cannon fodder. The Air Force recruiter I quickly ran to told me that he could try to get me a slot as a data processing specialist. He did his magic, and I took the exam for that specialty. The only questions I couldn’t answer were those that asked which Air Force specific forms were to be used so I got a very high score.
Since I had my degree, I was eligible for office training and took that exam, also. Time was a critical factor since I had to be sworn in quickly, and off I went to basic training. When I finished that, I received orders to go to headquarters SCA (Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska) as a data processing specialist bypassing training since I did so well on the test. However, looking around, I decided to wait to see if I was accepted for officer training.
As it turned out, I was but with a proviso: I had to be trained as an Aircraft Maintenance Officer after finishing officer training. All things considered and seeing what the enlisted troops (or, as one of my NCOs called them “enlisted swine”) were doing, I accepted. Long story short, I was surprisingly competent in that role. When I got out (just short of 5 years later), I returned to doing what I loved best. Of course, the limited availability of B-52s in civilian life was also a factor but (except for the last year, having to deal with a CO who made no secret of his anti-Semitism), I really enjoyed what I did.
So, as the late, great Walter Cronkite used to say, “…and that’s the way it is.”
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: The Guitarist
Best quote of the week:
The highest result of education is tolerance. Helen Keller, author and lecturer (1880-1968)
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: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island map, the journalist and the novel, and another role for Martin Luther: newsletter, July 22, 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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