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John Keats: a short life that was long on accomplishments

John Keats lived for only about a quarter of a century, but his effect on English literature is nothing less than astonishing. Keats is currently being celebrated by the world of English letters because we have just passed the 200th anniversary of his death. This mini-revival of interest in Keats is a good one because […]

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Maxine Cheshire: a reporter’s instinct and a little luck

Maxine Cheshire was a reporter who knew how to get under people’s skin. She irritated Frank Sinatra into a drunken, expletive-ridden rant that was witnessed by dozens of people. She made Jacqueline Kennedy cry and provoked a presidential call to her publisher. She exposed the Nixon family’s greed in keeping gifts from foreign leaders. More […]

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Martha Gellhorn: the first woman on Normandy beach, June 7, 1944

Martha Gellhorn had more than just her gender working against her when you wanted to cover the D-Day invasion for Collier’s Weekly magazine in 1944. She had her husband, Ernest Hemingway. Gellhorn and Hemingway had been together, off and on, since 1936 when they left America to cover the Spanish Civil War. Gelhorn was a […]

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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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Spelling English compounds

English is an ever-confusing language even to those of us who are native speakers and writers. One of the most common stumblingblocks is the word (or word) that is made of two nouns, or the compound noun. Do you write it as one word or two? Sometimes dictionaries or stylebooks help, but often they don’t. Sometimes […]

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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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Helen Gurley Brown, sex, and the sexual revolution

The sexual revolution of the 1960s, according to feminist historians, was not about sex but rather about the traditional gender roles that had been foisted upon us by society. Sexual activity, they tell us, had really very little to do with it. Not so for Helen Gurley Brown. The sexual revolution was indeed about sex and […]

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Victoria Woodhull, our first female presidential candidate, spent election night in jail

Victoria Woodhull, on the night of November 5, 1872, should have been at home with her husband and family or possibly somewhere with friends and companions. It was the evening of the presidential election of 1872, and Woodhull had a special interest in its outcome. During that campaign, Woodhull had been the first female presidential […]

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Podcast recommendation: Robert Maxwell, his pursuit of power

The name Ghislaine Maxwell is a familiar one to those who have followed the news over the last couple of years. She was a cohort to the infamous Jeffrey Epstein, who was accused of sexual trafficking and misconduct and who died in prison in 2019. Ghislaine stayed on the run for a while as state […]

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Ben Franklin’s method of making friends out of enemies

The highest compliment that you can give someone is not to make a public knowledge moment of their appearance or of their talents and accomplishments. Even when sincerely given, words of this nature are shallow, cheaply rendered, and temporary. They may also be disputed. No, the highest compliment comes with words such as, “I need […]

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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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Cornell Woolrich

Cornell Woolrich, the forgotten master of noir fiction

Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler are the two most prominent images in the pantheon 20th century American detective and crime fiction. Earle Stanley Gardner is also a consensus pick to be among the greats. But who comes after these writers? James Cain, Ross MacDonald, and John McDonald certainly have their fans who could argue articulately […]

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Elizabeth I, England’s great failure as a monarch. Really?

You may have grown up thinking – if you thought about it at all – that Elizabeth I of England was one of the Great British monarchs in the history of the kingdom. After all, she reigned for nearly 45 years during the age of Shakespeare and the flowering of the English language. By clever diplomacy, she kept […]

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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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Patricia Highsmith: a centenary celebration in 2021

This year 2021 is the centenary of the birth of the talented Miss Patricia Highsmith, and we shouldn’t let that go without taking note of this famous, infamous, and unique voice in American letters. Highsmith is more acclaimed and appreciated among British critics these days than she is by her native counterparts. The British love her […]

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What did Sherlock Holmes look like?

Sherlock Holmes is taller than average, a bit lanky, and thin. He has an angular face with a pointed nose and chin, and he has a receding hairline and very little facial hair. Possibly some sideburns. He wears a deerstalker hat and an Inverness cape. He pays relatively little attention to what he eats. Thus, his […]

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True crime – 2020 was a very good year

The year 2020 might not have been so great overall, but if you are a true crime fan, things did get a little bit better over the last 12 months. In some people’s eyes, they got a lot better. That’s the view of author Sarah Weinman, whose new book, Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit […]

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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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