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 ...

The Origins of Trick-or-Treating

...a beyond the book article for How to Pronounce Knife
In the story 'Chick-A-Chee!' from How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa, an immigrant father takes his children trick-or-treating on Halloween in the hope that they will integrate better into the local culture.

Around the world today, treat-or-treating is very much seen as an all-American activity. However, its origins can...

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)

...a beyond the book article for Buses Are a Comin'
In his memoir Buses Are a Comin', Charles Person explains that he got involved with the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s-1960s through fellow students at his school, Morehouse College, which is one of the country's oldest Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

The HBCU designation was created by the ...

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...

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe

...a beyond the book article for The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman
In Julietta Henderson's The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman, the title character is a 12-year-old boy who wants to perform his stand-up comedy at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Also known as 'the Edinburgh Fringe' or simply 'the Fringe,' this event started out as an unofficial offshoot of the Edinburgh International Festival in Edinburgh...

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 ...

The 1992 "Pepsi Riots" in the Philippines

...a beyond the book article for The Son of Good Fortune
In The Son of Good Fortune by Lysley Tenorio, a friend of Maxima and Excel's named Roxy recalls the 1992 Pepsi Riots in the Philippines, saying, 'Pepsi kills, believe me.' When Excel comments that he has never heard of the riots, Roxy retorts, 'Know your history.' Excel, who was born on a plane between the Philippines and the U.S., ...

Monstrously Powerful: Patriarchy and the Demonization of Women

...a beyond the book article for The Gilded Ones
In a letter addressed to readers in The Gilded Ones, Namina Forna writes that the book is 'at its heart…an examination of patriarchy. How does it form? What supports it? How do women survive under it? And what about people who don't fall into the binary? Who thrives and who doesn't?' Deka and all the women of Otera live in a society...

"Women Who Survived" from Classical Mythology

...a beyond the book article for Starling Days
In Starling Days, Mina mulls over an idea for an academic work that she dubs 'The Women Who Survived.' Her starting point is a list of female characters in classical mythology who survive the stories in which they appear. She observes that most women in Greek and Roman myths are ultimately killed or transformed in some way, and that few ...

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 ...

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-...

Rhinebeck, New York

...a beyond the book article for All Adults Here
Clapham, the idyllic Hudson Valley town in which Emma Straub sets All Adults Here, is fictional, but the author places it in a very real geographical setting. Her characters mention real places, including Rhinebeck, 'one town north' along the Hudson River, which bears some resemblance to Straub's description of Clapham.

Rhinebeck is a ...

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 ...

Muskiiki: The Four Sacred Ojibwe Medicines

...a beyond the book article for Firekeeper's Daughter
In Firekeeper's Daughter, Daunis is interested in how her fellow Ojibwe tribe members use medicinal herbs. She chooses to study pre-med courses and plant biology at college so that she may go on to study ethnobotany through an indigenous lens, and also learns directly from her tribe's Elders.

Traditional medicine is an important part ...

Conflicts Over Credit: CRISPR and HIV

...a beyond the book article for The Code Breaker
When a scientific breakthrough is achieved, it can be a moment of major celebration. Depending on the implications of that advancement, previously unknown individuals can find themselves vaulted into the highest levels of celebrity. Yet, the challenge of deciding who is truly responsible for the scientific advancement can be contentious. ...

Tigers in Chinese History and Culture

...a beyond the book article for How Much of These Hills Is Gold
In C Pam Zhang's How Much of These Hills Is Gold, signs of and references to tigers consistently appear around its characters, although they are presumed to be in the American West where (at least in the real world) native tigers don't exist. For example, Lucy, the main character, mentions that her mother draws a tiger in the doorway of ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

Federal Raid on Mingo County, West Virginia

...a beyond the book article for Death in Mud Lick
In 1988, Mingo County, West Virginia appeared in headlines across the country, with reports of staggering corruption in the southwest part of the Mountain State. There were allegations that elected officials paid for votes, firefighters set property ablaze for insurance payouts, and mom-and-pop trailer shops peddled pot, LSD and PCP.


Creation Myths

...a beyond the book article for Genesis
Woven into Guido Tonelli's Genesis are origin myths from different cultures and religions throughout history. He frames his work using the first book of the Hebrew Bible and often brings up creation myths from around the world. So what are these myths, and what do they have in common?

In the creation story found in the Hebrew Bible ...

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 ...

Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran

...a beyond the book article for Man of My Time
Dalia Sofer's novel Man of My Time spans from the mid-20th century to the present day. Set in both Tehran and New York City, it encompasses the decades leading up to the 1979 Iranian Revolution—when Iranians from both Islamist and leftist organizations overthrew the Western-backed Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi—as well as the...

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 ...

Growing Support for Translated Literature

...a beyond the book article for Winter in Sokcho
In 2007, the University of Rochester launched Three Percent, an online database that aimed to strengthen support for translated literature within the US market, supplementing the work of their translation press, Open Letter — publisher of Elisa Dusapin's Winter in Sokcho. The project was a response to reports at the time that a mere...

Mabel Dodge Luhan

...a beyond the book article for Second Place
Rachel Cusk reveals through a note at the end of her novel Second Place that the book is based on Lorenzo in Taos, a 1932 memoir by Mabel Dodge Luhan recounting the time the author D.H. Lawrence spent with her in Taos, New Mexico. Luhan, whose full name was Mabel Ganson Evans Dodge Sterne Luhan (as the result of multiple marriages), was a...

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 ...

Russia's Government Resigns: What Does it Mean?

...a beyond the book article for Between Two Fires
On January 15, 2020, Vladimir Putin proposed constitutional changes that would diminish the power of future Russian presidents. Notably, the change would also increase his ability to control Russia from behind the scenes when term limits force him to step down in 2024, when he will be 71.

A little context. Before becoming the most ...

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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