Beyond the Book Articles

Beyond the Book Articles

For every book we review, we also write a "beyond the book" article that focuses on a cultural, historical or contextual topic related to the book. You can browse by category below, or use the search box at the top of the page (check "Article").

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Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)

...a beyond the book article for The Paris Hours
A number of real historical figures play tangential roles in The Paris Hours, which is set in Paris in 1927. One of these is Gertrude Stein, a writer known for her poetry and the quasi-fictional memoir she penned about her life in Paris with her longtime partner, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933). But Stein may be even better ...

Anne Hathaway and Hamnet Shakespeare

...a beyond the book article for Hamnet
Little is known about Shakespeare's family, names and birth dates aside — and even names are tricky. Though commonly referred to as Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare's wife may have actually been named Agnes, according to a will left by her father. O'Farrell makes the decision to use the name Agnes in her novel Hamnet, but she references ...

Ariadne in Greek Mythology

...a beyond the book article for Ariadne
In her novel Ariadne, Jennifer Saint retells events from the life of the mythological title figure. In Greek mythology, Ariadne is known for helping the hero Theseus slay the Minotaur — a beast who was the offspring of Ariadne's mother and a bull — and find his way out of the Labyrinth, the maze beneath her father's palace. In...

Sterilization or Genocide? Eugenics in North Carolina

...a beyond the book article for The Unfit Heiress
In The Unfit Heiress, Audrey Clare Farley sets the case of San Francisco socialite Ann Cooper Hewitt against the backdrop of the American eugenics movement. In the age of eugenics, which lasted approximately from the 1920s to the 1940s, 30 states embraced laws allowing involuntary sterilization. North Carolina was one of the worst, partly...

Books About Choosing (or Not Choosing) Motherhood

...a beyond the book article for The Nine Lives of Rose Napolitano
Over the past couple of decades, it's become more socially acceptable to talk and to write about the complexities of motherhood. It's also become less taboo to acknowledge—as Rose does in The Nine Lives of Rose Napolitano by Donna Freitas—that motherhood is not the right choice for every woman. The following books articulate, ...

The Evolution of Air Travel and Airport Security

...a beyond the book article for The Last Flight
The action in Julie Clark's novel The Last Flight begins as two women decide to switch identities at an airport and each board the other's flight. One of the two airplanes crashes into the ocean before reaching its destination.

In 2019, over 4.5 billion trips were scheduled on commercial airplanes worldwide, and 1.1 billion of these ...

Graham Greene's The Quiet American

...a beyond the book article for The Quiet Americans
The Quite Americans by Scott Anderson takes its name and inspiration from a highly popular 1955 spy novel by Graham Greene called The Quiet American.

Henry Graham Greene (1904-1991) was an English novelist, short story writer, journalist and playwright whose writing often focused on moral ambiguities set within political contexts. ...

The Guatemalan Civil War

...a beyond the book article for Monkey Boy
The narrator of Francisco Goldman's autobiographical novel Monkey Boy, like Goldman himself, was a journalist who reported on the Guatemalan Civil War. The brutal war began in 1960 and lasted a total of 36 years. Over 200,000 were killed or 'disappeared,' more than 600 villages were attacked or completely destroyed by the army and 150 ...

Why Hindu Gods Have Multiple Arms

...a beyond the book article for Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line
While investigating a series of missing children taken from an unnamed Indian slum, Jai and his friends Pari and Faiz, the central protagonists in Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, come across many pictures and iconography depicting Hindu gods. Here are some brief insights into the mythology surrounding a handful of these deities.

...

Kurdish Women Fight for Freedom

...a beyond the book article for Daughters Of Smoke & Fire
Kurdistan is a mountainous region that includes parts of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Armenia. The Kurds' territory was first partitioned between the Ottoman and Safavid Empires in the 17th century. The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne at the end of World War I divided the region into its current configuration. Despite its geographic size and a ...

