Tag Archives: Agatha Christie

Joseph Priestly’s big writing idea, a winter’s read recommendation, and radio drama from the BBC: newsletter, Dec. 7, 2018

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (2,977) on Friday, Dec. 7, 2018.

 

 

In light of the reduction of our beehives, which I reported last week, I have come across a couple of substantial articles about bees and insects in this environment. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to read them yet but will do so soon and will pass along anything of interest.

Meanwhile, I continue to heap coals of caricatures on the heads of my poor, unsuspecting newsletter readers. For this newsletter, I went a bit wild, so pardon is humbly sought. I would enjoy knowing what you think, and I honestly don’t mind criticism. Caricatures are fun to do. I have always been fascinated by them and wished that I could be a competent caricaturist.

Another current obsession: shape note singing. I am writing a chapter on that for the second volume of Foothills Voices, a book featuring local writers produced by the Friends of the Blount County Library. Shape note singing is not merely singing without standard musical notation. Its history and traditions go back to the beginning of the 19th century. More later.

Thanks for reading. Haave a great weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: This newsletter was sent to 2,984 subscribers and had a 32.8 percent open rate; 3 people unsubscribed.


Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.


Joseph Priestly and his big (writing) idea

Joseph Priestly, the Englishman we remember as a great scientist and the one who first discovered oxygen, was a writer before he was a scientist. And he was a writer with a Big Idea.

Priestly (1733-1804) lived in an age when interest in “natural philosophy,” what we would call “science” today, had exploded, and people were beginning to notice and discover things about the natural world they had never known before. One of the chief objects of this interest in “natural philosophy” was electricity, and Priestly’s natural curiosity sent his extraordinary mind in that direction.

He read whatever he could find about the subject, and that brought his attention to a group of men who were exploring the natural world in ways that had never been done before. The most eminent of those was Benjamin Franklin, possibly the most well-known non-royal in the Western world. 

In the 1760s, Franklin spent a good deal of time in England and met often with his group of natural philosophers (known as The Electricians).

In 1765, Priestly made his way to London from his home near Leeds, determined to introduce himself to Franklin and his group and propose his Big Idea.

In his reading about the group, Priestly had been frustrated by what he didn’t know. Most of what this group had discovered and the ideas and theories they had generated were confined to letters and papers they had shared among themselves. Priestly’s big idea was to change that by writing a book about them and their experiments.

To do that, however, he needed their help and cooperation.  So, on December 19, 1765, Priestly showed up at the London Coffee House next to St. Paul’s Cathedral where the group met. Franklin was there and so was John Canton and William Watson.

Priestly was warmly welcomed — and so was his idea.

They promised to share their correspondents and papers with him. They also encouraged Priestly to undertake and record experiments himself — advice that Priestly took to heart.

The result was a book published in 1767 titled The History and Present State of Electricity: With Original Experiments. It was a great success, going through five editions and translations into French and German.

The book changed the world’s view of science. In the words of Steven Johnson, author of a high readable biography of Priestly, The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America:

He had invented a new way of imagining science: instead of a unified Newtonian presentment, Priestly recast natural philosophy as a story of progress, a rising staircase of enlightenment with each new innovation building on the last. (p. 34)

Science, in other words, was a narrative, not an argument with conclusions.

It was a brilliant formulation and typical of the type of creative thinking that Priestly engaged in during his life, not only in science but also in theology, politics, education, and grammar. (Yes, grammar, which we’ll explore in another post.)

 

The British Library upcoming 2019 exhibit: the history of writing

The British Library will host an exhibit on the history of writing in April 2019. If you are going to be in London between April and August of next year, this would be one of those must-see events.

Here’s how the library describes the exhibit:

The story unfolds through more than 100 objects from the British Library’s extensive collection – some on display for the very first time – bridging 5,000 years and spanning five continents.

Follow writing’s remarkable evolution through ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs carved on a stone monument and early examples of printed text such as the Mainz Psalter, to the art of note-taking as demonstrated by some of history’s greatest minds, and onwards to the ground-breaking digital communication tools we use today.

Source: Writing Making Your Mark – The British Library

You can book tickets at the link above.


The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”


A recommendation for a winter read from LitHub.com: The Talented Mr. Ripley

As we head into the depths of winter — don’t worry, Christmas will be over soon, and then we’ll find ourselves there — Emily Temple, a senior editor at the excellent LitHub.com website has a good reading recommendation: Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley.

