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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 - a great tool for preparing for a book club discussion or for simply enhancing your reading experience. Search for topics of interest in our search bar, or browse the sample articles - companions to recently published books in both hardcover and paperback - below.

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1970s Hangouts in New York City

Beyond the book article for Memories of the Future
Among other things, Hustvedt's novel Memories of the Future is a vivid portrait of what it was like to live in New York City as a young woman in the late 1970s. She writes evocatively about many of her character's favorite haunts, which include several establishments that are still operating today. Interested in a glimpse into 'Minnesota'...

Forest Fire Survival

Beyond the book article for The River
The River sets college students Jack and Wynn in a race against a forest fire as they canoe down the Maskwa River to the Hudson Bay with little chance of rescue. In recent years there has been an uptick in the number, severity and duration of forest fires, likely due to climate change (See Escalating Wildfires in the Western U.S.), so it ...

Ponzi Schemes

Beyond the book article for The Glass Hotel
In Emily St. John Mandel's The Glass Hotel, the protagonist finds herself ensnared in the Ponzi scheme of a Wall Street investor. The 'Ponzi scheme' takes its name from Charles Ponzi, an Italian immigrant and businessman who lived in Boston in the early 20th century. Ponzi schemes are fraudulent investments in which a business will ...

Hidden Dangers: War's Legacy of Unexploded Ordnance

Beyond the book article for Run Me to Earth
Author Paul Yoon's novel Run Me to Earth describes Laos as a beautiful landscape marked forever with unexploded ordnance (UXO) left in the wake of war from 1964 to 1973. Concealed explosives impact every character in the novel. The legacy of landmines and other unexploded munitions endures in the 21st century, not just in Laos but ...

The Bombing of the Café de Paris

Beyond the book article for The Splendid and the Vile
Erik Larson's The Splendid and The Vile recalls how the Café de Paris, a London nightclub, was bombed shortly before Winston Churchill's daughter, Mary, arrived there for a planned night of dancing.

The incident, which killed at least 34 people and wounded many others, was part of the Blitz, a prolonged bombing effort carried ...

Baobab: The Tree of Life

Beyond the book article for Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree
A prominent symbol in Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree, the mighty baobab tree sparks the imagination because of its unusual shape and longevity. Traditional Shona myth explains that the tree showed too much pride and was always whining and calling other creatures bad names, so the creator turned it upside-down as punishment, hence it ...

The Internment of Japanese, German and Italian-Americans During WWII

Beyond the book article for The Last Year of the War
In The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner, the novel's main character is a child of German descent confined to the Crystal City internment camp during World War II, and later repatriated with her family to Germany. Many of us are aware of the exclusion, removal and detention of 120,000 people of Japanese heritage that occurred as the ...

Tigers in Chinese History and Culture

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 ...

Land Reforms in North Vietnam (1953-1956)

Beyond the book article for The Mountains Sing
The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai is set against the backdrop of several decades in Northern Vietnam, including the period from 1945 to 1976 when it was an independent state known as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). This was a time of extraordinary hardship brought about by factors related to shifts in political power ...

Climate Change and Migration in the U.S.

Beyond the book article for The Wall
In John Lanchester's The Wall, protagonist Joseph Kavanagh is conscripted into military service to defend the titular wall against a breach by the 'Others.' The Others are not an invading army, however, but individuals displaced from their homes by some unnamed climate disaster. In the real world, as the effects of climate change become ...

20 Years of Speak

Beyond the book article for Shout
Released in 1999, Speak was Laurie Halse Anderson's first novel and also her most controversial. Melinda Sordino, the protagonist, is raped the summer before her freshman year of high school at a house party. She calls the police but is unable to verbalize what happened, leaving the scene before they arrive. The police bust the house ...

New Hampshire's Mount Monadnock

Beyond the book article for The Bear
Looking at a photograph of Mount Monadnock, it might not appear all that imposing. But if you've seen it in person, you were probably impressed by its size. To capture a place on the page, one has to know it intimately, and it's obvious from Andrew Krivak's deep, poetic descriptions of this mountain and its surrounding environment in The ...

The Mighty Zambezi River

Beyond the book article for The Old Drift
One of the longest rivers in the world, the Zambezi is fed by many tributaries and flows more than 1,500 miles from the Democratic Republic of the Congo through Angola, Namibia and Botswana, then carves its way through Zambia and Zimbabwe and southeast through Mozambique, ultimately spilling into the Indian Ocean. In some places it's ...

Chimpanzee Sanctuaries

Beyond the book article for Mama's Last Hug
In Mama's Last Hug, Frans de Waal details the observation of chimpanzees in places like Burgers' Zoo in the Netherlands. Chimps there enjoy a relatively peaceful existence with large enclosures mimicking their natural habitat. In the United States, a number of organizations are working to establish a similar quality of life for chimps ...

Looking Back On Mississippi Burning (1988)

Beyond the book article for Race Against Time
In December 1988, the controversial crime-thriller movie Mississippi Burning was released. It follows two FBI agents—played by Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe—who investigate the disappearance of three civil rights workers. The agents' efforts to solve the case are hindered by a hostile local police force and the Ku Klux Klan.


Indian Casinos: Who Profits?

Beyond the book article for Yellow Bird
When most people hear the word 'casino,' they think of slot machines trilling and the tinny crashing of coins. But there is a deeper significance to gambling, especially as it pertains to casinos located on federal Indian reservations. While a fun pastime for many, casinos are the lifeblood for the Native American tribes across the ...

