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The Army gets it right, Eleanor gets an audience, and the love triangle scandal of the 1870s: newsletter, April 30, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,374) on Friday, April 30, 2021. Nature is doing its random best, as usual, to confound us. Where I live, we had two nights of frost last week — unheard of after mid-April. Fortunately, the cooler temperatures this spring have prevented us from putting anything […]

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Norman Mailer: Larger-than-life colossus of 20th century American letters

When Norman Mailer was 20 years old in 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. A precocious student, he had just graduated from Harvard University. He had initially majored in engineering, but he took writing and literature courses as his electives. During his undergraduate days, he had published his first story, “The Greatest Thing […]

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Sherwood Anderson: Hemingway’s mentor and object of his ridicule

Even if you are the most avid Ernest Hemingway fan on your city block or country road, chances are you have not read his novel The torrents of spring. The novel itself is probably not worth reading, but the story behind it is worth knowing because of what it tells us about Hemingway the human being. […]

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Sherwood Anderson, deliberate practice, and the stolen Vermeer: newsletter, April 16, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,374) on Friday, April 16, 2021. The six-hour Ken Burns-Lynn Novick documentary on Ernest Hemingway has sparked hundreds of articles (including one below) and tens of thousands of comments about the man, his writing, and his life. Hemingway died 60 years ago, but his work […]

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We’re into April, Ernest Hemingway month

April 2021 will undoubtedly be the month of Ernest Hemingway, thanks in no small measure to the six-hour documentary produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick and broadcast on the Public Broadcast System this week. Indeed, if you look on the PBS website, it seems to be all-Hemingway, all-the-time. Once again, Burns and Novick selected a […]

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Robert Littell: the game of spying with a bit of irony and humor

Spy novelist Robert Littell has been called the American John le Carre, but there is a key difference that Sarah Weinman, in a recent review of his work for InsideHook, points out: Where John Le Carre channeled barely suppressed rage into realist narratives steeped in bureaucracy, and Charles McCarry took the adage that “the average intelligence […]

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Walter Tevis, the novelist more famous at your theater than your bookstore

If you have watched the Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit, you may have wondered if it is based on a true story. The series identifies specific places and times where the action is taking place. Much of the series is set in the 1960s, and its look and feel are authentic. But the story is […]

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Ann Radcliffe, a founder of Gothic

Gothic romance has never been a favorite of literary critics of any age, and that was especially true in the late 18th century. And yet, even then, they loved the work of Ann Radcliffe, one of the genré founders and chief perpetrators. As Dale Townshend has written in an article for the British Library website: Even […]

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America’s first female presidential candidate, the passing of musical legends, and another Heads and Tales podcast:newsletter, February 19, 2021

  Those of us who have accumulated lots of birthdays have the privilege of looking back across the years with a certain level of bemusement and objectivity. The half-century point is always a good marker, and for the past few weeks, I have been thinking about my life a half-century ago. It was a significant […]

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Fergus Hume’s mediocre but nevertheless inspiring first novel

Caroline Crampton, writer, producer, and narrator of the Shedunnit podcast, which is a must-hear for mystery and detective fiction fans, has produced an interesting new episode that raises the always intriguing question, “What was the first mystery/detective story?” You may think you know the answer – mine was Ed gar Allan Poe’s The Murders in […]

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Cornell Woolrich

The Benjamin Franklin Effect, Cornell Woolrich, another Heads and Tales podcast, and more: newsletter, February 12, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,480) on Friday, February 12, 2021.   “Keep your mind focused” is undoubtedly a phrase you have often heard. Sometimes it comes in the form of a baseball metaphor: “Keep your eye on the ball.” It means, very simply, don’t let your mind wander. Sometimes, however, […]

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The everlasting lure of the Big Apple

Author Stacie Murphy, who grew up in Nashville and currently lives in Virginia, can’t get New York off her mind. She wouldn’t want to live there — too big, crowded, and overwhelming, she says — but still, she finds the place irresistible. As she writes in a recent article: And so from the moment […]

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The Sherlock Holmes look, Elizabeth I’s mediocrity, Heads and Tales, and Highsmith at 100: newsletter, February 5, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,401) on Friday, February 5, 2021.     The ability to learn is one of our highest values. Gathering facts and information and marrying them to our previous knowledge and experience is the essence of what it means to be human. But what about our […]

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Heads and Tales, my new book; Arséne Lupin and his creator; the man who first burned Washington; newsletter, January 29, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,480) on Friday, January 29, 2021.   This pandemic and the necessary isolation that it has caused forced us all to change our habits, particularly our ways of socialization. Every organization that I know of has had to change the way it conducts its business […]

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Arséne Lupin – a version of Robin Hood – this time in French

The myth of Robin Hood – the charming outlaw who “steals from the rich and gives to the poor” — is an enduring one, and also an international one. We are seeing that play out with the current popularity of the Arséne Lupin series on Netflix. Robin Hood is a guy who plays by his own rules, who […]

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Heads and Tales: Caricatures and Stories of the Famous, the Infamous, and the Just Plain Interesting

My latest literary and artistic efforts are coming to fruition in the next couple of weeks with the publication of a new book: Heads and Tales: Caricatures and Stories of the Famous, the Infamous, and the Just Plain Interesting. The book will be in paperback and ebook form, but it will be accompanied by something else: a podcast […]

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Lawrence Block, a writer both prolific and successful

When an intelligent but smart-alecky High School junior got his English composition assignment in a 1943 Buffalo High School, he decided to treat it like the intelligent but smart-alecky kid he was. He would make some fun of it. The assignment was to write about his own career possibilities. He wrote about all of us […]

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Susan Glaspell, a not-quite-forgotten feminist writer

John Hossack, a well-to-do farmer near Indianola, Iowa, was attacked with an ax while he slept in his bed on the night of Dec. 1, 1900. His wife, Margaret, was in bed beside him but said she heard nothing of the intruders who did it until they were in another part of the house. Margaret, […]

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Susan Glaspell, a forgotten feminist writer, and Lawrence Block, successful and prolific: newsletter, January 15, 2021

  A common saying among woodworkers – one you have probably heard – is “measure twice, cut once.” That saying counsels us to be careful. But there is another saying that is less well-known and maybe just as important: “Let the tools do the work.” What that saying tells us is that sometimes we can […]

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Reader on a bench

Happy New Year, a great female Restoration writer, journalism drives through Crazytown, and more 2020 review: newsletter, January 1, 2021

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,480) on Friday, January 1, 2021.   Happy new year. During this time of year, we often hear the word “resolutions,” and we may be encouraged to “make resolutions.” Possibly like many of you, I have found that making resolutions is frustrating and ultimately unproductive. […]

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