It is, in my opinion, the perfect winter holiday book. It’s acrobatic and addictive reading, the prose sharp-edged and wry and sometimes quite pretty, and also it’s about warm weather and beautiful people, at least one of whom is decidedly amoral but perplexingly sympathetic. This, of course, is Tom Ripley, a small-time con-man who stumbles into a new life—one he will literally kill to keep. Source: A Close-Reading of The Talented Mr. Ripley as Coming of Age Story | Literary Hub

Even if you have seen the 1999 movie, which is packed with Matt Damon and other Hollywood stars, Temple says you should read the book to get the full impact of the author’s talent. Temple’s argument is well worth reading.

Patricia Highsmith created a character in Tom Ripley that outlived the end of the novel. She went on to write four more novels with Ripley as the main character. He is charming, attractive, and utterly amoral, and he always gets away with his murders. The five novels of Tom Ripley are today known as The Ripliad.

 

Radio dramas from the BBC Radio 4

One of the great pleasures I had when I spent a couple of multi-month stretches in Great Britain in the 1970s (London for eight months and Edinburgh for seven) was listening to the radio — specifically BBC Radio 4.

I didn’t have a television, but the radio dramas presented by the BBC more than satisfied my need for entertainment. In fact, I grew to prefer radio to television, which is a reason why podcasts are so charming for me.

Now, through the magic of the world wide web, anyone can listen to the BBC Radio 4 dramas. If you are interested, here’s where to start: BBC Radio 4 Extra – Agatha Christie, The Sittaford Mystery, The Message

This is the first of a five-part adaptation of an Agatha Christ mystery. Each episode is 30 minutes. Here’s the description:

A seance at a remote house spells out a man’s murder. Agatha Christie mystery with Geoffrey Whitehead as Inspector Narracott. From January 1990.

If you are interested, don’t wait. These dramas are available for a limited time. You’ll also find links to a Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger.

Facebook’s public image deteriorates as more of its private actions come to light

After a scathing two-part documentary by Public Broadcasting Service’s Frontline in October (The Facebook Dilemma, discussed in a JPROF.com post a couple of weeks ago), Facebook’s reputation as an idealist company that wants to change the world and do go continues to deteriorate.

Here’s the lead paragraph from a New York Times story (Facebook Used People’s Data to Favor Certain Partners and Punish Rivals, Documents Show – The New York Times) published this week:

Facebook used the mountains of data it collected on users to favor certain partners and punish rivals, giving companies such as Airbnb and Netflix special access to its platform while cutting off others that it perceived as threats.

There is also this from the New Yorker:  Facebook’s Very Bad Month Just Got Worse | The New Yorker

Facebook and founder Mark Zuckerberg are sticking with their insistence that Facebook has never sold personal data, but with everything that we know now, skepticism about that real truth of that statement grows. Things will probably get worse for Facebook, at least publically, before they get better.

Recently on JPROF.com

Jury trials: a thing of the past?

Route 66: the road and the television show

Two failures who saved each other – and then saved a nation (part 1)

An offer you can’t refuse: The Guardian’s top 10 books about gangsters

Reactions

LuAnn R.: I loved your caricature in this newsletter—glad you intend to keep trying!

Bonnie R.: Have really enjoyed You Know Me Al. (Takes you)  back to the time when the whole family could go to a game.

Bonnie is referring to a post a couple of weeks ago on Ring Lardner and his book You Know Me Al.

Jim D.: I did not know of the bad blood between Bret Harte and Mark Twain. That’s troubling, and even more troubling is the way Twain handled it. Twain was a brilliant man. Too bad he became so embittered in his later years.

Hal M.: As a lover of good local honey I was sad to hear about the loss of your two hives.

Always try to buy local honey, as I told my good friend from high school days Hal M. The honey that is not local can easily be adulterated — and often is.

Finally . . .

This week’s drawing (pen and ink):  Joseph Priestly (caricature)

Best quote of the week:

If your morals make you dreary, depend upon it they are wrong. Robert Louis Stevenson, novelist, essayist, and poet (1850-1894) 

Helping those in need — in California, especially

Raging fires in California have killed dozens of people at this writing, and they’re still not under control. They have spread untold misery and disruption around the state. These people 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.

