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").

Recent Articles

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Elinor Smith

...a beyond the book article for Great Circle
Great Circle features an account of a fictional early aviatrix named Marian Graves, and author Maggie Shipstead inserts snippets of aviation history throughout the narrative. One woman frequently mentioned is Elinor Smith, aka 'The Flying Flapper of Freeport.'

Elinor Regina Patricia Ward was born in New York City in 1911 to parents who...

W.E.B. Du Bois

...a beyond the book article for The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (aka W.E.B. Du Bois) was a noted author, historian, activist and sociologist as well as a co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). His philosophies play an important role throughout Honorée Fannone Jeffers' novel The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois; each ...

Village de L'Est and Hurricane Katrina

...a beyond the book article for Things We Lost to the Water
When the Vietnamese family depicted in Things We Lost to the Water arrives in New Orleans, they move into an apartment building called Versailles located in the eastern part of the city. The setting is based on the real-life Versailles Arms public housing project in the neighborhood of Village de L'Est, which attracted a large Vietnamese ...

Religious Sectarianism in Glasgow: Then and Now

...a beyond the book article for Young Mungo
One theme of Douglas Stuart's Young Mungo is the quotidian experience of violence. In part, this violence comes from warring sectarian gangs, whose vicious rivalry wreaks havoc in Glasgow's East End. Enmity between Protestants and Catholics has a long history in Glasgow, as well as Scotland more generally. It can be traced back to the ...

"Degenerate Art" in Nazi Germany

...a beyond the book article for Shadows of Berlin
In David R. Gillham's Shadows of Berlin, the protagonist's mother was a modern artist whose work was banned by the Hitler Regime.

Adolf Hitler didn't originally intend to have a career in politics, planning instead to be a professional artist. In 1907 at the age of 18, he applied to Vienna's Academy of Fine Arts, but was rejected &#...

Søren Kierkegaard

...a beyond the book article for Either/Or
Born in 1813 in Copenhagen, Søren Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher and theologian best known for his critical discourse on the Christian faith, which solicited both critics and admirers while he was alive. Known today as the 'father of existentialism,' he was one of the first philosophers to delve into themes that would be ...

The Four Treasures of Chinese Calligraphy

...a beyond the book article for Four Treasures of the Sky
In Four Treasures of the Sky, heroine Daiyu arrives at Master Wang's calligraphy school as an orphan looking for work. She quickly becomes his best student as she learns about the titular four treasures: brush, ink, paper and ink stone. Since the time of the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420–589 CE), these items have been ...

The Bielski Partisans

...a beyond the book article for The Forest of Vanishing Stars
In The Forest of Vanishing Stars, persecuted Jews in Eastern Europe take shelter in the Naliboki Forest, located west of Minsk in contemporary Belarus. The area, then known as Byelorussia, was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939 at the same time as Germany invaded Poland as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that established a non-...

Rewilding Scotland

...a beyond the book article for Once There Were Wolves
In Charlotte McConaghy's novel, Once There Were Wolves, the heroine leads a project to reintroduce wolves to the Highlands, the mountainous region of northern Scotland. As they were hunted to extinction around the end of the 17th century, there is a very real debate surrounding the possibility of bringing wolves back to this area, and ...

Colonization and the Irish Language

...a beyond the book article for The Colony
In Audrey Magee's The Colony, one of the characters dedicates his career to salvaging a language that is under threat of extinction: Irish. The source of his research is a multi-generational family, the oldest of whom speaks Irish exclusively, while the youngest is very much Anglicized. This family's linguistic patterns are representative...

Poison from the Sky in Oregon

...a beyond the book article for Damnation Spring
In Ash Davidson's Damnation Spring, residents in a sparsely populated Northern California logging enclave in the late 1970s face a disturbing epidemic of miscarriages, stillbirths, birth defects and other ailments linked to the local timber company's use of herbicide sprays. While the specific location, people and events chronicled in the...

Overcoming Childhood Sexual Assault: Survivors' Stories

...a beyond the book article for Somebody's Daughter
In her debut memoir, Ashley C. Ford reflects on the lasting impact of her childhood, most notably the sexual assault she suffered at the age of 14. The process of dissecting trauma through literature is certainly not easy, but doing so can bring catharsis to writers and readers alike.

With assault affecting everyone differently, ...

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 ...

