This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2, 491) on Friday, August 26, 2022.
One of the great pleasures that I have had recently is revisiting a couple of the novels that I had the pleasure of reading as a boy. Those two novels are Treasure Island and Kidnapped, both by Robert Louis Stevenson.
I deliberately said “revisiting” rather than “re-reading” because I am not reading them as such. I have been listening to them through the good offices and efforts of the volunteers at Librivox.org.
I have mentioned Librivox numerous times in this newsletter, and I am once again happy to commend it to your attention. If you want to listen to a book or a poem that is in the public domain, Librivox is one of the places you should check out. The quality of the reading can vary greatly, but for the most part, I have found the audio files convenient and easy to listen to.
Librivox does not charge any fees, and it also has an app that is easy to download onto your tablet or phone. Take a look at Librivox, and see if you can find something you would like to listen to.
Have a great and literate weekend.
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Marie Tharp and the biggest thing on Earth
Marie Tharp liked to tell everyone that she had discovered the biggest thing in the world. What she said was true.
But discovering it was not easy or obvious. It took years of painstaking research, minute calculations, and a creative visualization that was beyond the imagination of most of the scientists of her time.
These problems were difficult to overcome, but an even greater challenge was presented by the colleagues in the geological sciences with whom Marie Tharp came into contact. They simply did not believe the evidence that she had presented, and more than once, her conclusions were dismissed as “girl talk.”
It was the 1950s, and geology was a man’s world. A woman was simply unable to make any significant contribution to the science of geology. Or so it was thought.
Tharp was born in 1920 in Michigan, the daughter of a soil surveyor for the United States Department of Agriculture. Her family moved constantly, and she attended public schools in Alabama, Iowa, Michigan, and Indiana. Tharp graduated from Ohio University in 1943 with degrees in English and music, but her real love was for the sciences.
She was able to obtain several positions in scientific fields during and after World War II, but none of them satisfied her. Then in 1948, she found herself in New York City and was hired to do drafting work for the geological observatory there.
Her work brought her into contact with Bruce Heezen, who was interested in using data from the military to map the ocean floor. The generally accepted concept of the ocean floor at that time was that it was relatively flat. Sonar readings from Navy ships searching for wrecked and lost vessels from the war were beginning to paint a different picture. The ocean floor might indeed have mountains and valleys.
Heezen gave the data he was collecting to Tharp, and she began to painstakingly apply it to the map of the ocean, plotting point by point the shape of the ocean floor.
As more data became available, a picture of what the ocean floor actually looked like began to emerge in Tharp’s mind. A deep rift running through the floor of the Atlantic Ocean was evident, and the implications of such a valley would turn the world of geology upside down.
That is because, in the 1920s, a German scientist theorized that the Earth was made of tectonic plates that actually moved. It was simply a theory. There was no evidence to back it up. So, for the next 40 years, most geologists rejected the theory and even heaped scorn on that idea.
In the 1960s, however, because of Tharp’s research, calculations, and mapmaking, the theory of tectonic plate movement, or Continental Drift, had been proven correct. And Tharp’s research partner, Heezen, began presenting this data and writing papers about it. Because he was a man, he was able to claim most of the credit for this paradigm shift in thinking about the Earth’s surface. The first papers that were produced because of his and Tharp’s research carried his name but excluded hers.
Eventually, by the late 1960s this situation had begun to correct itself, and Tharp was recognized for the monumental contributions that she had made to our thinking and our visualization of the Earth’s surface.
Tharp retired in 1983, and in 1995 she donated her map collection and notes to the Library of Congress. In 1997 she was named by the Library of Congress as one of the four greatest cartographers of the 20th century.
Even though it took years for her to receive the recognition that she deserved, Marie Tharp was neither bitter nor resentful.
“I worked in the background for most of my career as a scientist, but I have absolutely no resentments. I thought I was lucky to have a job that was so interesting. Establishing the rift valley in the mid ocean ridge that went all the way around the world for 40,000 miles–that was something important. You could only do that once. You can’t find anything bigger than that, at least on this planet.”
Tharp died in 2006 at the age of 86.
The attack on Salman Rushdie
Rushdie has lived under a worldwide death threat for more than 30 years after the publication of his novel, The Satanic Verses, and the offense that it gave to certain so-called religious sects.
The recent attack on Rushdie nearly took his life and left him with injuries that are likely to be permanent. No decent person of any religious persuasion can support such an action.