Jim


Jim Stovall 

www.jprof.com

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 father of modern caricature, bitterness among literary lights, and a view of personal technology: newsletter, Nov. 30, 2018

 

 

Radio dramas from the BBC Radio 4

One of the great pleasures I had when I spent a couple of multi-month stretches in Great Britain in the 1970s (London for eight months and Edinburgh for seven) was listening to the radio — specifically BBC Radio 4.

I didn’t have a television, but the radio dramas presented by the BBC more than satisfied my need for entertainment. In fact, I grew to prefer radio to television, which is a reason why podcasts are so charming for me.

Now, through the magic of the world wide web, anyone can listen to the BBC Radio 4 dramas. If you are interested, here’s where to start: BBC Radio 4 Extra – Agatha Christie, The Sittaford Mystery, The Message

This is the first of a five-part adaptation of an Agatha Christ mystery. Each episode is 30 minutes. Here’s the description:

A seance at a remote house spells out a man’s murder. Agatha Christie mystery with Geoffrey Whitehead as Inspector Narracott. From January 1990.

If you are interested, don’t wait. These dramas are available for a limited time. You’ll also find links to a Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger.

All About Agatha – the podcast where Agatha Christie is first, last, and always

All About Agatha (Christie)Pro Unlimited Agatha Christie

The Agatha Christie fans out there — and they are legion — will want to join in on this weekly podcast, All About Agatha, that is devoted exclusively to the author whose popularity remains undiminished even 40 years after her death.

The podcast features Linda Brobeck and Kemper Donovan, and here’s the way they describe what they are doing:

Every month we revisit one of (Christie’s) novels in the order they were first published in the UK. Discussions range from plotting and interpretation to the impact of the beloved adaptations to an attempt at ranking them all. On the weeks in between, we take a breather to discuss one of her many (100-plus) short stories, plays, non-mystery novels, and notable periods in her life.

Christie wrote sixty-six novels and more than 100 plays, short stories, non-mystery novels, and commentaries. She also lived an interesting and somewhat mysterious life. Despite this huge output, some people can’t get enough. Brobeck and Donnovan give you a lot, however. In many of the podcasts, they take her novels apart piece by piece, often explaining and expanding based on their extensive and close reading of Christie’s books.

If you are a Christiephile, this podcast is for you.

The deaths of Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple, foretold

When Agatha Christie was living in London during World War II, she wasn’t sure she was going to survive. The Blitz by the German air force had inflicted heavy damage on London’s capital city, and thousands of people had died. Christie believed she might eventually be among them.

She was famous, and so were her characters, Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot. So, she did something odd.

She wrote a final book for each, one for each character, and in both books, the main character dies. Then Christie locked them away in a bank vault. One book was for her daughter; the other for her husband. In case she died during the Blitz,  each would have something of hers.

The books showed how much Christie has mastered her form and her characters. She did survive the war, of course, and she went on to write many more books about both Poirot and Marple. But she always knew how they would end.

Christie lived for more than 30 years after the war. Poirot lived for almost that long. His final mystery, Curtain, the one in which he dies, was published in 1975, about six months before Christie’s death in January 1976. When the book was published, Poirot was given a front-page obituary in the New York Times — the only obituary the Times has ever run of a literary character.

The final Jane Marple mystery, Sleeping Murder, came out a few months after Christie died.

Churchill commands history (or tries to); My Lai; how to avoid sugar; and a bonus: newsletter March 23, 2018

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (4,260) on Friday, March 23, 2018.

Anniversaries and special days (St. Patrick’s Day, for instance) are good excuses to discuss their subjects, and often I don’t pay much attention to them. I tend to discuss topics as they occur to me. This week, however, there are a couple of anniversaries: one I note here, and one below. The one here is that next week (March 31) is the 333rd anniversary of the birth of Johann Sebastian Bach, to my mind the greatest composer. Period. Pushback on that from my dear reader friends? Let me know.

I have a great story about Bach, but I’ll save it for later.

The other anniversary is that this week marked the 50th year since the massacre at My Lai, Vietnam. It was a shocking, horrible act that had profound and far-reaching reverberations. See below.

I hope that every single one of you has had a very good week.


Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.


Winston Churchill: politician, statesman, orator, writer

The phrase “his/her place in history” gets tossed around a lot. It’s used by journalists, politicians, and commentators as if it’s a seat on the Number 12 bus, and you need to be in the right spot when it hits Picadilly Circus. History doesn’t work like that, but this fact is something that always seems to elude those who use the phrase or think about the concept.

No one thought about it more than Winston Churchill.