Deep Space Travel Technologies

...a beyond the book article for Alone Out Here
From the first description of its maiden launch in the year 2072, the fictional Lazarus is more than just a spaceship in Riley Redgate's Alone Out Here. It is a cryogenic ark filled with extensive samples of Earth's faunal DNA, and an integrated archive for preserving a cross-section of humanity's archaeological treasures. Moreover, the ...

Tawaifs

...a beyond the book article for The Return of Faraz Ali
Aamina Ahmad's debut novel, The Return of Faraz Ali, takes place in 1968 in Lahore's red-light district, and several of the characters are tawaifs — sex workers.

'Tawaif' comes from the Urdu word 'tauf,' which means to go round and round. While the term is considered derogatory now, originally it was one of respect for a highly-...

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-...

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. ...

The Guatemalan Civil War

...a beyond the book article for Monkey Boy
The narrator of Francisco Goldman's autobiographical novel Monkey Boy, like Goldman himself, was a journalist who reported on the Guatemalan Civil War. The brutal war began in 1960 and lasted a total of 36 years. Over 200,000 were killed or 'disappeared,' more than 600 villages were attacked or completely destroyed by the army and 150 ...

West Windsor and Plainsboro, New Jersey

...a beyond the book article for Suburban Dicks
As Fabian Nicieza comments in an author's note for Suburban Dicks, 'fiction means it is not real.' But that said, the two towns he uses as the setting for the novel—West Windsor and Plainsboro—are definitely real places. Let's take a trip to explore these suburban paradises, shall we?

The area where West Windsor and ...

Your Early 20s, Joan Didion's "On Self-Respect," and Social Media Culture

...a beyond the book article for Let's Not Do That Again
For a moment, I can pretend I am a professor, like Joan Didion-obsessed NYU English professor Nick Harrison in Grant Ginder's Let's Not Do That Again, as he discusses her 1961 essay 'On Self-Respect' with his undergraduate class. For a moment, I can pretend that in the high evening before one of my part-time jobs, I am not 23, sitting in ...

Small Aircraft Transport in Alaska

...a beyond the book article for Nobody Gets Out Alive
Small airplanes are a common form of transport in Leigh Newman's collection of short stories, Nobody Gets Out Alive, set primarily in Alaska. Several of the stories take place on a lake where homes boast 'seaplane docks.' Alaska is a vast, sparsely populated region where it's estimated that around 80% of communities exist beyond the reach...

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 ...

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...

Door Locks Throughout History

...a beyond the book article for A Peculiar Combination
In Ashley Weaver's novel A Peculiar Combination, the heroine is a safe-cracker who breaks into houses by picking door locks. Locks that operate with keys, including those typically used on doors, haven't changed all that much within the past century and a half. In fact, personal door locks in use today are of the same basic design ...

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...

The Sierra Leone Resettlement Scheme

...a beyond the book article for Theatre Of Marvels
In Lianne Dillsworth's novel Theatre of Marvels, a settlement plan resembling the Sierra Leone Resettlement Scheme comes to represent the possibility of a fresh start, freedom and community for the story's heroine, Zillah, and fellow Black people living in Victorian Britain who are struggling to feel like they belong.

Located on the ...

The House of the Seven Gables

...a beyond the book article for We Do What We Do in the Dark
In We Do What We Do in the Dark by Michelle Hart, the main character, Mallory, visits the House of the Seven Gables, a historic landmark in the town of Salem, Massachusetts that inspired a novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne. She does so following a conversation with a character known only as 'the woman,' with whom she had an affair years ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

How TV & Film Portrays Capital Accumulation

...a beyond the book article for Trust
Hernan Diaz has said about writing his novel Trust that, despite the numerous books depicting 'the symptoms of wealth,' 'there are very, very few novels that deal with the process of accumulation of capital. This, to me, was baffling.' This isn't surprising to me, as the accumulation of capital seems narratively uninteresting, at least ...

Captivating Fantasy Worlds to Explore Next

...a beyond the book article for Hotel Magnifique
A trip to Elsewhere in the young adult debut Hotel Magnifique is enough to give anyone the itch to travel. The question is, where to next? Here are some suggestions of fantasy worlds to explore once you've checked out of Emily J. Taylor's wondrous hotel.

Battle Magic (2013): Tamora Pierce's worldbuilding is famed, with fans ...

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