The Quaker Clearness Committee

...a beyond the book article for What Comes After
Throughout What Comes After by JoAnne Tompkins, Isaac Balch meditates on how his Quaker religion might help him come to terms with the murder of his son, Daniel. Paramount in Quakerism is the belief that a person's relationship with God is an independent matter. In keeping with this, much of the community's spiritual work is carried out ...

Village de L'Est and Hurricane Katrina

...a beyond the book article for Things We Lost to the Water
When the Vietnamese family depicted in Things We Lost to the Water arrives in New Orleans, they move into an apartment building called Versailles located in the eastern part of the city. The setting is based on the real-life Versailles Arms public housing project in the neighborhood of Village de L'Est, which attracted a large Vietnamese ...

Exophonic Authors

...a beyond the book article for Whereabouts
Jhumpa Lahiri wrote her novel Whereabouts in Italian, a language she learned in adulthood, and later translated it into English. Many authors have at some time made the decision to become exophonic (to write in a language other than one's native tongue), whether for personal, artistic, practical or political reasons.

The author who is ...

Top of the Pops

...a beyond the book article for Utopia Avenue
David Mitchell's novel Utopia Avenue centers around a fictional British pop band in the turbulent years of 1967 and 1968. Acts popular in both the United States and Britain included the likes of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Doors, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Who, the Supremes, the Byrds, the Kinks, Aretha Franklin… and ...

Creative Writing MFA Programs

...a beyond the book article for The Plot
The Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing is a graduate-level degree earned by students who seek to pursue work as authors, editors, playwrights, or to teach at the college level. As of 2019, there were more than 200 Creative Writing MFA programs according to Poets & Writers' MFA Index, of which 158 were full-time residency and 64 low-...

The Origins of Islam in Pakistan

...a beyond the book article for Homeland Elegies
In Homeland Elegies, author Ayad Akhtar explores Pakistani characters' relationships to Islam. The roots of Islam in the area now known as Pakistan can be traced back almost as far as the birth of the religion itself. As early as the 7th century, Arab armies attempted to spread Islam to the Indian subcontinent, but it took centuries ...

La Bestia: A Perilous Journey for Migrants

...a beyond the book article for We Are Not from Here
In Jenny Torres Sanchez's young adult novel We Are Not from Here, three Guatemalan teenagers embark on a dangerous journey to the United States, part of which takes place on top of La Bestia (The Beast). This is the commonly used name for the train that spans the length of Mexico frequently boarded by migrants seeking to bypass ...

Myasthenia Gravis

...a beyond the book article for The Lady's Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness
In her memoir The Lady's Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness, Sarah Ramey mentions a litany of so-called mysterious illnesses, some of which are widely known—lupus, Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis—and others that may be less familiar to readers. I was surprised to see her mention a relatively unknown...

John Wycliffe and Lollardy

...a beyond the book article for Revelations
In Mary Sharratt's historical novel Revelations, the protagonist is tried for heresy when suspected of preaching the tenets of Lollardy, a medieval religious movement that deviated from the Roman Catholic Church's approved doctrine.

At the beginning of the 16th century, Roman Catholicism was the dominant religion in Europe, led by a ...

Early Anesthetics

...a beyond the book article for The Girl in His Shadow
In The Girl in His Shadow by Audrey Blake, Nora and Daniel use diethyl ether, referred to simply as 'ether,' to render a patient unconscious in order to perform a surgical procedure on him. While the procedure is ultimately successful, the characters are still unsure of the exact effects of the drug. Nora and Daniel's study of and ...

Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon

...a beyond the book article for The Arsonists' City
Located on the Mediterranean Sea, tiny Lebanon has the highest per capita population of Syrian refugees in the world, hosting an estimated 1.5 million who have fled from its war-torn neighbor. To put this in perspective, Lebanon is about half the size of Massachusetts with a population of just under eight million as of 2019. It has long ...

Black Americans in Paris

...a beyond the book article for The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
In The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, Opal Jewel finds solace in Paris when her music partner, Nev Charles, has become increasingly unreliable due to an opioid addiction.