More than a few times, Churchill expressed the sentiment that “history will be kind to me for I will write it.” Through his life and particularly in his later years, Churchill would say that, sometimes as a threat to others but usually just as a comfort to himself. But Churchill went much farther than other famous people in an attempt — futile as it is — to make that happen.

David Reynolds‘ book In Command of History is a 600-page examination of Churchill’s efforts to have both the first and last word about himself and his actions during World War II, and it is a fascinating story.

I am writing a three-part series of posts on JPROF.com on Winston Churchill, the writer. You have just read the introduction to the first one: Winston Churchill’s World War II saga (part 1): Motive and opportunity. You can continue reading it by clicking on the link.

The second part has been posted: Winston Churchill’s World War II saga (part 2): Obliterating the obstacles

Part 3 will be available by next week.

How to avoid sugar

An item in the newsletter a few weeks ago talked about the most nutritious foods(according to a group of scientists who looked into it). In case you missed it, number 1 on the most nutritious foods was almonds. This time we talk about what might be the least nutritious food we consume: sugar.

Is sugar the least nutritious?

No one that I know of has made that argument in those specific terms, but the evidence and awareness of sugar’s potentially harmful effects seem to be growing. There is sugar all around us — in foods where we don’t need it, want it, or realize it’s there.

How can we avoid it?

David Leonhardt, opinion page editor of the New York Times, has written a great guide to cutting out a lot of sugar in our diets. It begins with this:

If you’re like most Americans, you eat more sugar than is good for you. But it’s entirely possible to eat less sugar without sacrificing much — if any — of the pleasures of eating. Surprising as it may sound, many people who have cut back on sugar say they find their new eating habits more pleasurable than their old ones. This guide will walk you through why sugar matters, how you can make smart food choices to reduce sugar consumption, and how you can keep your life sweet, even without so many sweets. Source: How to Stop Eating Sugar – Smarter living Guides – The New York Times

My personal experience echoes what Leonhardt has written. If you want to read about (it’s very short), you can finish this post on JPROF.com.

 

My Lai

A few days ago, March 16, was the 50th anniversary of the day when a company of American soldiers swept through the village of My Lai on the southern coast of South Vietnam. They were looking for Viet Cong soldiers and sympathizers. They were also determined to avenge casualties suffered by the company in previous days. By the end of the day, between 350 and 500 men, women, and children — almost all unarmed — were dead.

When the American public heard about what happened a year later, My Lai quickly became a symbol for America’s tragic misadventure in Southeast Asia. My Lai exposed the lack of clear mission, inadequate training, miscommunication, and less-than-straightforward truth-telling that had characterized the whole enterprise.

Christopher Levesque, a faculty member at Pensacola State, has written an excellent piece for the New York Times’ Vietnam 67 series on My Lai in which he describes what happened as its aftermath. You may also want to look at this article by J. Houston Gordon, the appeals attorney for Lt. William Calley, the only officer convicted for his actions that day. Houston is a long-time personal friend of mine who knows the case intimately and has an impassioned and intelligent take on what it means.

Was your grandmother overlooked by the New York Times?

If she was, you need to let them know. The Times started a series a few weeks ago in its obituary section called Overlooked. It was about women that the Times through its many decades had failed to write obituaries on. They included Ida B. Wells and Charlotte Bronte. They also invited readers to nominate women for this section. Here’s part of what was published on Wednesday:

By now, we have received close to 2,500 submissions. Among these were about 30 from readers who told us of their own grandmothers or great-grandmothers who often fought strong institutional prejudice against them.

We found their stories moving, fascinating and inspiring and wanted to share them with you.

Some of the stories are compelling.

Readers Nominate Their Overlooked Grandmothers for a Times Obit – The New York Times

 

March Madness — of a sort

It’s March, and it’s about basketball, but that’s where the “March madness” ends. It’s really about art and the National Basketball Association.

James Gurney, an artist of extraordinary talent and energy, has a website that I visit just about every day. He was recently invited by ESPN to attend a New York Knicks game and be an artist-in-residence for an evening. What he produced is pretty amazing. Check out his three-minute video on it here.

Giveaways

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery/

 

Author! Author! (continued)

A couple of weeks ago, I offered to mention the works of any authors that are in the newsletter email list, and I received this from Jim Stow. (He has given me permission to include his name and email address,gem.stone.writes@gmail.com.) Jim is on his way to writing a novel, and what he has sent gives some good insight into the process. I have included the story summary here and a longer description of the writing process below the signature of this email. If you have any reactions, contact Jim directly.

