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").

Recent Articles

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The Library War Service

...a beyond the book article for The War Librarian
The War Librarian features quiet, bookish Emmaline Balakin, who, despite the dangers of World War I, chooses to set off on an adventure by serving as a volunteer librarian to American service members. Her new position sends her overseas to a frontline hospital in France where she must contend with surly officers, German bombers and social...

Rent Control in New York City

...a beyond the book article for Stories from the Tenants Downstairs
In Sidik Fofana's Stories from the Tenants Downstairs, gentrification and rent rises pose a threat to the struggling characters living in an apartment building in Harlem. New York City and some neighboring suburban counties operate rent control and/or rent stabilization policies.

Rent control is rare, only applying to about 16,000 ...

Holocaust Refugees and the British White Papers

...a beyond the book article for The Light of Days
'To fight or flee?' This is a question the Polish resistance fighters must ask themselves in Judy Batalion's The Light of Days. As the German army advanced across Europe and persecution of the Jews intensified, those who chose to flee had to decide where to go. As their own countries were invaded, some European Jews emigrated to ...

Birchbark Books

...a beyond the book article for The Sentence
Tookie, the protagonist of The Sentence by Louise Erdrich, works in a Minneapolis bookstore called Birchbark Books, which is owned by Erdrich herself both in reality and this work of fiction. As is shown in the novel, where the author appears as a minor character, the store serves the local community and carries a wide selection of ...

The Oakland Police Department Trafficks a Teenager

...a beyond the book article for Nightcrawling
As she explains in her Author's Note, Leila Mottley based Nightcrawling loosely on real events involving a teenage sex worker who was sexually exploited for months by members of the Oakland Police Department. The girl is known as Celeste Guap in court documents. According to her, she began 'dating' Officer Brendan O'Brien in February of ...

The Real-Life Work of Rabih Alameddine

...a beyond the book article for The Wrong End of the Telescope
In The Wrong End of the Telescope, Rabih Alameddine creates a character that appears to be a stand-in for himself, described from the perspective of the novel's narrator, Mina. Mina paints the character as a friend of hers who has written essays about his experiences with refugees as well as fiction. The author's real-life work parallels ...

Eleanor of Aquitaine

...a beyond the book article for Matrix
In Lauren Groff's novel Matrix, the protagonist Marie (based on 12th century poet Marie de France) spends the majority of her life pining for Eleanor of Aquitaine. This real-life queen of France and England serves as Marie's foil and the source of considerable turmoil, as both women seek to hold and maintain power over their very ...

The Churel

...a beyond the book article for Moth
In Melody Razak's novel Moth, one of the characters is fascinated by the legend of the churel, and the mythological being is mentioned several times throughout the plot.

A churel (also spelled 'chudail,' 'churail' and as other variations) is a staple of South Asian folklore, encountered most frequently in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh...

Anglo-Saxon Law

...a beyond the book article for Dark Earth
In Dark Earth, sisters Isla and Blue attempt to claim protection from a warlord under the laws of sixth century England, while also hiding the fact that they've broken those laws. This part of British history was a time of transition, and the laws of the land were no exception to that. Starting in the fifth century, Germanic peoples ...

The Rise of Vehicular Homelessness in the U.S.

...a beyond the book article for If I Survive You
In 2018, in Seattle's SoDo neighborhood, a woman named Sabrina Tate died inside her RV. She was almost 28 years old. A chronic drug user, Sabrina may have been killed by an infection. Two men living in the same vehicular lot, what was considered a safe space, had died there earlier in the year. Sabrina's parents, who had tried to help her...

Imposter Syndrome

...a beyond the book article for Assembly
Psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes first identified 'imposter phenomenon,' popularly known as 'imposter syndrome,' in 1978. It is characterized by a belief that one's success is accidental. Clance and Imes' research was based on high achieving women who couldn't accept the success they had created and were frightened others ...

Haitian Art

...a beyond the book article for What Storm, What Thunder
In the back matter of What Storm, What Thunder, author Myriam J. A. Chancy cites paintings by Trinidadian artist LeRoy Clarke (who passed away in July 2021) as a major inspiration for her novel. Clarke created a cycle of nearly a hundred paintings about Haiti, many of them depicting the 2010 earthquake. Similarly, Chancy was moved to ...

Abdulrazak Gurnah

...a beyond the book article for Afterlives
Abdulrazak Gurnah, the Tanzanian-born British author of Afterlives, is the 2021 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and the first Black writer to win it since Toni Morrison in 1993. He was awarded the prize 'for his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of colonialism and the fate of the refugee in the gulf ...

Aphasia

...a beyond the book article for Lean Fall Stand
In Lean Fall Stand, the main character suffers a massive and debilitating stroke during a whiteout storm in Antarctica. After being rescued, he returns home to England to begin the long, arduous task of learning to speak again. The medical term for the loss of the ability to understand or express speech is aphasia. It is usually caused by...

Fashion Designer Lucy Duff-Gordon

...a beyond the book article for Inventing the It Girl
In the introduction to her biography of Elinor Glyn, author Hilary A. Hallett acknowledges that one of the biggest challenges she faced in writing the book 'was not to let [Glyn's] many fascinating friends—and the many places they traveled—carry away the narrative for too long.' Among the most intriguing of the secondary ...

