Tag Archives: Sherlock Holmes

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.

A writer who didn’t want to be edited, the ‘real’ Moriarty, and your good words: newsletter, Nov. 23, 2018


Thanks for the many emails about the words that we use and the ones we don’t hear enough. This week’s word, of course, is gratitude, in line with the Thanksgiving holiday that Americans have celebrated this week. All of us have much to be thankful for. I do my best to remind myself of that every day, including getting into the habit of associating gratitude with regular activities or events.

For example, every time I walk out into my garden, I remind myself of my good fortune to be living at this particular spot on God’s green earth and how beautiful and miraculous it all is. I do that every time — even if I know I am facing a tough set of weeds (God made those, too) that need to be defeated.

Much of this past week has been spent trying to know and understand shape note singing. I am writing a chapter about it for a book, and I will explain more about that soon.

Meanwhile, I hope that your week has been a good one — one of gratitude — and that your weekend is filled with joy.

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.

Muriel Spark, the writer who couldn’t abide being edited

Muriel Spark, the author of 22 novels including The Prime of Miss Jean Brody, always wanted to be in full control of her writing, and once she achieved a measure of fame and recognition, she got it. She refused to be edited unless she could have the final say in the matter.

Just as The Prime of Miss Jean Brody was about to appear in 1961, her publisher, Macmillan, sent out a press release that included an edited version of an interview that she had given the year before. The essay was titled How I Became a Novelist, and she had seen the written version and edited it herself. It was sent to Books and Bookmen, a literary journal of the day.

The editor was delighted with the essay and put her picture on the cover of the issue in which it ran.

Spark was less than totally pleased. The editor had “updated” the text but had not gained her approval for the changes he had made. Spark confronted him with an ultimatum: pay a small sum to a charity of her choice for his indiscretion. He refused. Spark wouldn’t let it go. It was a matter of “principle and justice.” She threatened to sue for twice the amount she had suggested, plus cost. The editor finally relented and paid.

Before 2018 slips away, we should recognize that this year is the centenary of Muriel Spark’s birth. She has been the subject of several remembrances. The best article about her work that I have found, however, was one written by novelist Thomas Mallon for the New Yorker in 2010, which you can find here.

Spark’s fame became international after the publication of Jean Brody and particularly the movie version of it in which Maggie Smith won an Academy Award in 1969.

Spark is a puzzling and fascinating writer. Her work does not fit into any genre. There’s usually crime and mayhem in her stories, but she is neither a crime writer nor a mystery novelist. Instead, she is a master stylist and a manipulator of characters she creates. Her characters never get away from her; they are always under her control, and she makes them do odd and sometimes surprising things for the reader.

Mallon writes:

Spark was never a creator of character; she was a trickster of circumstances, a writer whose narrative voice speaks from the past or present or future at her own whim and will. She never foreshadows action when she can simply foretell it, with as much cruelty or merriment as she pleases. This is how Miss Brodie’s most hapless student is shown answering a question, incorrectly, at the end of Chapter 1: “Mary Mcgregor, lumpy, with merely two eyes, a nose and a mouth like a snowman, who was later famous for being stupid and always to blame and who, at the age of twenty-three, lost her life in a hotel fire, ventured ‘Golden.’ ”

Spark was a dedicated and prolific writer but a difficult and complex personality. Her life, even after she achieved wealth and fame, was never easy. She took her craft seriously, and if you read any of her books, you know that she was a master. They are slim volumes with lean, sparkling prose, where every word counts.

And she was probably right. An editor, even a good one, likely would not have helped.

Another essay on Spark’s work: Snapshots of Muriel Spark – Margaret Drabble | Literaturein the Times Literary Supplement.

Martin Stannard’s Muriel Spark: The Biography goes into depth on just about every aspect of her life and her writing.

The real Moriarty, Sherlock’s nemesis? A new book makes the case for George Boole

Okay, Sherlockians, most who have studied this weighty matter have concluded they know what real life character Arthur Conan Doyle based his detective on: Scottish doctor Joseph Bell, one of Doyle’s medical school instructors.

But where did Professor Moriarty, the “Napoleon of crime” in Sherlock’s words, come from?