Story summary

The setting is the early 1900’s. The main character is an eighteen-year-old young man who is leaving his family farm in Missouri to strike out on his own. This means separating from his family. They are very close to one another and they resist him leaving.

He is carrying a heavy burden of guilt from having sexual relations with a girl he really liked. He would like to talk with the young lady to resolve the situation but she left the area and he doesn’t know where she went.

As he sets out on his journey, he would like to find forgiveness but is not sure it is available from the girl or from God. He doesn’t know if he can ever forgive himself.

Reactions

The email bag included the following reactions to items in last week’s newsletter:

Remembering the Sabbath

Victor C.: The root of the word “sabbath” is the Hebrew word for seven: shevah. That word transforms to “shabbat” (emphasis on the second syllable). The dipthong “sh” is the letter “shin” in Hebrew. In most Hebrew texts there is a mark (called a “nikkud”) which indicates how a word or letter is pronounced. In the Torah scroll, such markings are omitted and the reader must learn — either by memory or by understanding the context, the proper pronunciation. The letter “shin” can also be pronounced “sin” which, of course, will change the pronunciation and meaning of the word in which it is used. Things get even more challenging when spoken depending on where the speaker originates (reference Ashkenazi vs Sephardic for more on this.) I am by no means a scholar on the subject (despite years of study at my mother’s insistence) and at one point had to switch from one form to the other. As for the “t” becoming “th” in sabbath, since there is no “th” dipthong in Hebrew,, we can attribute that to Anglicization and, especially, the church. Which in itself raises the question of how that arose since there is no such dipthong in Latin (courtesy of Mr. Knapp, my Latin 1 and 2 teacher in high school back in 1958.)

Apropos of that, the guys (all-boy high school, then) who were taking other languages called Latin a “dead” language to which I responded “it lives on in its descendants, the Romance languages.” I have never regretted taking Latin. Aside from being helpful in the English and Romance languages, it’s great when working on the Times crossword puzzles. My father, by the way, who attended the same high school 35 years earlier than I (and my brothers) took both Greek and Latin.

Linda: I enjoyed your talk about the Sabbath. I know a lot of people who have to work on the weekends. I encourage them to take a day of rest once a week. The Old Testament called the seventh day the “Sabbath” but it can be any day of relaxation & rest. (In Spanish, Saturday is Sabado & Sunday is Domingo. I’m not sure, but in other languages the same types of names for Sabbath & Sundayprobably correspond to the original names. If I ever get the time & Internet connection, maybe I’ll research this.)

Agatha Christie

Jackie T.: Hi. Love Agatha Christie. By number I don’t know how many but probably most of them and have reread some. No favourite, too hard to choose.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Winston Churchill

Bonus watercolor: The Stone Fleet

The Stone Fleet was one of the odder incidents that occurred during the American Civil War. Even if, like me, you’ve read a great deal about the war, you probably haven’t heard of the Stone Fleet. I’ll say more next week. Meanwhile, enjoy this “line and wash” watercolor taken from an image in Harper’s Weekly magazine.

Best quote of the week:

If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy. James Madison, fourth president of the United States (1751-1836)

Helping those in need

This is my weekly reminder to all of us (especially me) that there are many people who 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 yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.

Jim


Jim Stovall 

www.jprof.com

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: New biography of Agatha Christie; loving alliteration; remembering the Sabbath; newsletter March 16, 2018

 
 

Jim Stow

How the story came about

This is my first adventure into writing a story. Before I began this story, I wrote some poems, some for kids and some a bit deeper, spiritually.

I woke one morning and the name Tommy John Rose was in my head. I didn’t know anyone by that name and didn’t remember hearing that name. I thought I would try writing a story with that name as the prime character. Tommy gets the nickname, Thorn (from his last name), and the resulting title became, Thorn In The Flesh.

As I started writing, different characters appeared. They seemed to pop up on their own. I sort of had a plot in mind but that has completely turned to a different direction. As I write, I continue to be surprised at the turns the story takes and the things the characters urge me to write or correct me. (I have checked with some other writers and they say the same things happen to them. This is not the standard to judge if I am a bit unbalanced although some think other standards should be used to test me.)

I started writing this story for the fun of it and because I felt prompted to do so. I began the story, assuming it might be of interest to my family members. I found some editing groups in my area and have been taking my work to them. They seem to think I should pursue publishing it and making it available to the public.