It begins at Versailles with a charity fashion show designed to raise money for the palace's restoration, where celebrity attendees include Stephen Burrows, one of the ...

Mauna Loa, the World's Largest Active Volcano

...a beyond the book article for The Color of Air
Mauna Loa comprises more than half the landmass of the Big Island, the largest in the chain of islands that make up the state of Hawaii. The world's largest active volcano, it stands at 13,678 feet above sea level but reaches an astonishing 30,000 feet from the seafloor. To put this into perspective, this makes Mauna Loa's total height ...

Real-Life Forgers of World War II

...a beyond the book article for The Book of Lost Names
While Eva, the gifted young Jewish forger in Kristin Harmel's The Book of Lost Names, may be a fictional character, the work she did and the risks she took were realities during World War II. Two of the more notable forgers — heroes who saved hundreds of Jewish lives — were Adolfo Kaminsky (1925-) and Alice Cohn (1914-2000).

...

The Ethics of Human Enhancement

...a beyond the book article for Livewired
In Livewired, David Eagleman is bullish on the prospects for human enhancement. He's not alone. In a 2016 Pew research report, David Masci notes that 'humanity may be on the cusp of an enhancement revolution.' Those in favor of human enhancement, generally known as transhumanists, believe, according to Masci, that 'science will allow us ...

Caribbean Immigration to the United States

...a beyond the book article for Saint X
In Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin, one of the main characters is a Caribbean immigrant working as a taxi driver in New York City. While the island depicted in the novel is fictional, people hailing from the Caribbean make up a large portion of the immigrant population in the U.S.

The individual islands in the Caribbean are all distinct in...

Classical Music and the Cultural Revolution

...a beyond the book article for Swimming Back to Trout River
In Swimming Back to Trout River, Dawn and Momo are united by their love of music during the turbulent years of the Cultural Revolution, particularly Western classical music. There is a special significance attached to a bust of Beethoven within the novel. Beethoven was seen as a revolutionary symbol throughout 20th century China, since ...

Open Adoption in the United States

...a beyond the book article for Other People's Children
Around 140,000 children are adopted in the U.S. each year. This equates to nearly 100 million Americans having some experience of adoption within their immediate family. While the process was once shrouded in secrecy and stigma for many, it is much more commonly discussed and celebrated today. In fact, many U.S. agencies now encourage ...

A History of the Vegas Showgirl

...a beyond the book article for Paradise, Nevada
Dario Diofebi's novel Paradise, Nevada takes a look into the world of the Las Vegas working woman, including the iconic Vegas showgirl. The last traditional showgirl extravaganza, 'Jubilee,' was shut down in 2016 after a 34-year run, pushed out by competition from other entertainments catering to more modern and family-friendly tastes. ...

Elizabeth Peratrovich and the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945

...a beyond the book article for Of Bears and Ballots
In Of Bears and Ballots, Heather Lende reflects on the contributions of Elizabeth Peratrovich to Alaskan history during a community event celebrating the activist's life.

Elizabeth Peratrovich (1911-1958) worked tirelessly to achieve equality for Alaskan Natives. Those familiar with Peratrovich likely know of her role in passing the ...

Artificial Intelligence and the Future of the Human Race

...a beyond the book article for Day Zero
Science fiction tends to reflect deeper moral issues and fears confronting a society at the time it is written. Storytelling is a safe method to express anxieties about the state of the world. It allows authors and readers an opportunity to explore the murkiness of uncertainty in a non-threatening manner. Reading and discussing sci-fi is ...

Reading About Dictionaries and Lost Words

...a beyond the book article for The Dictionary of Lost Words
Pip Williams was prompted to write The Dictionary of Lost Words, a novel including historical detail about words omitted from the Oxford English Dictionary, by reading Simon Winchester's 1998 book The Professor and the Madman and wondering where women were in the story of the dictionary. Below is some background on Winchester's book as ...

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