A new book says it was mathematics pioneer George Boole, the originator of symbolic logic. The book is New Light on George Boole by Des MacHale and Yvonne Cohen, due out soon. A short review by Peter Lynch in the Irish Times says this:

A thorough comparison between Conan Doyle’s fictional Moriarty and the real Boole reveals numerous persuasive similarities. Both characters held chairs at small provincial universities; both won appointments on the basis of outstanding early work; both had interests in astronomy; the two were of similar appearance – an illustration of Moriarty in Conan Doyle’s work bears a striking resemblance to a photograph of Boole and may well have been based on it. Source: Could Sherlock Holmes’s true nemesis have been a mathematician?

The real-life Boole, however, was no criminal. Far from it. Born too poor even to attend grammar school, he taught himself mathematics, and his writing on it earned him a professoriate at the Queen’s College in Cork. He was a highly moral family man who devoted much time to religious philosophy as well as his mathematics.

His ideas and formulations have contributed much to the way that modern computers work.

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

PBS Frontline confronts the Facebook Dilemma

Some people spend hours a day on Facebook; others have never seen it and actively avoid it. Some people have strongly partisan views, one way or another, which may color their view of Facebook.

In my view, it doesn’t matter whether or not you “like” Facebook, or whether you are red or blue or any other political color. There is a problem with Facebook that goes beyond personal preferences and political partisanship. That problem is presented in PBS Frontline‘s excellent two-part presentation on The Facebook Dilemma. I hope that you watched it. If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend it.

(I stay about three weeks behind on most things, and this is typical. The series was aired in late October, and I just got around to watching it this week.)

What the series tells us is that the people who run Facebook do not recognize the problems and are unwilling to make decisions to deal with them. All of the Facebook executives who talked with the Frontline reporters — there were six — essentially said the same thing, often using the same phrases. They were “slow to recognize” the problems that the Russian involvement in the 2016 election caused. They are going to have a “continuing conversation” about what needs to be done.

Most disturbing of all, I think, is that Mark Zuckerberg, founder and chief executive of Facebook, continues to spout an “idealistic” vision for his company — that it can change the world for good — when the purpose of Facebook is not to change the world but to make money for its investors.

Zuckerberg and his cohorts need to grow up — or they need to put an adult in the room — and confront the behemoth that they have created rather cling desperately to a pie-in-the-sky vision.

Points and Clicks, Nov. 23, 2018

Edinburgh, a mecca for crime fiction?

British author Paul French has an excellent article on CrimeReads.com about Edinburgh, Scotland as a mecca of crime and detective fiction. The first association you’re likely to make in this regard is between Edinburgh and Ian Rankin‘s booze-laden detective John Rebus. But there is more to Edinburgh’s literary crime wave than Rebus, and French does a good job in laying out his case. Edinburgh is a special place for me in that I lived there in the late 1970s for seven months while I researched and wrote my doctoral dissertation. It’s a magical place. Take a look at French’s article: Crime and the City: Edinburgh | CrimeReads.

Criminal, the podcast

An excellent podcast series that you should try is Criminal. It’s one of the best that you will hear. The host is Phoebe Judge, and it’s produced by North Carolina Public Radio and part of Radiotopia. You are likely to hear anything associated with crime on these 30-to-40 minute episodes. Start with episodes 88 and 89, Cold Case and Shadowing Sheila. This is a two-part story about a woman who, years after the fact, decides to investigate the murder of a college friend. The result is that she becomes a professional detective, one who gets more cases than she can accept. The stories in all the episodes I’ve listened to are compelling.

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Alice K.: I enjoyed your column this week, especially the words that have been on your mind. Another word that came to my mind is honor. We don’t hear much about honor anymore, or courtesy. In some cultures, a man would give a guest his last piece of bread, going hungry himself, rather than bring dishonor on his family by offering nothing to a guest. When I see the way people drive, the way they behave in stores on Black Friday, or even the behavior of politicians in Washington, it seems that honor and courtesy are extinct.

Dan C.: A comment on Vince’s comment (from last week’s newsletter):
The one thing Elementary could have done that would have kept it in line with the original would have been to have Joan Watson a military surgeon who served in Afghanistan and switched careers because of the losses she had on the battlefield. As I am sure you know, John Watson was a veteran of the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1880).

Kathy R.: The word I most think about and miss today is compromise. For some reason, it has become a “dirty” word in group dynamics. Neither side should completely win – each side getting some of what they want leads to more harmony. Neither side is completely happy and neither side feels totally left out. We could all use a bit more compromise.