This last edit session, I submitted a chapter to my group and I received the same comment from the members. They became so involved in reading the chapter, they forgot to edit. I am astonished and, of course, pleased. Because I was so involved with Thorn, this particular chapter was very difficult to write and to edit.

When I began, I was extremely clumsy with my grammar. I’ve learned a lot of the rules and the plot is clearer. My writing is going faster now and I hope to finish by the end of the year. The story is currently about 40,000 words. I expect it to be in the 60,000 to 75,000 word range when it is finished.

New biography of Agatha Christie; loving alliteration; remembering the Sabbath; newsletter March 16, 2018

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (4,088) on Friday, March 16, 2018.

Hi, [FIRST NAME GOES HERE]

Lots of readers have reacted to lots of different things in previous newsletters, and I include many of those reactions in this week’s missive. I have said this many times: I love hearing from you on any topic. And I am happy to share what you say with everyone else. Please keep writing.

My wife and I watched the movie The Darkest Hour this weekend, and that got me to thinking about Winston Churchill, so I started a little digging. I am turning up some interesting things, and I will tell you about some of it next week.


Important: The newsletter usually includes this:

Viewing tip: Click the display images link above if you haven’t done so already.

But that, I am told, has confused some folks, so here’s the point: Make sure that the images in the newsletter are displayed. Some browsers and email programs will display them automatically. For others, you must click on a link to make that happen. However it’s done, please make sure that happens. That’s how we know that you have opened the newsletter, and that’s important. Thanks.


A new biography of Agatha Christie

All of us have heard of Agatha Christie, many of us have read at least one of her books, and some of us have read several. I met a man once who said he had read all 80 of her mysteries, and I do not doubt him. Agatha Christie was, by some calculations, the best selling author of all time. By other calculations, she was the second best, behind only William Shakespeare.

But who was she — really?

Agatha Mary Miller was born in 1890. She married Archibald Christie in 1914, had a daughter Rosalind, and divorced him in 1928. Two years later she married Max Mallowan and stayed married to him for 46 years until her death in 1976. She published her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in 1920 and never stopped writing.

Despite her worldwide fame and gigantic audiences, her life was as mysterious as one of her books. Now a new biography is available to American readers (it has been available to British readers for a while), and the book is getting rave reviews.

The book is Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life by Laura Thompson. Hear what Maureen Corrigan, National Public Radio reviewer, has to say about it here. If you are a Christie fan, you will want to check this out.

So, dear readers, how many Agatha Christie mysteries have you read? And which is your favorite?

 

Remembering the Sabbath

Whether we consider ourselves religious or not, we all observe the Fourth Commandment in some way: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. (Exodus 20: 8)

That doesn’t mean we all go to church or pray or even believe in God (though some of us do all of those things). We don’t even call it the Sabbath. We call it the weekend. Still, it’s the Sabbath, and it’s built into our culture. We think differently about it than we do the rest of the week, and we act differently on that day (whether it’s Saturday, Sunday, or some other day).

The concept of the Sabbath, the weekend, comes from ancient Jewish culture — directly from the Fourth Commandment. It is one of the “gifts of the Jews,” according to Thomas Cahill, author of The Gifts of the Jews, the second volume of his brilliant Hinges of History series. Cahill says there is more to the Sabbath than simply taking a day (or two) each week to honor God.

As important as that is (again, to some but not all of us), the Sabbath is a day of rest, a day of recreation. The Sabbath means not doing what we normally do.

“The connection between both freedom and creativity lie just beneath the surface of this commandment: leisure is appropriate to a free people, and this people so recently free (the Jews being led out of Egypt) find themselves quickly establishing this quiet weekly celebration of their freedom; leisure is the necessary ground of creativity, and a free people are free to imitate the creativity of God. The Sabbath is surely one of the simplest and sanest recommendations any god has ever made; and those who live without such septimanal punctuation are emptier and less resourceful.” The Gifts of the Jews, p. 144

(This is the beginning of a post I have written about the Sabbath. Read the rest of it here.)

Peter Piper and his peck of pickled peppers

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers; if Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.

She sells seashells by the seashore.

English language speakers love alliteration. We use it to do slapstick, such as the Peter Piper ditty above. When we were kids, we would say that and as a result, spit all over each other. We thought it terribly funny.

