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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Vietnam War Draft Lottery

...a beyond the book article for Crossroads
One of the ethical debates presented in Jonathan Frazen's Crossroads concerns the United States' use of the draft to supplement its troops during the Vietnam War.

Conscription, commonly known as the draft in the United States, is a term of mandatory enlistment in national service, generally in a country's military. It's been employed ...

The Toronto Raptors

...a beyond the book article for Fight Night
In Fight Night, grandmother and granddaughter Elvira and Swiv are both big fans of the Toronto Raptors, a Canadian basketball team that competes in the NBA's Eastern Conference Atlantic Division. The novel has a few autobiographical elements, as author Miriam Toews lives in Toronto in a household that includes her own mother (whose name ...

The Muisca

...a beyond the book article for Infinite Country
In Patricia Engel's novel Infinite Country, several of the main characters draw inspiration from their Muisca ancestors and legends. The Muisca, also known as the Chibcha, are an indigenous civilization that thrived in present-day Colombia before Europeans colonized the area. Bogotá, Colombia's capital city, is situated on an ancient...

The Fall of Constantinople

...a beyond the book article for Cloud Cuckoo Land
Parts of Anthony Doerr's novel Cloud Cuckoo Land take place during the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 CE. Constantinople (now known as Istanbul) had long been an important trading hub by the time it was officially established by Roman emperor Constantine the Great in 330 CE. The ruler moved his government to the city, and it ...

The Gardner Museum Heist

...a beyond the book article for The Last Mona Lisa
The Last Mona Lisa is a fictionalized account of the real 1911 theft of the famous da Vinci painting of the title. Despite extensive investigation, it took more than two years for the painting to be recovered and returned to the Louvre. Other art heists don't have such happy outcomes: Sometimes stolen paintings are damaged or destroyed, ...

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778)

...a beyond the book article for Piranesi
In Susannah Clarke's novel Piranesi, the titular character lives in a fantastical, labyrinthine home filled with endless hallways, rooms, statues and even an ocean. It's a remarkably inventive setting, and, as our savvy First Impressions reader Lorraine D. noticed, the protagonist's name is a reference to a likely source of inspiration ...

Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)

...a beyond the book article for The Cold Millions
The plot of Jess Walter's novel, The Cold Millions, revolves around the actions of the newly-formed Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in Spokane, Washington in 1909.

The groundwork for the IWW was laid by the American Federation of Labor (AFL), a union formed in Columbus, Ohio in 1886. That organization's purpose was to ensure ...

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 ...

Death in Venice: Book vs. Film

...a beyond the book article for The Magician
Which is better — the book or the film? That question is often debated when a much-loved book is turned into a movie. Death in Venice — the novella written by Thomas Mann and published in 1912 — is perhaps the author's best-known work, not least because it was made into a film by the great Italian director Luchino ...

The 1918 Flu Pandemic

...a beyond the book article for The Pull of the Stars
Often referred to as the Spanish Flu, the 1918 flu pandemic is one of the deadliest viral outbreaks the world has ever seen. Hitting its peak at the tail-end of World War I, record-keeping was poor by modern standards, but it is estimated that some 500 million people (about a quarter of the world's population at the time) became infected ...

Simone Weil (1909-1943)

...a 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 13th Amendment and Contemporary Slavery in the US Prison System

...a beyond the book article for Chasing Me to My Grave
As we all know, slavery was abolished in the United States after the Civil War when Congress passed the 13th Amendment. What many might not recognize is that the 13th Amendment did not ban slavery entirely. In fact, it explicitly states an instance in which slavery and involuntary servitude are permitted — when people are ...

The Indian Relocation Act of 1956

...a beyond the book article for Lightning Strike
In Lightning Strike, William Kent Krueger includes an author's note about the Indian Relocation Act of 1956 (also known as Public Law 959 or the Adult Vocational Training Program), which features as a tragic backdrop to the overall story. According to Krueger, the program was 'the brainchild of a group of men appointed by President Harry ...

The Electrification of Rural Ireland

...a beyond the book article for This Is Happiness
The personal events of Niall Williams's This Is Happiness are sparked by the impending arrival of electricity to Faha, a tiny hamlet in rural Ireland. The gradual electrification of this largely rural country was a decades-long process that extended over much of the middle part of the 20th century and that has been called the Quiet ...

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 ...

The UK Independence Party (UKIP)

...a 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 ...

Franz Kafka and "The Hunter Gracchus"

...a beyond the book article for Harrow
In Joy Williams' Harrow, two characters discuss Franz Kafka's 'The Hunter Gracchus,' a short story written in 1917 and published posthumously in 1931, along with a document that was marked as a fragment, which appears to be an addendum to the story.

Franz Kafka was born into a well-to-do Jewish family on July 3, 1883 in Prague. He had ...

Eshu: The Yoruba God of Mischief

Eshu (also spelled Esu, and also known as Elegba) is a powerful deity in the Ifa religion of the Yoruba people of Western Africa. He is an orisha, a figure that can be a representation of human or divine characteristics or concepts, as well as aspects of nature, such as rivers. A primordial orisha, Eshu represents mischief. However, he is...

The Parchman Ordeal

...a beyond the book article for The Deepest South of All
Richard Grant's The Deepest South of All examines the aftermath of slavery in the Deep South through the lens of Natchez, Mississippi. One clear inference that can be made from his Natchezian narratives is that the past must be confronted before it can lay dormant in its grave. Unfortunately, history is often written with its authors ...

The Nutcracker

...a beyond the book article for The Turnout
Megan Abbott's The Turnout, a novel about two twin sisters who are dancers, begins at the start of The Nutcracker season. Apart from being a universally beloved show with deep roots in American ballet, The Nutcracker is also the Durant School of Dance's main moneymaker: 'Every year, their fall enrollment increased twenty percent because ...

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)....

Overcoming Arkoudaphobia: The Rarity of Bear Attacks in North America

...a beyond the book article for Best Laid Plans
Bears terrify a lot of people. So much so that 'arkoudaphobia' — the fear of bears — is a common phenomenon.

However, the danger bears pose to people in North America is massively embellished in the public's collective psyche. Fantastical representations of bears in literature, television and film have exacerbated ...

The Legacy of Slavery at Monticello

...a beyond the book article for My Monticello
In the novella that makes up the second half of My Monticello, survivors of a white nationalist uprising seek shelter at Thomas Jefferson's estate. Jefferson's former residence and plantation located just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and currently operates as a museum dedicated to the third U.S. ...

Books That Address Infertility

...a beyond the book article for Flesh & Blood
In Flesh & Blood, author N. West Moss writes of her struggles with infertility, detailing her emotional reactions to miscarriages and an illness resulting in a hysterectomy. The feelings, experiences and circumstances surrounding an inability to conceive are multifaceted and varied, and so are the works of literature that have addressed ...

Skinship in Korean Culture

...a beyond the book article for Skinship
'Skinship' is a term commonly used to describe physical affection in Korean culture. It can be read as a portmanteau of the words 'skin' and 'kinship.' In the eponymous story from her book Skinship, Yoon Choi puts a different spin on the word's agreed meaning and uses it in an unexpected way. In the last scenes, instead of any kind of ...

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...

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