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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The Evolution of the Pipe Organ

...a beyond the book article for The Great Passion
The protagonist of James Runcie's novel, The Great Passion, is an organist and organ builder. The pipe organ has been referred to as the 'king of musical instruments' due to its size, complexity and power. Though its structure is similar to that of a piano, it has not one keyboard but as many as seven, plus a pedalboard played with the ...

The Freedom Summer Murders

...a beyond the book article for Wade in the Water
In Nyani Nkrumah's novel Wade in the Water, set in the early 1980s, one character's father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan who participated in the (real-life) murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner on June 21, 1964.

The 15th Amendment, passed in 1870, purportedly guaranteed Blacks the right to vote. The ...

The Origins of Female Protagonists in Children's Literature

...a beyond the book article for The Magician's Daughter
Bridget (known as Biddy), the protagonist of H. G. Parry's The Magician's Daughter, grows up on the magical, hidden island of Hy-Brasil, with only her father, the mage Rowan O'Connell, and his familiar, a rabbit named Hutchincroft. She is greatly influenced by the stories of heroines she reads about in her father's library...

Adoption Outcomes for Birth Mothers

...a beyond the book article for Daughter in Exile
Lola, the likeable and resilient protagonist in Bisi Adjapon's Daughter in Exile, finds herself in multiple difficult situations over a matter of years. At one point, pregnant without a partner after her husband dies, she is left to manage a toddler, her grief and an unborn daughter.

An active member of a parish community, Lola looks ...

Cultural Diversity in 15th Century North America

...a beyond the book article for Stealing
Margaret Verble's novel, Stealing, centers around Kit, a young girl who is part Cherokee. Set in the 1950s, she is removed from her home and sent to a Christian boarding school where a significant portion of the students are Native American. Not only are the indigenous children systematically stripped of their heritage but Kit observes ...

Historic Black Communities in the United States

...a beyond the book article for Moonrise Over New Jessup
Jamila Minnicks' debut novel Moonrise Over New Jessup takes place in an all-Black town in 1950s Alabama. Residents are wary of integration, preferring to exist in their own space rather than being left to contend with racism in a white-dominated society. In an interview with The Rumpus, Minnicks explains that she wanted to write about...

Colonialism's Ecological Damage in Cyprus

...a beyond the book article for The Island of Missing Trees
In Elif Shafak's The Island of Missing Trees, Kostas, one of the protagonists, can be described as having an intimate love affair with nature. The other characters, including Kostas's daughter, are often puzzled by his eccentric passion for the Earth and the creatures we share it with. Kostas grew up on the island of Cyprus, and he ...

Writing Residencies

...a beyond the book article for Groundskeeping
In Lee Cole's Groundskeeping, the protagonist is offered a fellowship to take up the (fictional) Harry Crews Cottage writing residency in Florida, and his love interest is the writer-in-residence on their shared college campus in Kentucky. Writing residencies vary greatly in terms of what they entail. Some can be like a free working ...

The Spanish Civil War

...a beyond the book article for The Correspondents
Several of the women highlighted in Judith Mackrell's The Correspondents started their journalistic careers covering the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).

Spain had been in political turmoil for many years before the war; while the country was still officially a monarchy, a 1923 coup had placed Miguel Primo de Rivera in charge of the ...

Sergeant Richard Etheridge's Second Act

...a beyond the book article for Black Cloud Rising
In Black Cloud Rising, David Wright Faladé introduces a true and fascinating historical figure in Sergeant Richard Etheridge. Born in 1842 along the shores of North Carolina's Roanoke Island, Etheridge was raised as the property of John B. Etheridge until the Civil War and emancipation ended his physical oppression. As the Union ...

Phoolan Devi: The Real-Life "Bandit Queen"

...a beyond the book article for The Bandit Queens
In Parini Shroff's The Bandit Queens, Phoolan Devi (pronounced POOH-lann DAY-vee) is a feminist symbol of strength, poise and honor to abused women, her portrait hung high in main character Geeta's home. Devi, known as India's 'Bandit Queen,' is the only real-world figure highlighted throughout the novel. So who exactly was she?

Devi ...

Adult Novels Focusing On Children During World War II

...a beyond the book article for Once We Were Home
Unsurprisingly, stories featuring the circumstances of child or teenage protagonists during World War II tend to appear prominently in the category of young adult literature, with classics like Lois Lowry's Number the Stars existing as staples of historical fiction in schools and libraries all over. But as is the case with Jennifer Rosner...

Houston, We Have a Problem

...a beyond the book article for The Great Displacement
In 2017, Hurricane Harvey dumped more than 50 inches of rain on Houston, Texas. It was the biggest rainstorm in United States history and the third major storm of its kind to hit the city in as many years. Huge swathes of Houston and its surrounding suburbs were submerged. Floodwater laced with toxic runoff, sewage and debris inundated ...

A Quick Tour Through South Australia's Wine Region

...a beyond the book article for Exiles
Jane Harper's third novel in the Aaron Falk series sees the Federal Police agent returning to the fictional town of Marralee, located in South Australia and home to an annual food and wine festival where a woman went missing the previous year. Harper is known for providing evocative descriptions and details for her Australian settings, ...

Chinese Handscrolls

...a beyond the book article for Peach Blossom Spring
The family at the center of Peach Blossom Spring carries a handscroll with them as they flee their home in the Hunan Province of China during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The scroll illustrates a fable, the significance of which grows and changes for main character Renshu over the course of his life. The handscroll has been a form of art...

Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle

...a beyond the book article for When Broadway Was Black
In Footnotes*, Caseen Gaines explores the production of Shuffle Along, the first all-Black musical to become a runaway success on Broadway. The show's appeal and popularity are credited in part to the talents of songwriting team Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, who had a history of collaborating that predated their exceptional work on ...

Tidal Pools

...a beyond the book article for Life Between the Tides
Tidal pools are pockets of saltwater that exist in the intertidal zone — the area in which the ocean meets the land. They are formed due to the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun, as well as the centrifugal pull of the Earth as it turns, which draws the water in gentle waves around the globe. Tides vary around the world ...

Hungry Ghosts in Art and Culture

...a beyond the book article for Hungry Ghosts
Kevin Jared Hosein's title Hungry Ghosts has its origin in Taoism, Hinduism and Buddhism. According to the Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, hungry ghost, or preta "literally means 'one who has gone away from here' and is used to indicate the disembodied spirit of a dead person, especially during the first ten days after ...

The Soviet Atomic Bomb Project

...a beyond the book article for Atomic Anna
In Atomic Anna, the protagonist Anna Berkova is the Soviet Union's top nuclear scientist. Collaborating with famed German chemist Otto Hahn at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry in Berlin, Anna helps discover nuclear fission, the reaction which serves as the basis for nuclear power. As World War II begins, Anna escapes Germany and...

Edgar Allan Poe and Gothic Fiction in 19th Century Philadelphia

...a beyond the book article for A Mystery of Mysteries
By 1838, Edgar Allan Poe had earned a reputation as a sharp literary critic and skillful editor while based in Richmond, Virginia. To make the most of his talents, he had to move to a bigger and better arena. Boston was the center of book publishing, and New York led the nation in daily journalism and newspapers. But the magazine trade ...

The Spread of Indigenous American Foods to Europe

...a beyond the book article for On Savage Shores
One of the more flavorful influences of the New World on the Old in the age of Christopher Columbus was the impact Indigenous Americans had on the food of Europe. This occurred as part of what is popularly known as the 'Columbian Exchange,' or the general mixing of goods and culture (as well as disease) between Indigenous peoples in the ...

Missing People in the U.S.

...a beyond the book article for What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez
The number of active missing persons cases in the U.S. has declined steadily since 1997. This is due in large part to improvements in connectivity and communication, with cell phones and other handheld devices making it considerably easier to track a missing person's potential whereabouts. While this decline is cause for celebration, it ...

The Johnson–Jeffries Riots

...a beyond the book article for Caste
In Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson describes how, in a caste system, challenges to the superiority of the dominant caste can produce 'an epic existential crisis.' This is particularly true for the people situated at the bottom rung of the dominant caste group (in the United States, working class or impoverished ...

The Music and Writing of Sasha LaPointe

...a beyond the book article for Red Paint
Sasha LaPointe, the author of Red Paint: The Ancestral Autobiography of a Coast Salish Punk, is an established musician, poet and writer of nonfiction who holds an MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts. According to her website, she draws inspiration from her Indigenous background (from the Upper Skagit and Nooksack Indian tribes...

Dignitas and Death with Dignity

...a beyond the book article for In Love
In her book In Love, Amy Bloom's husband, Brian Ameche, decides to end his life prematurely, before his Alzheimer's disease becomes too debilitating.

Being Americans, they first explored taking advantage of laws in the US allowing physician-assisted suicide, also known as death with dignity. This option first became available in ...

Naturalist Ernest Harold Baynes

...a beyond the book article for Unlikely Animals
In Unlikely Animals, Clive Starling pals around with a hallucination of Ernest Harold Baynes, a real-life figure sometimes called the American Dr. Dolittle. Through his deep reverence for animals, Baynes helped save bison in America, educated the public about songbirds and befriended all manner of creatures.

Born in Calcutta in 1868 ...

Chivalry and the Black Prince

...a beyond the book article for Essex Dogs
In Dan Jones' novel Essex Dogs, readers see fictionalized portrayals of royalty and knights from the point of view of the foot soldiers under their command in the early years of the Hundred Years' War (a series of wars interspersed with truces between the French and English that began in 1337 and lasted for 116 years). Far from the ...

The Healing Properties of Tea

...a beyond the book article for Spice Road
Spice Road, the debut novel by Maiya Ibrahim, features the Shields, a group of warriors sworn to protect the desert city of Qalia from magical beings and monsters. These warriors are gifted with magical abilities to perform their duties, but these powers only manifest when they drink misra, an ancient tea gifted to the people of Qalia. ...

A Brief History of Feminist Organizing in Spain

...a beyond the book article for The Wonders
A significant part of Elena Medel's The Wonders is devoted to the feminist awakening of the character Maria. She grows up in a poor neighborhood during Spanish dictator Francisco Franco's rule in the 1960s and early '70s, a time of strict gender roles. As Spain moves out of the Francoist era and comes to a new threshold of feminist ...

The Life, Work and Trial of Oscar Wilde

...a beyond the book article for The New Life
Born in 1854 Dublin to a pair of writers — a father who was a well-known surgeon but also published works on architecture and Irish folklore, and a mother who wrote poetry under a pseudonym — Oscar Wilde went on to himself become an acclaimed poet, playwright and novelist, though his tragic fate overshadowed his literary and ...

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