The Brothers Karamazov

...a beyond the book article for The Family Chao
The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang is a modern reimagining of the novel The Brothers Karamazov (1879) by Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881). The plot of Dostoevsky's book centers around a family of three brothers — Dmitri, Ivan and Alexei (aka Alyosha) — and the murder of their father, Fyodor Karamazov. As Dmitri ...

The Windrush Generation

...a beyond the book article for All the Lonely People
The protagonist of Mike Gayle's novel All the Lonely People is a member of the 'Windrush generation,' which refers to people from the Caribbean who emigrated to the United Kingdom between 1948 and 1971.

Facing a severe labor shortage after World War II, the British government began encouraging mass immigration from citizens of its ...

Who Is Sallie Mae? A Brief History of Student Lending in America

...a beyond the book article for The Debt Trap
In 1972 the Student Loan Marketing Association, or Sallie Mae as it came to be known, was created as a government sponsored enterprise to provide and manage education loans in the United States.

The conditions for the student loan industry were established much earlier. At the beginning of the 20th century, most families would only be...

Larval Therapy

...a beyond the book article for The Swift and the Harrier
For a novel that focuses on a physician during an incredibly bloody war, The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters is generally not too explicit in describing the treatment of wounds. The passage below is an exception; when main character Jayne's brother suffers a pike wound to the thigh that soon becomes infected, her mentor ...

The Great Spokane Falls Fire of 1889

...a beyond the book article for Fire Season
Fire Season is set in the late 1880s and features a historical backdrop of immense changes — both metaphorical and literal — in Spokane Falls, Washington. It was a time when Washington was seeking statehood and the legitimacy that came along with this designation, and the Great Spokane Falls Fire could have put the territory's...

Stave Churches

...a beyond the book article for The Bell in the Lake
It's no secret that Lars Mytting loves trees. He wrote a novel titled The Sixteen Trees of the Somme (2017), and is known for his international bestseller Norwegian Wood (2015), a nonfiction guide to sources of firewood that gives instructions on how to chop, stack and cure wood for burning. With The Bell in the Lake, he continues with ...

Harlem and the End of the Civil Rights Era

...a beyond the book article for Harlem Shuffle
Harlem, a neighborhood in Upper Manhattan, was a crucial setting during the Civil Rights Era, which spanned approximately 1950 to 1964, arguably culminating with the passage of the controversial Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Great Migration in the early 20th century brought a considerable number of Black residents to the neighborhood, and...

Cassandra of Troy

...a beyond the book article for The Women of Troy
Like most stories and characters from Greek mythology, the exact origin of Cassandra of Troy is unknown, though she may have first appeared as a character in the Iliad, composed around the 8th century BCE, where she is described as 'the fairest of Priam's daughters' and 'fair as golden Venus' (in the English translation by Samuel Butler)....

The Art and Political Imprisonment of Ai Weiwei

...a beyond the book article for 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows
Ai Weiwei is an influential creator, whose career has given rise to a great variety of works in many mediums. Accordingly, describing him merely as an artist does not do him justice, as he wears many hats, being a visual artist, architect, documentarian and writer. Ultimately, all of his work is underpinned with a strong thread of ...

General James Oglethorpe

...a beyond the book article for The Kingdoms of Savannah
In The Kingdoms of Savannah, author George Dawes Green describes General James Oglethorpe as a 'jewel of a man, a rare nonmonster in Savannah history.' Indeed, Oglethorpe was unique in the context of 1700s British imperialism: a champion of the oppressed who fought against the powerful in issues ranging from prison abuse to slavery to the...

Françoise Sagan

...a beyond the book article for The Book of Goose
In Yiyun Li's novel The Book of Goose, narrator Agnès Moreau recollects entering a surprising phase as a 14-year-old author in post-World War II France when a book that she was secretly assisted in writing by her best friend, Fabienne, became a hit and a public curiosity. Fictional Agnès describes the real-life French author ...

Movie Columnist Louella Parsons

...a beyond the book article for Big Red
Louella Parsons (1881-1972) was a pioneer newspaperwoman, a famous movie columnist and, for many years, a principal purveyor of Hollywood gossip to the world. Nevertheless, according to Samantha Barbas, author of an extremely thorough biography of Parsons, it was only in 1949 that she first veered into the realm of scandal by revealing ...

Tiny Reparations Books

...a beyond the book article for Perish
LaToya Watkins' debut novel Perish is published by Tiny Reparations Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House launched in July 2020 with the goal of highlighting diverse voices that are often shut out of mainstream publishing. The project is a joint venture by Christine Ball, senior vice president of the publishers Berkley and Dutton, and...

The Bylina

...a beyond the book article for The Story of Russia
The bylina, an Old Russian form of epic poetry or song, is referenced in The Story of Russia by Orlando Figes, in which the author notes its ideological significance.

The word 'bylina' (plural: byliny) has its origins in the Russian 'byl,' translating as 'that which happened.' Byliny began to be printed and popularized in the 17th ...

The Kumhar Caste

...a beyond the book article for The Earthspinner
In Anuradha Roy's The Earthspinner, one of the central characters is Elango, who, despite his college education, chooses to practice pottery like his ancestors. Elango belongs to the caste of potters known by various names including Kumhar, Kumbhar, Moolye, Odari and Kulal. As per India's caste system, since Elango was born into this ...

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