Robin K: Ahhh! Baseball. We were a baseball (and football) family. My brother played in Little League. I wanted to, but girls weren’t allowed to back then. So my dad met with city officials and got a softball league for girls my age started. He took my brother and I to many Washington Senators games (yes, I’m old). But between the Senators up and leaving and a player’s strike, my dad stopped paying attention to pro baseball. He was indignant that these players who made more money than he ever would had the nerve to strike because they wanted even MORE money. It does seem obscene that athletes are paid so much, when teachers, nurses, and my dad, a juvenile probation officer – people who had a bigger impact on others – got paid peanuts in comparison.

And about words: My niece talks a lot about kindness. She recently started a streaming channel (whatever that is) and says she’s trying to build a community that is kind to each other, tolerant, and accepts people as they are. So I think kindness is a word we need to think about, and live into, more.

Gary H.: I read with interest Anna Goldfarb‘s essay, “How to be a More Patient Person.” I have decided to give her suggestions a try. My wife, who was a teacher like you, constantly reminds me that “cussin” is not a proper stress control technique. Thanks, and keep up the good work.


Finally . . .

This week’s pen and ink: Muriel Spark (caricature)

Next week: Bret Hart. I’ll have more to say about this interesting and important 19th century American writer next week.

Best quote of the week:


Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first. Charles de Gaulle, French president (1890-1970)

Helping those in need — in California, especially

Raging fires in California have killed more than 40 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 Wesleyhere).

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 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: Ring Lardner, the Grand Review, and a book illustrator who had to keep apologizing; newsletter Nov. 16, 2018



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A legacy that began with veterans, a giant in the land of Sherlock, and GKC on what makes a good detective story: newsletter, Nov. 9, 2018

 This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,020) on November 9, 2018

My reading and browsing bring me into contact with so many good stories, unknown (to me) items, and interesting people that I don’t have time to write about them all (and to test your patience and indulgence) in this newsletter. Consequently, I am trying out something new this week: Points and Clicks. These are short items about things and people I have encountered that you might be interested in, and I’ll try to include a link if you would like additional information. We’ll see how that works.

Our remembrance of veterans and Veterans Day continues this week with the story of Josephine Herrick, whose work with veterans lasted far beyond her lifetime.

Meanwhile, I hope, too, you’ve had a wonderful week and are looking forward to a great weekend.


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.

Josephine Herrick: her World War II legacy for veterans continues today

When it comes to paying a lasting tribute to veterans, few people can match the work of Josephine Herrick.

Herrick was a professional photographer in the 1930s and 40s with a successful studio in New York City when the United States went to war in 1941. She organized a group of 35 fellow-photographers to take pictures of soldiers who passed through New York; these snapshots, more than 900 in all, were then sent back to the soldier’s family with a hand-written note to help maintain the connections as the soldiers and their families faced the difficulties of separation and uncertainty.

It was a small act of kindness that elicited many expressions of gratitude from the soldiers and their families.

Herrick then spent a good part of her war photographing the part of the Manhattan Project, the effort to make the atomic bomb, that took place in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. But she did not forget about the soldiers

Once the soldiers were engaged in combat, casualties returned to the U.S., and Dr. Howard Rusk, a rehabilitation pioneer, invited Herrick to the army hospitals to photograph the veterans. He had an idea that went beyond just the picture-taking, however. He believed that teaching the wounded veterans photography could be a therapeutic rehabilitation tool.

Herrick bought into the idea, and so did the War Department.

Portable darkrooms were set up at veterans hospitals around the country, and volunteers were recruited as teachers. Veterans everywhere got the chance to learn photography. The program morphed into the War Service Photography and after that to the Volunteer Service Photographers. Herrick became its executive director and was determined to keep the program going after the war.

The therapeutic value of photography was so well established that requests came to the VSP to start programs for the terminally ill and physically and mentally challenged. Herrick spent nearly three decades after the war as executive director of the VSP as it expanded into all sorts of areas where learning photography would be helpful.

Herrick died in 1972. She received a very short obituary notice in the New York Times; she never married and left no immediate heirs. What she left, however, was a massive legacy for photography and for veterans that continues today. Check out the Josephine Herrick Project website.

Additional information on Josephine Herrick can be found here.


A seven-foot guy and his co-author wander into Sherlockandia

Writers who would venture into the land of Sherlockandia — using the characters, time, place, or story construction created by Arthur Conan Doyle — must understand and practice these two principles:

— Nothing much can change.

