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Beyond the Book Articles
Music and the Arts

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Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) (10/20)
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 ...
Children's Art of the Holocaust (10/20)
In Alice Hoffman's novel The World That We Knew, Julien, 14, escapes occupied Paris and finds temporary refuge at a rural chateau-turned-orphanage. He tutors math and participates in art workshops there. The displaced children survive day-to-day, and are encouraged to express themselves with drawing and painting.

An important collection...
Chopin's Farewell Waltz (08/20)
In Your House Will Pay, one of author Steph Cha's characters is a gregarious, astute journalist called Jules Searcey, who is known for writing about issues related to political and racial dissent. He penned a breakthrough book based on his reporting called Farewell Waltz: The Life and Death of Ava Matthews, which covered the murder of a ...
The Rise of the Celebrity Chef (08/20)
Jeff Gordinier, the author of Hungry (about his travels with René Redzepi), dates the concept of the modern celebrity chef to 1990, when Marco Pierre White, a London chef with a famously fiery temper, released the cookbook White Heat. A decade later, Anthony Bourdain, who had a similar bad-boy image powered by sex and drug use, ...
Dr. Zhivago, the Movie (08/20)
The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott revolves around the publication of Boris Pasternak's 1957 novel Dr. Zhivago, which was banned in the Soviet Union because of the author's perceived anti-socialist ideals. The novel was adapted into a film in 1965 by British director David Lean (famous at the time for Lawrence of Arabia), starring Omar ...
The Life and Art of Pegeen Guggenheim (07/20)
Costalegre's main protagonist Lara Calaway is based on real-life artist Pegeen Vail Guggenheim (1925-1967), daughter of wealthy New York art collector and socialite Peggy Guggenheim (1898–1979). In her afterword, author Courtney Maum leaves a dedication to the not widely known artist: 'Pegeen: Your story wasn't told much. I hope you...
The Playlist for Eleanor and Park (07/20)
In my review of Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park, I suggest that if the novel were a song, it would be a punk rock song. I hold firm to that idea.

A brief (if incomplete) lesson on punk rock music: First, as is true with the birth of most genres of anything (music, art, architecture, etc.), pinpointing the beginning is tough, if not ...
Top of the Pops (07/20)
David Mitchell's novel Utopia Avenue centers around a fictional British pop band in the turbulent years of 1967 and 1968. Acts popular in both the United States and Britain included the likes of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Doors, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Who, the Supremes, the Byrds, the Kinks, Aretha Franklin… and ...
Art Restoration and Conservation (06/20)
In Dirk Wittenborn's The Stone Girl, the main character, Evie, is an art restorer who specializes in repairing statues. Art restoration is the professional process of repairing works of art that have been subjected to the effects of damage or age, including paintings, sculptures and architecture. The restoration of art is somewhat ...
Fairuz: The Voice of Lebanon (08/20)
Fairuz is a Lebanese singer and actress, often hailed as the voice of Lebanon and the voice of hope. Having recorded over 1,500 songs and sold over 100 million records, her body of work is vast and globally admired.

Born in the Chouf region in the 1930s with the name Nuhad al-Haddad, her family moved to Beirut when she was young. It ...
History of the New York City Theatre Scene (04/20)
The New York City borough of Manhattan sometimes seems like it's much older than it actually is, given its massive scale, impressive infrastructure, and cultural impact. However, it was only in the 1850s that work began on Central Park, and Manhattan started to rapidly expand north of 14th Street. Times Square was only so named in 1904, ...
Looking Back On Mississippi Burning (1988) (03/20)
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.

...
Lee Lozano's Dropout Piece (03/20)
In Fake Like Me, author Barbara Bourland alludes to artist Lee Lozano (1930-1999) and her elusive, controversial final project called Dropout Piece. This piece of performance art was Lozano's act of withdrawing from the art world in order to be an outsider. She slipped into isolation through the end of her life, pushing the boundaries of ...
Controversial 20th Century Female Photographers (03/20)
Lillian Preston, the photographer at the heart of Feast Your Eyes, is fictional, but there are a number of controversial 20th century female photographers on whom she could be based, including Diane Arbus (1923-1971), Irina Ionesco (b.1930) and Sally Mann (b.1951).