Remembering the Victims of the Vardø Witch Trials

Beyond the book article for The Mercies
For such a small and remote community, Vardø has endured more than its share of tragedy. In 1617, the small fishing town found at the easternmost point of Norway was hit by a violent storm. Its arrival was so sudden and devastating, it all but wiped out the male population, leaving behind a community of shell shocked women and ...

The Weird and Wonderful History of Weird Tales Magazine

Beyond the book article for The Lost Book of Adana Moreau
In Michael Zapata's The Lost Book of Adana Moreau, Adana Moreau's sci-fi novel Lost City is serialized in Weird Tales. This fantasy, horror and science fiction pulp magazine was a real-life publication that was founded in 1923 by J.C. Henneberger and J.M. Lansinger and that remained in print until 1954.

Over its lifetime, Weird ...

The Fallibility of Memory

Beyond the book article for Instructions for a Funeral
Throughout his collection of short stories, Instructions for a Funeral, David Means shows the ways in which people's recollections of the past change over time. Learning new information, reconsidering ethical stances and changing self-perceptions contribute to characters tweaking their memories to better fit new narratives about their ...

The Underwater World of Haenyeos

Beyond the book article for The Island of Sea Women
Lisa See's novel, The Island of Sea Women, highlights the lives of haenyeos – women from the South Korean island of Jeju who support their families by free-diving for plants and animals that thrive in the ocean. They're known to be able to hold their breath for two to three minutes at a stretch and can descend to depths of 30 to 45 ...

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

Beyond the book article for My Dark Vanessa
In My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell, a much-older teacher begins his seduction of 15-year-old Vanessa Wye with poetry. One of the works he uses to draw her in is the 1962 Vladimir Nabokov novel Pale Fire. Specifically, a section of verse describes how a fictional poet, John Shade, met his wife on an outing to New Wye Falls. ...

Could COVID-19 Spark Lasting Change?

Beyond the book article for The Catalyst
Setting people on a path to change is difficult. And when you're talking about millions of people, it often takes decades to see a mass evolution in behavior. Sometimes, however, a cataclysmic event will act as a catalyst that forces society as a whole to step off the precipice. Such events (e.g., the Great Depression, World War II, ...

The Life and Career of Yūko Tsushima

Beyond the book article for Territory of Light
Born in 1947 in the Tokyo suburb of Mitaka, Yūko Tsushima was one of the most accomplished Japanese novelists of her generation at the time of her death from lung cancer in 2016. The author remains lesser known outside of Japan, but with the recent translations of Territory of Light and Of Dogs and Walls, there has been a small wave ...

Posthumous Cancer Memoirs

Beyond the book article for The Unwinding of the Miracle
Once or twice each year, I find a superb memoir in which the author comes to terms with mortality after a diagnosis of incurable cancer. Sometimes when I look up more information about the author I'm relieved to learn they're still alive (e.g. Kate Bowler, Clive James and Christian Wiman). But sometimes I see an end date to the life span,...

Myles Standish and the Defense of the Plymouth Colony

Beyond the book article for Beheld
Beheld takes place in 1630 at the Plymouth settlement in what would later become Massachusetts and features several characters taken from the real-life history of the colony. One of these is Myles Standish, a decorated soldier who arrived in 1620 on the Mayflower with the first group of English pilgrims and served as Plymouth's head of ...

Smart Homes and the Internet of Things

Beyond the book article for The Resisters
In Gish Jen's The Resisters, people live in AutoHouses, internet-linked homes that are capable of performing certain automated tasks for their inhabitants, such as cleaning up dropped objects and regulating temperature, but that are also used for government surveillance. While the homes in Jen's novel operate at a much more advanced level...

WWII French Winemakers' Resistance

Beyond the book article for The Winemaker's Wife
In The Winemaker's Wife, Inés Chauveau's life is turned upside down by the declaration of World War II and the Germans' arrival at her husband's vineyard. Instead of making a profit from their wines, the Chauveaus are expected to give their product to the Germans, and while Inés is prepared to do whatever it takes to get through...

The Controversy of Capital Punishment

Beyond the book article for Confessions of an Innocent Man
In David R. Dow's thriller, Confessions of an Innocent Man, the protagonist is sentenced to death for the murder of his wife. Since the murder is committed in Texas, one of the 30 U.S. states that still allows capital punishment, he is sent directly to death row. There he awaits his execution among the 200+ other residents. From 1976 to ...

Books Set Across Centuries

Beyond the book article for The Everlasting
Katy Simpson Smith's novel The Everlasting is set entirely in Rome, but it takes place across multiple centuries, introducing us to separate storylines in 2015, 1559, 896, and 165. Here are some other noteworthy books that are set in one location spanning multiple centuries.

The Kingsbridge Series by Ken Follett
Originally published...

Caribbean Immigration to the United States

Beyond the book article for Saint X
In Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin, one of the main characters is a Caribbean immigrant working as a taxi driver in New York City. While the island depicted in the novel is fictional, people hailing from the Caribbean make up a large portion of the immigrant population in the U.S.

The individual islands in the Caribbean are all distinct in...

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Editor's Choice

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    The Island of Sea Women
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    Lisa See's latest novel, The Island of Sea Women, follows the lives of Mi-ja and Young-sook, two ...
  • Book Jacket: Race Against Time
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    Jerry Mitchell spent nearly three decades trailing cold cases from the Civil Rights Movement. As a ...
  • Book Jacket: The Resisters
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  • Book Jacket: The Mercies
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    It's 1617 and a violent storm has claimed the lives of 40 fishermen off the coast of Vardø, a ...

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The Things They Carried
by Tim O'Brien

The classic, ground-breaking meditation on war and the redemptive power of storytelling.

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