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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Women in Translation

Beyond the book article for Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
Translated fiction is something of a rarity in the English-speaking world. It's been widely reported that only about three percent of books published in the United States were originally written in a language other than English – a statistic that led to the creation of the University of Rochester's Three Percent database, a valuable...

Operation Babylift

Beyond the book article for Butterfly Yellow
In April 1975, thousands of American troops, civilians and South Vietnamese refugees were frantically airlifted out of Saigon, representing the end of American military involvement in the Vietnam War. The images of the rescue were seared into the public consciousness.

The U.S. government felt that something good had to come out of all ...

The Seine

Beyond the book article for The Seine
In her fifth book, The Seine: The River that Made Paris, New York Times foreign correspondent Elaine Sciolino explores the history of one of the world's most famous rivers and its impact on the capital of France.

The 777-kilometer-long (483 mi) river runs from its source near Dijon in northeastern France, through Paris, toward its ...

The Luddite Protests

Beyond the book article for Frankissstein
In one narrative thread of Jeanette Winterson's Frankissstein, Mary and Percy Shelley and Lord Byron discuss the rebellion of the Luddites, a secret organization in early 19th century England that destroyed textile machinery in protest of automated looms taking jobs from hand-weavers. The uprising began on March 11, 1811, in Nottingham ...

Exploiting the Unknown: Entertainment in the Georgian Era

Beyond the book article for Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen
A taste for blood and an unfortunate willingness to exploit those considered 'Other' are not wholly unique to the Georgian period, but their prevalence during the era cannot be ignored. By 1726, when the subject of Dexter Palmer's novel Mary Toft; or, the Rabbit Queen, claimed to have given birth to a rabbit, the concept of difference as ...

The American Roadside Motel

Beyond the book article for The Sun Down Motel
In Simone St. James' thriller The Sun Down Motel, a roadside motel in upstate New York serves as the location for a ghost story that takes place in alternating timelines occurring in the years 1982 and 2017. It's hardly surprising that the author would place a motel at the center of this spooky suspense novel, as motels have something of ...

Older Characters in Fiction

Beyond the book article for Olive, Again
The elderly are often underrepresented in popular culture, and where these characters do exist, they are often one-dimensional. The most effective depictions of elderly people demonstrate that age does not limit one's ability to have an interesting inner life, new adventures, and/or the chance for romance. In short, they resist the notion...

Simone Weil (1909-1943)

Beyond the book article for What Are You Going Through
What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez takes its title from the writing of Simone Weil, an influential French philosopher and intellectual whose work was unusual for incorporating both left-leaning politics and religious traditions.

Weil was born in Paris on February 3, 1909 to agnostic Jewish parents. Her family was well-off and ...

The Legend of Pardes

Beyond the book article for The Orchard
In David Hopen's novel, The Orchard, the main action is set in motion by a discussion of the Jewish legend of Pardes. In the tale, four celebrated sages enter the orchard, but only one emerges unscathed by his encounter with the divine.

The word 'Pardes' comes from the ancient Persian word pairidaeza, which refers to an enclosed garden...

The Apple in Religion and Myth

Beyond the book article for Truthtelling
The unnamed mother in Lynne Sharon Schwartz's story 'Apples' rejoices when her picky daughter delights in a new kind of apple that makes her 'elated and energetic and enthusiastic.' The mother is so impressed she mentions to the pediatrician that the apple might be magical.

This character is certainly not the first to attribute ...

A Brief History of A Christmas Carol and its Adaptations

Beyond the book article for Marley
A Christmas Carol, the first and best known of Charles Dickens' five Christmas Books, was published on December 19th, 1843. On publication, it was considered a critical and commercial success and served to bolster Dickens' reputation among his peers and the public at a time of creative and financial uncertainty.

The book drew on the ...

Graham Greene's The Quiet American

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 United East India Company

Beyond the book article for The Devil and the Dark Water
In the prologue of The Devil and the Dark Water, Stuart Turton writes:

In 1634, the United East India Company was the wealthiest trading company in existence, with outposts spread across Asia and the Cape. The most profitable of these was Batavia, which shipped mace, pepper, spices, and silks back to Amsterdam aboard its fleet of ...

Instagram

Beyond the book article for Followers
In Megan Angelo's Followers, the protagonist uses Instagram, a photo and video social networking application, to elevate her roommate to the status of 'influencer'—someone who has enough of an audience (aka 'followers') that sponsors will pay them to mention their products or services. Instagram has two million advertisers, and with...

Pre-Columbian Religion in the Americas

Beyond the book article for Black Sun
One of the most spectacular elements of Rebecca Roanhorse's Black Sun is its deep dive into pre-Columbian culture and beliefs. In a stark departure from the usual medieval European landscape used as a foundation in fantasy novels, Roanhorse instead uses the ancient landscape and religions of the Americas as the blueprint for her work. In ...