We use alliteration to learn to pronounce words, as with the She sells . . . line. Say that quickly five or ten times, and see what happens. Chances are, you’ll learn to slow down when you’re speaking — at least for a sentence or two.

Mark Forsyth, of InkyFool.com, and author of several books on the language, cites in his The Elements of Eloquence (pages 10-11) an example of William Shakespeare, our old friend. Shakespeare lifted a passage from Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch’s Lives for some lines in Antony and Cleopatra. From North we get this description of Cleopatra’s boat:

. . . the poop whereof was of gold, the sails of purple, and the oars of silver . . .

Shakespeare takes that and makes it into these alliterative lines:

. . . the poop was beaten gold;

Purple the sails and so perfumed that

The winds were lovesick with them . . .

And that’s not the only instance, Forsyth points out, even in that one passage. “Nobody knows why we love to hear words that begin with the same letter, but we do, and Shakespeare knew it,” he says. Forsyth also says that alliterations don’t really have to make sense or even be accurate. Try these:

curiosity killed the cat

throw out the baby with the bathwater

right as rain

dead as a doornail

He’s got a point. We love it.

What’s your favorite alliteration?

 

Why stand during the Hallelujah chorus?

My item last week on George Frederick Handel mentioned that we traditionally stand during the Hallelujah Chorus, but we don’t know why. That provoked several responses:

Alice C.: “Messiah” was first performed in Dublin in 1742. It was a benefit concert for charity. According to one source, proceeds freed 142 men from debtors’ prison.

A year later, King George II was present at the first performance of “Messiah” in London. Is it said that the monarch fell asleep, and at the opening of the “Hallelujah” Chorus, he rose to his feet, thinking it was his cue. Whatever the reason, he stood, and that has been the custom ever since—to stand during the “Hallelujah” Chorus.

About 100 years later, even the aged Queen Victoria, who sat in her wheelchair as the chorus began, struggled to her feet as the choir sang, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” She said, “No way will I sit in the presence of the King of kings.”

Frank C. and Jean T. also sent in the story about George II. In addition, Frank wrote this about the Messiah oratorio:

The first performance was here in Dublin. Gentlemen were asked not to wear swords and ladies to remove their hoops as a crush was expected. One of the singers was a well-known high-class escort. After she sang. “I Know My Redeemer Liveth,” a man in the audience was so moved he called out to her “for that many sins are forgiven you.”

Giveaways

Art of the Arcane: Ides of March Mystery, Thriller, and Crime Giveaway. Once again, I have teamed up with a number of excellent writers to put together a truly fine selection of books to give away to our email lists and newsletter reades. This one has some great titles in it (including, of course, Kill the Quarterback), and you have an excellent chance of finding a great weekend read. Head on over there right away and see what’s available: https://artofthearcane.com/march-mystery-giveaway/…

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery/

https://www.instafreebie.com/gg/HCqRcAvQK0Pr9IpLcGT4Addictive Suspense and Thrillers Giveaway.This giveaway, which includes Kill the Quarterback, is a carefully compiled selection of high-octane, fast-paced mystery-suspense-thrillers, full of action, suspense and drama from debut to bestselling authors. Some of the books are already available while others are coming soon. Take a moment to check them out and claim any that intrigue you for absolutely free.

A name for this newsletter? (continued)

Suggestions continue to come in for a name for this newsletter — some facetious, some not so:

Robyn K: I like Seventh Inning Stretch.

Jim S.: I saw some of the suggestions for a title for your newsletter and most seem to do a play off of your name. This just gave me a thought for a title: Cookin’ All on the Stove. Corny? Yeah. Just what came to me.

Scott D.: Have you considered Stovall’s Oven? Camp Stovall? Campy Stove for All? (that last one might be a bit thin 😊)

Jean H.: I still like First Inning Press best!

Jenelle T.: If you are still contemplating names for your newsletter using baseball terms, I’d like to suggest The On Deck Circle. To me that area of a baseball field shows fans who is next in the batting order or who is being brought in to pinch hit. It’s an informative place on the field. Just a thought…

Vietnam, Robert McNamara, Daniel Ellsberg, and the Pentagon Papers (continued)

After last week’s item on Vietnam, I received this from Vicki G.: Vietnam was NEVER a declared war-it was a police action! I will be 72 next month and I had a lot of friends that went over there, some under orders & some that volunteered. Some came back and some didn’t, and some were forever changed. Yes, I lost most of my trust in the government and the news media during that long incident, I’m trying to regain that, but it needs to be earned!

