This weekend I read All the Answers by Michael Kupperman. It’s a fascinating graphic novel about Michael grappling with his father’s previous fame and pain. His father, Joel Kupperman, was a child celebrity in the 1940s and ’50s, and the fallout thereafter, into Micheal’s life, was not only painful but confusing. It’s wonderfully drawn, capturing the feel of the 1940s and the feeling of memory, of reconstructing from scant information. Parts of it look half-remembered, or places where a newspaper clipping stands though there is no personal memory. As a historian reading this, I recognized these sensations in the art.

By Benjamin L. Clark

Front cover of The Library Book by Susan Orlean
Front cover of The Library Book by Susan Orlean

The Library Book by Susan Orlean — This book was on some great end-of-year lists last year and for good reason. I had it on my shelf for a while waiting for “someday,” and, well, someday came. It’s an amazing book. Is it very, very long-form journalism, is it popular history? A twist on True Crime? Where does that line even exist? It doesn’t matter. Deeply, passionately researched, this is a love story. …

So, it was natural my cousin sent someone to me when they found something odd while removing an old chimney in an old house in Nebraska. “What is it?” they asked. It was a little card with some words and letters and numbers printed on it. The longer I looked, the less sense it made. I had no idea. In fact, it’s been a few years since they asked, and I still have no idea.

Running across this photo again I’d kept for reference, I got back in touch with the finder and asked if he had any answers —…

JOHN LE CARRE ( David Cornwell) English Writer 1931- by N.C. Mallory (CC)

John le Carré (David Cornwell) passed away in 2020. In his recent memoir, he says that every one of his books was titled The Pigeon Tunnel at some point in the early stages. He finally nails a book worthy of the title with this memoir of his writing life, his time working for British Intelligence, and between the lines, a sense of the man behind the stories of espionage and intrigue.

Le Carré tells stories about meeting Arafat, about fellow author and intelligence operative Graham Greene, and letting Robert Redford borrow his Swiss ski chalet, which he’d built with the…

It’s been 20 years since Charles M. “Sparky” Schulz died. It’s hard to believe it was that long ago. As tributes and remembrances pour forth today, I can’t help but remember that day too.

Charles M. Schulz in 1956. Photo by Roger Higgins, Library of Congress

I remember well when I read the news, though it was otherwise unremarkable for me. I was a Sophomore at York College in York, Nebraska. As was my routine, when I was “home” on campus for the weekend, I walked across the tree-lined grounds to the library when it finally opened after lunch to read the Sunday newspapers.

It was cold, and the trees were long…

The Kincade Fire had been burning for a couple of days and the National Weather Service alerted us that 70 mph winds were on the way. I live in Santa Rosa, California, and my home was becoming surrounded by mandatory evacuation zones. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) announced they were cutting power in more areas, too. Homes and businesses were starting to burn. As my wife and I talked about evacuation, I started thinking about my books.

My book collection as it stands today is … I like to think of it as a carefully curated distillation of the mighty…

Yes, in fact, it is. And James Crumley wrote it.

Author James Crumley in 2005, via Wikipedia

October 12, 2019, would have been writer James Crumley’s 80th birthday had he lived to see it. He died in 2008. Long before then, his books had developed not only a cult following but critical acclaim as well, and today, they still don’t have the recognition they have long deserved. I don’t remember when I found Crumley, or how. He was probably referenced somewhere when I moved to Montana on a list of Montana writers or perhaps on a list of crime writers everyone should know. Either way, it would…

What does the term ‘hoist the black flag’ by H. L. Mencken mean?

The quote, from H. L. Mencken’s 1919 Prejudices (First Series), is in full: “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”

To start with hoisting a black flag really buries the lede! To “hoist the black flag” is a reference to piracy. The Jolly Roger’s history is well covered on Wikipedia here[1], and also shows the many documented designs used, including the use of plain black flags or even red flags used by pirates. Why pirate’s flags came to be called “The Jolly Roger” is likely because…

ARC Cover of the latest, Kopp Sisters On The March by Amy Stewart

If you’ve missed the previous four Kopp Sisters series novels by Amy Stewart, you’re missing out. That said, don’t let that stop you from starting now.

Book five of the series, Kopp Sisters on the March works as a standalone novel. After all, this book is not only about the trio of sisters from early 20th Century New Jersey who have braved many trials and tribulations, but also about Beulah Binford. A “wicked woman” if there ever was one. Or was she?

Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know?

Beulah’s very real, historical infamy became a pop culture phenomenon, a meme…

I saw it was Clive Cussler’s birthday today so I thought I’d share a review I wrote years and years ago for The Chase, the first book of his historical thriller/mystery series starring Isaac Bell, a private detective of considerable private means. So, here it is, from the archives:

A cold-blooded bank robber has had astounding success throughout the western states and the Van Dorn Detective Agency has been hired by the US Gov’t to stop him. Van Dorn sends their best — Detective Isaac Bell, an independently wealthy detective who is hyper-competent and whose intuitions are never wrong.


Benjamin L Clark

Writer, museum curator, bibliophile

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