The UK Independence Party (UKIP)

Beyond the book article for The Constant Rabbit
Jasper Fforde's novel The Constant Rabbit is a not-so-thinly-veiled allegory of racism and xenophobia that takes place in an alternate version of the United Kingdom. The governing party in the book is the UK Anti-Rabbit Party (UKARP), led by Nigel Smethwick, who seems to be based on Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK ...

Somali Resettlement in the United States

Beyond the book article for Somewhere in the Unknown World
Amid ongoing civil war, more than a million Somalis have fled their homeland in recent decades and now live somewhere else. According to UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), Kenya is host to the largest number of Somali refugees, with 256,186, followed by Yemen with 250,500 and Ethiopia with 192,082. Many Somali ...

Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996)

Beyond the book article for Divide Me By Zero
Born in 1940 in Leningrad, Iosif Aleksandrovich Brodsky, known to English speakers as Joseph Brodsky, was a Russian-American poet and Nobel Prize laureate, whose works and life feature heavily in Lara Vapnyar's novel Divide Me By Zero.

Brodsky was raised in poverty; his father had lost his position with the Russian Navy for being ...

10 Important Inventions of Thomas Edison

Beyond the book article for Edison
Thomas Edison was a prolific inventor. He held at least 1,093 patents and constantly invented new things at his famous laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. Of the hundreds of ideas that sprung from his mind, here are 10 of his most important inventions:
  • Electrical vote recorder: This device was Edison's ...

The Sidekick Character in Detective Fiction

Beyond the book article for Fortune Favors the Dead
In Fortune Favors the Dead, being in the wrong place at the right time earns Will Parker the job of assistant to Lillian Pentecost, New York City's classiest and most unorthodox private investigator. Although Lillian's worsening multiple sclerosis is her initial motivation for hiring the younger woman, Will possesses a keen eye and a ...

Books by Filipino Authors for Young Readers

Beyond the book article for My Heart Underwater
Not that long ago, it would have been difficult to find many young adult or middle-grade novels featuring a Filipino or Filipino-American protagonist, let alone Filipino settings and customs as we see in My Heart Underwater. Fortunately, that is no longer the case. 

In 2005, Melissa de la Cruz, best known for her Descendants, Alex...

Animal Assisted Therapy

Beyond the book article for One Night Two Souls Went Walking
Throughout Ellen Cooney's One Night Two Souls Went Walking, there are several key scenes in which our narrator – a hospital chaplain – observes therapy dogs at work. The book comments on the grace and importance of the service these animals provide for patients, from aiding recovery to providing comfort in someone's final ...

Microdot Technology

Beyond the book article for Agent Sonya
In Agent Sonya, Ben Macintyre's account of real-life spy Ursula Kuczynski, several operatives are said to have used microdots, or tiny pieces of film on which miniaturized text is recorded, to smuggle information to the Soviet Union. Still in use today, these diminutive data caches are produced through a specialized photography process ...

Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, and the Writing of Frankenstein

Beyond the book article for In Byron's Wake
Great art frequently evolves among talented people who share ideas with each other and who challenge themselves to greater and greater heights in the presence of fellow creatives. This was the case with one of the most famous works of Western literature, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Devised among her literary companions (including Lord ...

Using (or Not Using) Quotation Marks in Fiction

Beyond the book article for Memorial
A lack of quotation marks around dialogue is a pet peeve for some readers. Yet it seems to be an increasingly popular stylistic choice in literary fiction, and one that Bryan Washington opts to use in his debut novel Memorial. You may have also encountered this approach in books by Jesse Ball, Junot Diaz, Bernardine Evaristo, Kate ...

Libraries and Other Imagined Communities

Beyond the book article for The Book Collectors
In The Book Collectors, a band of Syrian resistance fighters work together to salvage and share books from their bombed-out suburb of Damascus. The book focuses on the protagonists' newfound passion for reading, which helps them cope with the hardships of everyday life during very dark times.

Though it's nice to think that these young...

The Spirituality and Symbolism of Buddhist Art

Beyond the book article for Blue Sky Kingdom
In today's world, art therapy has become an increasingly popular option. According to the American Art Therapy Association (AATA), this experiential treatment 'is used to improve cognitive and sensorimotor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and ...

John Coltrane's Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album

Beyond the book article for An Inventory of Losses
Sarah Schalansky's book An Inventory of Losses introduces readers to an eclectic group of 12 things that no longer exist, from extinct species to ruined castles. But early on, Schalansky notes that sometimes the opposite happens — something is pulled back into public consciousness after a period of dormancy. One of these things is ...

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The Exiles
by Christina Baker Kline

The author of Orphan Train returns with an ambitious, emotionally resonant historical novel.

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