The late editor of The Nation, the dangers of alcohol, the novel of a friend, and the improbable end of education as we know it: newsletter, February 3, 2023

February 3, 2023 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, fiction, First Amendment, history, newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,845) on Friday, February 3, 2023.

During my academic career, I was fortunate enough to be able to write and publish several textbooks. Writing textbooks was a central focus of many of my efforts, and I enjoyed it immensely. One of the things I enjoyed most was developing the idea for a new book.

That was the easy part. It was a lot of fun to try out new ideas and to merge them with things that we already knew. But at some point, the fun had to cease, and the work had to begin. And more than once, I was defeated at that point. My idea, as good as it was, did not come to fruition.

Along the way, I learned something very valuable. One cannot write a textbook, or any book for that matter, all at once. I used to use a non-ecologically correct metaphor: if you’re going to chop down a forest, you have to do it one tree at a time.

It is, what you might call, the “small step process.” No long journey, whether it is traveling from where you are to the North Pole or writing a textbook, can be done all at once. Rather, it is a series of small, sustained steps. Shane Parish of the Farnam Street blog has the same idea about reading, and puts it in a different way in an article that, if you would like to increase the amount that you read, you should take a look at.

Meanwhile, have a great and literate weekend.


Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,752 subscribers and had a 37.3 percent open rate; 10 persons unsubscribed.

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Victor Navasky and the power of opinion

From the end of World War II to the present, the American political left has had many writers of depth and eloquence to espouse progressive ideas and to rail against those who, for instance, have restricted civil rights and promoted the war in Vietnam. None wrote with more depth and eloquence—and whenever possible a touch of wry humor—than Victor Navasky, the long-time editor of The Nation magazine.

Navasky died on January 23, 2023 at the age of 90 in New York City.

His death silences a voice that was a combination of intelligence, passion, and logic.

In addition to his editorship, Navasky held the position of Professor Emeritus of Professional Practice in Magazine Journalism at Columbia University. He was also the author of notable books, including Naming Names, published in 1980, a history of Hollywood blacklisting in the 1950s, and Kennedy Justice, a study of the U.S. Department of Justice under Attorney General, Robert Kennedy, published in 1971.

Navasky was born in 1932 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He graduated from Swarthmore College in 1954 and served in the United States Army from 1954 to 1956. After his discharge, he attended Yale law school and received his law degree in 1959. While at Yale, he co-founded and edited a political satire magazine, titled Monocle.

After graduation, he took Monocle to New York City, where it lived for only a short time. He was hired as an editor at the New York Times Magazine, and wrote a monthly column about the publishing business for the New York Times Book Review. In 1978 he became the editor of The Nation magazine and was once famously identified by writer Calvin Trillin, as “the wily and parsimonious Victor Navasky.”

He served as editor of The Nation for more than 20 years, and eventually came to an agreement with the magazine’s owner to buy the magazine and to become its publisher.

Navasky was well known in the East Coast literary circles as a man of principle and congeniality. He was a consistent supporter of Alger Hiss, the aide to Franklin Roosevelt who was convicted and served time in prison on the charge of being a spy for the Soviets.

Navasky’s magazine was an influential and lively forum of ideas and debate. While it supported progressive causes, it did so with some skepticism. Navasky once wrote, “I always get a big laugh when people dismiss The Nation by saying that it ‘preaches to the choir’ or is dogmatic or ideological, or follows a party line. Barely a week has gone by in my years at The Nation, when I have not had to answer a letter, a phone call, or, in more recent years, email from an harmonious dissident member of the so-called choir, and rather than march in lockstep, our contributors and staffers have disagreed, argued, feuded, and debated, among themselves, and in our pages, on matters of principle, practicality, politics, policy, and morality.” (Victor Navasky, A Matter of Opinion)


First Amendment videos

About a decade ago, video cameras and video editing software were finally coming down close to my level of competence, and I began to try my hand at shooting and editing. One of my first projects was an interview with a good friend and faculty colleague at the University of Tennessee. He was Dwight Teeter (now, sadly, deceased), who was one of the leading First Amendment historians and scholars.

I am presenting several of these videos (all very short) to newsletter readers during the next few weeks. This third video is The First Amendment in times of crisis.


The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”


A friend’s novel has been accepted for publication

Charles Fancher, a good friend from my college days at the University of Tennessee in the 1960s, has recently had his first novel, Red Clay, accepted for publication by Blackstone Publishing. Here’s the announcement in Publishers Marketplace:

Several years ago, when Charles was starting out with his novel, he sent me some of the initial chapters, and I had the privilege of reading them. It was obvious to me then that he was telling a good story. I’m glad that his efforts have come to fruition, and I am eager to read the final product.

The end of education as we know it? Probably not

During the past few weeks, artificial intelligence (AI) writing software programs, led by something inharmoniously called ChatGPT, have gained the attention of reporters and editors around the country and thus generated headlines that are scary and puzzling, particularly to those of us deeply invested in teaching writing to young people.