Something must change.

That is, fans of Sherlock Holmes will be ready to pounce if you change or remove any key element that they feel defines the original characters. But, if you don’t change something, they’ll dismiss you as a pale imitator — and undoubtedly not nearly as good as the original. Sherlock Holmes and his circle are tightly bound constructions of Conan Doyle’s genius. Yet, their ability to fire the imagination with possibilities is almost without equal in modern literature.

It’s a fascinating challenge, but many writers have taken it up.

Some of the most recent are co-authors, Anna Waterhouse and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They’ve recently published their second novel in the pastiche of Sherlock Holmes titled Mycroft and Sherlock. Their first, Mycroft Holmes, was published in 2015 and gathered some rave reviews. The books use Sherlock’s brother Mycroft as the central character and send him off in some directions that Sherlock never went.

And, yes, that’s Kareen Abdul-Jabbar, the basketball hall-of-famer. Abdul-Jabbar retired from basketball in 1989 and has been devoting himself to causes he favors and to writing ever since. Waterhouse is a professional scriptwriter, and they make an excellent combination according to this recent interview with author Lyndsay Faye in CrimeReads.com (a site well worth visiting):

As both of us have expressed before, we have different strengths. I am a history aficionado. She likes research. I like storytelling in terms of plot. She likes writing dialogue. We both like interpersonal stories, and we’re both interested in making a bit of social commentary when and if we can. It also allows us to show how societal problems and successes had their roots in earlier societies. For example, Dr. Watson was wounded in Afghanistan, and right now American, British and Canadian troops are still fighting there. As for “easy”….no, it’s never easy, not then, and not now. But there’s a lot of joy in it.

Focusing on Mycroft gives the authors plenty of room to operate by selecting what characteristics the two brothers share (deductive powers for one, although Mycroft doesn’t show them off as much as Sherlock) and where they differ (Mycroft is more empathetic with those around him than Sherlock). It also lets the authors view Sherlock through Mycroft’s eyes — the eyes of an older, more mature brother.

These are books that open-minded Sherlock fans will likely enjoy. The authors have taken their responsibilities to “keep things the same but change some significant” seriously and have pulled it off with panache.


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


The detective story, according to G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton, the great British author of the early 20th century, liked detective stories, read them, and wrote them.

He had the formula down pat. It went like this:

The bones and structure of a good detective story are so old and well known that it may seem banal to state them even in outline. A policeman, stupid but sweet-tempered, and always weakly erring on the side of mercy, walks along the street; and in the course of his ordinary business finds a man in Bulgarian uniform killed with an Australian boomerang in a Brompton milk-shop. Having set free all the most suspicious persons inthe story, he then appeals to the bull-dog professional detective, who appeals to the hawk-like amateur detective. The latter finds near the corpse a boot-lace, a button-boot, a French newspaper, and a return ticket from the Hebrides; and so, relentlessly, link by link, brings the crime home to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

– G.K.Chesterton
Illustrated London News May 6, 1911. Source: Chersterton.org: The Detective

The above quotation comes from the website of the American Chesterton Society, a deep and intensive repository of material by and about the man that George Bernard Shaw labeled “a colossal genius.”

Chesterton, most famously for modern minds, is the author of the Father Brown detective series, but he also wrote detective novels outside the series. He even wrote an article on how to write a detective story. It starts out like this:

Let it be understood that I write this article as one wholly conscious that he has failed to write a detective story. But I have failed a good many times. My authority is therefore practical and scientific, like that of some great statesman or social thinker dealing with Unemployment or the Housing Problem. I do not pretend that I have achieved the ideal that I set up here for the young student; I am, if you will, rather the awful example for him to avoid. None the less . . . (https://www.chesterton.org/how-to-write-detective/)

That’s what you get when you start to read Chesterton.


Points and Clicks: Bill Mauldin, Laura Ingalls, and others of note

Bill Mauldin

Cartoonist Bill Mauldin gathered up many of his World War II cartoons in a book titled Upfront, which was published in 1946 (as noted in a previous post). In 1947, he published another collection that was far more acerbic about the experiences of many of the former GIs when they returned home. Mauldin again gave voice to the feelings and the frustrations of the enlisted men — the guys who really fought the war — as they faced being ignored, disrespect, and general lack of understanding about what they had been through. The book is Back Home and worth a look. Americans tend to forget about their wars — and their warriors — quickly after they are finished.