Susanne Nossel, chief executive officer of PEN America, said this about Rushdie:
“Salman Rushdie is both an author of unmatched distinction and a relentless champion for free expression, using his voice to support imperiled writers and intellectuals across the globe over decades. We are shaken to the core by this grievous assault, a reminder to us all that our rights and freedoms are more precious than we wish to acknowledge.”
Rushdie was born in India in 1947, and he now holds British and American citizenship. His second novel, Midnight’s Children, published in 1981, won the Booker Prize as the Best Novel of the Year in Great Britain. His fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, came out in 1988, and that book provoked several assassination attempts including an international fatwa calling for his death by the Ayatollah Khomeini, the supreme leader of Iran at the time. The fatwa has never been lifted, and Rushdie has since spent long periods of time in hiding and under guard.
Since 2000, Rushdie has lived in the United States. He has continued to write, and he has served in several academic positions.
His recovery from the August attack is expected to be a long one.
Rushdie is not the only writer to face death threats for what they have written. This article on France 24 takes a look at some of the other writers around the world who are living in constant fear of their lives.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
From the archives: Talkin’ Appalachian and other myths about the region
You’ve probably heard this rural legend (as opposed to urban legend): The people of Appalachia speak a dialect of English that harkens back to the English of Chaucer; it’s older even than the English of Shakespeare.
No, they don’t.
Just as everyone else’s English has done, the English of rural Appalachia has constantly evolved and is the product of multiple influences.
That’s the argument that Chi Luu, a computational linguist, makes in an interesting and arresting article in JSTOR Daily: The Legendary Language of the Appalachian “Holler” | JSTOR Daily.
Language has an important place in the folklore of Appalachia and has evolved to become something quite different from its original linguistic sources. It’s one of the ways Appalachian communities show solidarity and belonging. Language lovers may marvel at this unique linguistic quilt, a thing of threads and patches, that extends across a region that often seems to have little else going for it. But in some ways, the folksiness, the romanticized hearkening back to the past, holds the region back from telling a more nuanced story about itself, where it came from, and where it might be going.
Luu posits that Appalachia should be recognized for its diversity—cultural as well as linguistic—rather than being thought of as fiercely and exclusively white descendants of Scots-Irish stock. Movement in and out of Appalachia was just as prevalent as in any other part of the country.
We may think of Appalachia as poor, rural, white, backward, and uneducated (and, in today’s political climate, angry). But to do so makes us the fools rather than the people of this fascinating region. Or, as Luu puts it:
So the theory of the poor, white, rural Appalachian mountain men going it alone, preserving a pure and unchanging strain of archaic British English, isolated in a hardscrabble place far from civilization, could not be further from the truth. Without the influence of diverse communities of other Appalachians such as African-American Appalachians, the southern Appalachian speech and culture simply would not be what it is today. To ignore their contributions to culture and language means Appalachia will always be a distant story, burdened by the myths and legends written by others, left half-told.
Group giveaways for August
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.
Vince V.: Regarding that bumper-stickered truck that passed you, I wonder how the truck owner thinks that road was built that he was driving on?
Bonita B.: I’ve read The Johnstown Flood by McCullough. It was a very thorough telling of a disaster that is never heard of. His writing is clear and easy to understand. I have many of his books on my “to read” list.
Mary G.: Thanks for the section on P.D. (Phyllis Daphne, women were still trying to make their names sound like mens’ in the 20th century?) James! I read many of her novels (many years ago) and adored the PBS adaptations of her Adam Dalgliesh novels starring Roy Marsden in the title role!
Mike C.: On the idea of a national service program (see the Aug. 12 newsletter): I have long favored such a program. But, like you say, it might not be viable at present since we are becoming so divided. But if done right this could help bridge that divide.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: David McCullough
Best quote of the week:
“Do you ever read any of the books you burn?”
“That’s against the law!”
“Oh. Of course.”
Ray Bradbury, science-fiction writer (1920-2012)
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.
If you are interested in reading scripture, either the Old Testament, the New Testament, or both, you might be interested in the videos, commentary, and podcast of the BibleProject.com. The people who work on this site have done some deep and thoughtful reading of the Bible, and the videos they have produced (generally shorter than 10 minutes) are both entertaining and enlightening. They view the Bible as a single entity with a single purpose, and their approach is both delightful and refreshing.
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: Vince Scully and David McCullough, the murder of Julia Wallace: newsletter, August 19, 2022
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