Thanks, Vicki.

Dictionary diversions (continued)

We have talked about dictionaries now for a couple of weeks, so this came in from my friend Dan C. in Las Vegas:

Glamping, mansplain, among 850 new words added to Merriam-Webster Dictionary and they also added a new word for people who love words: a wordie! https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/new-words-in-the-dictionary-march-2018. My daughter has long said I was guilty of what is now officially mansplaining. I told her that actually, I was guilty of Dansplaining. I talk to most people as if they don’t understand things…

 

Author! Author! (continued)

Last week I issued a call for any authors among newsletter readers to let me know if you want me to say something in the newsletter about your book. I did not get any responses to that, but the offer is still open. I did hear from a reader to wanted to make a recommendation.

A.J. N.: I’m not the writer, but I enjoy Alison Morton’s Roma Nova series … and the first book is free on Amazon.https://www.amazon.com/Alison-Morton/e/B007JZ1XRS/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1520879230&sr=1-2-ent

Maybe some of your readers would like these? They are part mystery, part thriller, part history and fun to read, with some military aspects and a strong female lead character. I’ve read the first 3 and am about to start the fourth, I hope … if I ever finish the work I’m supposed to be doing today!

First Family of Radio and Television

The Roosevelts, as noted last week, were in command of radio in the 1930s and 1940s. In the early 1960s, the Kennedys had television. Reader and friend Tod responded with this:

As noted below, Jack and Jackie were known as the first family of TV. I don’t know if you recall Vaughan Meader’s hit album, The First Family, in which he lampooned the Kennedys.

Here is the Wikipedia article about the album:
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_First_Family_(album)

Here is the audio of one of my favorite tracks:
https://youtu.be/AtSDzn4qns0

And here is the entire album: https://youtu.be/Xwu8S6Ekx9w

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Blount County Courthouse, Maryville, TN

I haven’t concentrated on landscapes too much lately, so I thought I would try one of the county courthouse building where I live in east Tennessee.

Best quote of the week:

Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth. Albert Einstein, physicist, Nobel laureate (1879-1955)

Helping those in need

This is my weekly reminder to all of us (especially me) that there are many people who 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 yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.

Jim

Jim Stovall 
www.jprof.com

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: Handel, down and out; ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’ up and away; more Shakespeare and Vietnam: newsletter March 9, 2018

 
 

Unsubscribe | 2126 Middlesettlements Road, Maryville, Tennessee 37801 

A new biography of Agatha Christie 

All of us have heard of Agatha Christie, many of us have read at least one of her books, and some of us have read several. I met a man once who said he had read all 80 of her mysteries, and I do not doubt him.

Agatha Christie was, by some calculations, the best selling author of all time. By other calculations, she was the second best, behind only William Shakespeare.

But who was she — really?

Agatha Mary Miller was born in 1890. She married Archibald Christie in 1914, had a daughter Rosalind, and divorced him in 1928. Two years later she married Max Mallowan and stayed married to him for 46 years until her death in 1976. She published her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in 1920 and never stopped writing.

Despite her worldwide fame and gigantic audiences, her life was as mysterious as one of her books. Now a new biography is available to American readers (it has been available to British readers for a while), and the book is getting rave reviews.

The book is Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life by Laura Thompson, and it is getting rave reviews.

Maureen Corrigan, reviewer for National Public Radio, said this about the book:

“No other biography of Christie that I’ve read so powerfully summons up the atmosphere of Christie’s own writing: that singular blend of menace and the mundane. As every biographer must, Thompson takes readers through the familiar milestones of Christie’s life: her idyllic childhood; her first marriage to a penniless aviator and cad; her notorious 11-day disappearance in 1926; and her happy second marriage to archaeologist Max Mallowan.” New Books Revive The Cold Cases Of Agatha Christie And The Golden State Killer : NPR

And the Wall Street Journal had this to say:

“Thompson mines this trove for clues not only to the writer’s inner life but also to her fiction’s recurring themes and enduring appeal. The woman who emerges in this elegant biography―shrewd, elusive, practical, romantic―cannot be defined by the era she immortalized. The queen of the cozy may be, in Thompson’s words, ‘stuck for all eternity at a tea-party in a country vicarage, sticking a fork into her seedcake as the bank manager’s wife chokes on a strychnine sandwich,’ but the lasting image here is poignant and fittingly chimerical.” The Wall Street Journal