Laura Ingalls

Laura Ingalls, the aviatrix (not her distant cousin Laura Ingalls Wilder, the writer), was the toast of the aviation world in the mid-1930s. By late 1941, however, she was in jail, convicted of being an unregistered German agent. Ingalls set many records and achieved many firsts in her flying career. In 1934 she had completed a 17,00-mile solo flight, then the longest ever made by a woman.

Ingalls used her fame to advance her political views, which were deeply sympathetic to Nazi Germany. She joined the America First campaign and then approached the German head of the Gestapo in the U.S. to find out what she could do to help the Nazi cause. She received payments from Germany, and after the fall of France in 1940 planned to go to Europe to help the Nazis there.

She was rabidly anti-Semitic and often ended her speeches with a Nazi salute. She continued her activities after Germany declared war on the U.S. She served 20 months in jail but staunchly kept to her views. In 1950 she applied for a presidential pardon but was denied. She died in 1967. You can read more about her in Women of the Far Right by Glen Jeansonne.


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Mike P.: Jim, not to overuse a common phrase but well-deserved THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE even though it was in the navy. Your shout out for Veterans Day could not have been better for recognizing two of the best examples of military service that are recognized by so many veterans. Bill Mauldin hit home with so many grunts in the foxholes doing the everyday jobs that kept the military running. The story of Winston Churchill shows the life of a soldier who experienced both victory and failure. They both made him a stronger man and a better soldier. Thank you. Have a good Veterans Day.

A.J.N.: Thank you for another fascinating newsletter.  I’m forwarding a copy to my friend Sabrina, who is very interested in WWII history, especially all things Churchill.  We went together to see the recent movie about Churchill, and also the one about D-Day … she said I’m the only one of her family & friends who will go to “those boring historical movies” with her.  Of course, I don’t think they’re boring at all, and always enjoy spending the afternoon with her.  We’ve been friends since seventh grade.  My personal favorite movie of the past few years is Hidden Figures, also historical, but about the early days of NASA.  I’ve always been a science nerd and sci-fi fan, & would have loved to be an astronaut … or, better yet, a crewman on the Enterprise.

Dan C.: Two things. First, Thank you for your service. Second, my condolences for your choice of branch.  

You may think we overdo it a bit now but it is a far cry over the reception we received in the 60’s and 70’s. It was mostly negative (except for the odd WWII or Korean Vet who would buy me a drink in NYC bars) back then. I’ll take the overdone over what we experienced back then. 


Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (caricature)

Best quote of the week:

Those who compare the age in which their lot has fallen with a golden age which exists only in imagination, may talk of degeneracy and decay; but no man who is correctly informed as to the past, will be disposed to take a morose or desponding view of the present. Thomas Babington Macaulay, author and statesman (1800-1859

Helping those in need

Hurricanes on the coasts and a tsunami in the Pacific. All over and in between, people in this world need help. This weekly reminder to all of us (especially me) that the needs are never completely met takes on special urgency.

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 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 predecessor to Austen, Eliot, and the Brontes; Bill Mauldin; and why bees exist: newsletter, Nov. 2, 2018




Farewell, Philip Roth; Mencken on the language; how we got Sherlock, and more: newsletter, May 25, 2018

This newsletter was emailed to everyone on Jim’s email list (3,081) on May 25, 2018


Thanks to all who wrote or commented on Facebook about the dulcimer that I made and showed off in last week’s newsletter. I am going to start on another one before long.

Sadly, for the second week in a row, we have had to say farewell to a great and well-known American writer Philip Roth.  Last week it was Tom Wolfe. And speaking of writers, this week’s newsletter features a couple of greats: Henry Louis Mencken and Arthur Conan Doyle.

Have a great weekend. 

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.

Mencken and the American Language

H.L. Mencken, writer and journalist, comes to mind when the American public or American culture needs criticism and a bit of biting satire. He knew how to do that and did it better during this 40-plus-year as a newspaper columnist and magazine editor than anyone else.

He did it so well that we forget that there was more to the man than his cigar-chomping, beer-drinking, fiery typewriter wit. Much more.

Mencken took a scholar’s and a collector’s interest in the English language, especially as it was used by Americans. He was fascinated by the language, beginning with the way Americans differed from the English. He began to take note of these differences early in his writing and editing career, and this notice morphed into a study of the language itself — the American language.