As Hetal Thaker writes on the website:

Stephen Marche tells us “The College Essay Is Dead,” while, in a separate essay for The Atlantic, Daniel Herman considers “The End of High-School English.” Even Google seems concerned about sharing its turf. Google!

The sky isn’t falling, Thaker says, but it is time to consider what these programs mean for the future of writing instruction and how we should adjust our attitudes and methods. (If you are interested in this topic, Thaker’s article is well worth the time.)

So what does it mean?

Honestly, I don’t know, and I have not had the time to consider some of the implications of software that can compose complete and coherent sentences with just a few prompts.

One approach to this new stuff that I’m pretty sure is futile: figuring out ways to prevent students from using it and punishing those who do, branding them as cheaters or some such.

Another of the “don’t panic” signals comes from Pia Ceres, writing in Wired magazine:

But amid the panic, some enterprising teachers see ChatGPT as an opportunity to redesign what learning looks like—and what they invent could shape the future of the classroom. 

In the world of education, software innovations cannot be shunned, denied, or even tamed. Students will use them if they find them useful. It is up to educators to see if they can be useful to teachers as well as students. After some thoughtful and creative questions, they might be surprised at the answers.

If you are concerned about any of these developments, these articles are worth reading.


The emerging picture that alcohol is bad for your health

A slow, underground movement—well, maybe not underground, but slightly below the surface—is emerging, and many of the articles I have read lately have come to the conclusion that alcohol does you and me no good.

First, there was the “dry January” month that has now passed. People were urged to lay off alcohol for one month, in some cases just to see if they could do it, and in other cases to see how they felt.

Now, the research on alcohol consumption is coming to the conclusion that any alcohol consumption, whether moderate or light, is simply not good for you.

This article by Dana Smith in the Well section of the New York Times, lays out some of the information and research that has recently been done on alcohol consumption. While you can enjoy alcohol to some degree, you should understand the effects that it may have on your current health and your longevity.

One of the things that we’ve been told about alcohol for many years is that there is some evidence that red wine is good for your heart. But even low levels of drinking are likely to increase the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease, and, of course, that risk shoots up in a real way for those who drink excessively. Further:

Alcohol’s effect on the heart is confusing because some studies have claimed that small amounts of alcohol, particularly red wine, can be beneficial. Past research suggested that alcohol raises HDL, the “good” cholesterol, and that resveratrol, an antioxidant found in grapes (and red wine), has heart-protective properties.

However, said Mariann Piano, a professor of nursing at Vanderbilt University, “There’s been a lot of recent evidence that has really challenged the notion of any kind of what we call a cardio-protective or healthy effect of alcohol.”

Should you stop drinking alcohol altogether? Is this justification for a new era of prohibition?

Probably not the latter, at least. Laws against drinking alcohol simply do not work, as America experienced in the 20th century. But, the New York Times article concludes starkly:

Generally, though, their (medical experts) advice is, “Drink less, live longer,” Dr. Naimi said. “That’s basically what it boils down to.”


Group giveaways for February

Kill the Quarterback and Murder Most Criminous are part of several group giveaways during the month of February:

February Thriller and Suspense Giveaway

Heart for Crime – February Giveaway (begins Feb. 13)

All Things Creepy

Suspense Thrillers (ends Feb. 15.)

Crime Thriller Giveaway (Feb. 12 – March 12)

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.


Check out last week’s newsletter

Dan C.: Talking about the Round Robin Novel, there is something going around the internet for beginning writers. I consider it a scam, though it may not be. It is in a shady area, though. Some “B list” authors, not the big names, but writers that are known, usually with at least one best seller, give a company a short story and they contact unknown authors to add a story to the collection (at a fairly hefty cost) to add their stories and then publish the book through Amazon Kindle (softback and Kindle). 

The author gets either a big percentage of the sales or was paid outright for the story. The editor/publisher gets a big cut and the submitting authors get a few cents on each book and the “privilege” of co-writing a book with a known author.  

The Poetry Books are similar. Submit your poem, win a prize and an invite to the big dinner awards ceremony and spend a couple of hundred dollars more for a copy of the book of poetry. 

I also just came across this. You may want to mention the next great reality TV program in your newsletter in case you also have fellow authors that follow you. You should audition, also. They probably want an older cast member to fill the challenger/mentor pigeon hole. America’s Next Great Author is a groundbreaking reality television series that is currently in development. It is geared toward anyone who loves a great story on or off the page. 

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Finding a new friend

Best quote of the week:

Life’s tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late. Benjamin Franklin.

Pray-as-you-go podcast

If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try 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 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 ( 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.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: The disappearance of an MP, keys to college success, how we got the First Amendment, and more:newsletter, January 27, 2023



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