Mencken wrote several newspaper columns about his interest in the language and the items he had noticed in his wide reading and in his discussions with people in Baltimore — a hotbed of innovative language use.  In the second decade of the 20th century, Mencken decided it was time for someone to become a modern-day Noah Webster. That someone would be him.

The American Language was published in 1919 by Alfred A. Knopf, one of its earliest titles.

It sold well and received excellent reviews. It was revised three times during Mencken’s lifetime and has been revised since his death.

Unlike Mencken’s acerbic views of American politics and the collective ignorance of the American electorate, Mencken celebrated the American language and came to its defense when it was attacked, particularly by English critics. There’s an excerpt below the signature of this email.

The American Language is pure Mencken and a delight to read. While you can purchase a copy from Amazon, it is available free through Google’s Project Gutenberg.


How the Impressionists got their name

The Impressionists didn’t start out trying to be impressionists.

They began in France in the 1870s as a group of painters who did not like the way that the French cultural czars controlled what the public saw. The French academics dictated that paintings should take on a certain look and that they should be executed in a certain way. Paintings that did not follow these rules were excluded from many exhibitions.

Some of the Paris-based artists of the day had a different vision. They believed in broad, free brush strokes in the manner J.M.W. Turner and Eugene Delacroix, and they believed that getting out of the studio and painting where the subjects were could enhance their work. They were the urban sketchers of their day.

They also had the temerity to organize their own exhibitions. The first one was in April 1874. Once they showed their work, the critics took aim and fired away. One of those critics was Luis Leroy, a journalist, critic, and humorist of the day. He took the opportunity to make fun of the exhibition, seizing on the title of one of Claude Monet’s works, Impression, Sunrise.

He wrote a fictional dialogue between viewers of the paintings that include this:

Impression—I was certain of it. I was just telling myself that, since I was impressed, there had to be some impression in it … and what freedom, what ease of workmanship! Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than that seascape.

His article was derisively titled The Exhibition of the Impressionists.

Derisive or not, the name stuck, and a century and a half later we know — and honor — this group of painters for their vision, creativity, and courage.

Be careful what you make fun of.


Philip Roth, 1933-2018

The death of Philip Roth on Tuesday (May 22) removes one of the great names from the living giants of American letters. In fact, many consider him to be the last of those giants, and they may well be right.

Obituaries in the New York TimesWashington Post, and many other publications have praised and analyzed his work. Some have included Roth’s great critics, speaking their minds about the inadequacies of his work.

Roth had three great interlocking themes in his work: the sexual drive of males (some males, not all); Jews and Jewishness in America; and American and Americanism. His fourth theme — or maybe it was just a device — was himself. He loved taking part in his own novels, playing with his and the reader’s imagination about whom he was really writing about.

Roth didn’t mind making his readers uncomfortable, and he ran into some of the consequences of that early in his career. In 1962, at a Yeshiva University symposium where he was a guest author, he was denounced repeatedly by questioners for a story he included in Goodbye, Columbus. The confrontation almost became physical when Roth tried to leave at the end of the program and was surrounded by shouting students.

The confrontation — fully described here: Roths visit to YU changed career — was a seminal event in Roth’s development of a writer and led him to view his own Jewishness more critically than he had ever done.

If you were (or are) disturbed by Roth’s work, you should read Matthew Rosza‘s article in Salon.com (On hating and loving Philip Roth: How I learned to appreciate the book that repulsed me | Salon.com). Rosza doesn’t particularly like Roth either but understands the value of his work.

Roth’s clear, precise prose and his honesty about himself, his work, and his view of the world made him one of the era’s great writers.

RIP, Philip Roth.



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

The Amazon gift card raffle that we included in the newsletter for the last couple of weeks has ended, but I haven’t been notified about the winners yet. When I have their names, I will publish them. We’ll likely be doing another raffle like this one next mon


How Sherlock Holmes came to be – a gap in the market

“It’s all so obvious,” Holmes said after a long draw from his pipe.

Holmes’ eyes pierced through my sideways glances. He was expecting an answer. I didn’t have one.

“Really, my dear friend, you must see it,” he said, his voice mixed with delight and exasperation. “Look closely at the market. Tell me what’s not there.”

Now, I was completely flustered. All of Holmes’ attempts to educate me — all his efforts to increase my powers of discernment — had come to nothing in this moment. Once again, I had to admit to defeat by his intellect.

Okay, so Arthur Conan Doyle didn’t write that, but I’m not the first to try my hand at a bit of Holmes-like dialogue.

The question of the moment is: How did Sherlock Holmes come into existence?

The answer: Look at the market and tell me what’s not there.

That’s what Doyle did in 1886. Doyle was a practicing physician and on his way to becoming successful, but he was determined to become a writer. He had been selling his stories for a number of years, and his reputation as a writer was growing. Doyle also read widely, both the newspapers of the day and the fiction that was being published. His reading included detective stories.

But, according to his biographer Martin Booth (The Doctor and the Detective: A Biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), most of the stories did not make much sense to him. The plots were thin, and they relied on coincidence or hidden clues for their resolution. What wasn’t there was a clever character who could solve a crime with the evidence at hand — evidence that would also be given to the reader. Doyle was determined to create a “scientific detective” who could reason his way through a situation and come to a logical conclusion.

“In short,” Booth writes, “Conan Doyle shrewdly spotted a gap in the market . . . .” (p. 104)

Sherlock Holmes was thus born, and his first appearance occurred in the novella A Study in Scarlet, which was published in 1887 in Beeton’s Christmas Annual.

True crime podcast, in a different direction

If you are looking for a true-crime podcast without all the blood and guts of much that’s in the genre, try The Grift. The Grift is 

. . .  a show about con artists and the lives they ruin. Best-selling author and New Yorker writer Maria Konnikova takes us to the darker side of human nature and deceit. Ten stories about card sharks, cult leaders, art forgers, impostors and more. Why do we fall for them time and time again?

Con artists figure out what we want and give it to us — as well of fleecing us at the same time. Listen to Episode 2 about the art forgeries. This is a good one. (And the episodes run about 30-40 minutes, which is another draw.)


Kathy R: 
I love reading your letters each week and always take the time to savor them. Your dulcimer looks beautiful.  I have been playing a mountain dulcimer since 2002.  We have a group that meets weekly – as much playing as support for each other. I hope you are able to belong to a group that meets on a regular basis.  Dulcimer festivals are also fun. Check out the Gateway Dulcimer Festival in Belleville, IL. Thanks again for your posting each week.


Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Henry Louis Mencken


Best quote of the week:

“I have learned, by some experience, that virtue and patriotism, vice and selfishness, are found in all parties, and that they differ less in their motives than in the policies they pursue.”

William H. Seward, U.S. Secretary of State, governor, senator (1801-1872) 


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 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 man who wanted every book; the quintessential English detective; and the first American crime novel; and more: newsletter May 18, 2018



Here’s an excerpt from H.L. Mencken’s The American Language. It’s from the section on the Characters of American:

The Characters of American

American thus shows its character in a constant experimentation, a wide hospitality to novelty, a steady reaching out for new and vivid forms. No other tongue of modern times admits foreign words and phrases more readily; none is more careless of precedents; none shows a greater fecundity and originality of fancy. It is producing new words every day, by trope, by agglutination, by the shedding of inflections, by the merging of parts of speech, and by sheerbrilliance of imagination. It is full of what Bret Harte called the “sabre-cuts of Saxon”; it meets Montaigne’s ideal of “a succulent and nervous speech, short and compact, not as much delicated and combed out as vehement and brusque, rather arbitrary than monotonous, not pedantic but soldierly, as Suetonius called Caesar’s Latin.” One pictures the common materials of English dumped into a pot, exotic flavorings added, and the bubblings assiduously and expectantly skimmed. What is old and respected is already in decay the moment it comes into contact with what is new and vivid. Let American confront a novel problem alongside [Pg027] English, and immediately its superior imaginativeness and resourcefulness become obvious. Movie is better than cinema; it is not only better American, it is better English. Bill-board is better than hoarding. Office-holder is more honest, more picturesque, more thoroughly Anglo-Saxon that public-servant. Stem-winder somehow has more life in it, more fancy and vividness, than the literal keyless-watch. Turn to the terminology of railroading (itself, by the way, an Americanism): its creation fell upon the two peoples equally, but they tackled the job independently. The English, seeking a figure to denominate the wedge-shaped fender in front of a locomotive, called it a plough; the Americans, characteristically, gave it the far more pungent name of cow-catcher. So with the casting where two rails join. The English called it a crossing-plate. The Americans, more responsive to the suggestion in its shape, called it a frog.