Born Diane Nemerov, 18-year-old Diane Arbus received her first camera ...
Iranian Cuisine (02/20)
In Marjan Kamali's novel The Stationery Shop, Iranian food plays a central role, whether a simple melon smoothie drink, hot tea sweetened with rock sugar candy (nabat), or a more complicated feast for Persian New Year. Traditional cuisine from Iran, also known as Persia, is a mélange of many cultures partly due to a vibrant trading ...
The Power of Polaroid Photography (02/20)
Once upon a time, long before digital photography became commonplace, the only way to instantly see the results after taking a photo was by using a Polaroid instant camera. In Lost Children Archive, the narrator gives her stepson a Polaroid camera for his tenth birthday. He takes photos during their trip, and a series of Polaroid images ...
The Restoration of Dorothy's Ruby Slippers (01/20)
Finding Dorothy is the fictionalized story of Maud Gage Baum, the wife of L. Frank Baum of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz fame. Through dual narratives, Elizabeth Letts explores the lives of the Baums and the inspirations that led Frank to pen his famous novel, while also featuring Maud's fight to see her husband's work honored as it was ...
Gaudeamus Igitur (So Let Us Rejoice) (01/20)
The title of the novel Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko comes from a verse in the Latin song popularly known as Gaudeamus Igitur ('So Let Us Rejoice'). The work's lyrics urge their audience to enjoy all the pleasure they can because all will end too soon, and they also praise the student lifestyle. Although most often considered...
Artistic and Religious Representations of Angels in Pet (09/19)
In Pet, Jam is fascinated by angels. Through her mother, an artist, she is aware that monsters do not necessarily look scary, and angels can be visually mistaken for monsters, especially when they are of the avenging variety. Her friend Ube the librarian helps her find books full of artwork depicting angels. Jam is surprised to see that ...
Popular Los Angeles-area Bookstores (08/19)
In Glen David Gold's memoir's second section, Gold recalls his experiences working at a branch of Hunter's Books in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles (near UCLA) during a gap year he took in college. Hunter's, as Gold notes, was 'part of a local handful of stores that wouldn't survive the new realities of commerce.' Indeed, ...
String Quartets (08/19)
In the second half of the eighteenth century, chamber music, which was played by ensembles (small groups of musicians and thus suitable for smaller rooms), became very fashionable. The term 'ensemble' comes from the Old French word for 'together' and can refer to a grouping of any size, from a duet up to a full orchestra. The Dublin-based...
Political Puppetry (07/19)
While staying at an island resort, the protagonist of the title story of Deborah Eisenberg's Your Duck is My Duck meets another artist, a puppeteer who is crafting a performance about their benefactors' mistreatment of the island's farmers. Eisenberg is drawing from a long history of puppetry as a political tool wielded by artists ...
The History of Tiffany's (07/19)
Much of the action in M. J. Rose's novel Tiffany Blues takes place at Louis Comfort Tiffany's fabulous estate near Oyster Bay, New York. It's an 84-room mansion, standing on over 60 acres of lush landscaping, all conceived and designed by Louis himself. Since the late 1800s he had been the chief creative force behind the ...
The Chanson Musical Tradition (07/19)

Alfred Busi, the protagonist of The Melody, is described by author Jim Crace as being a singer in the European chanson tradition. This lyrically-drive musical form originated in medieval France as the chanson de geste ('song of heroic deeds'), epic poems recounting the glorious tales of famous heroes set to music. The songs employed basic...
The Art of Capoeira (07/19)
In 'Everything the Mouth Eats,' one of the stories in A Lucky Man, the martial art/dance form of capoeira takes center stage.

Capoeira originated in Brazil possibly among enslaved Africans who were brought to work the land for the Portuguese overlords. The South American country was ruled by the Portuguese from 1500 to 1815 and during...
Drive-In Theaters (05/19)
Realizing her dreams of becoming a Hollywood actress are dwindling, Tammy Treeborne - a central protagonist in Treeborne - decides to indulge her passion for the movies in another way, by opening her very own drive-in theater in Elberta, Alabama.

The drive-in theater is an American icon, itself immortalized in countless classic ...
The National Film Board of Canada (04/19)
The title of Heather Smith's novel, The Agony of Bun O'Keefe, is inspired by a 27-minute documentary called The Agony of Jimmy Quinlan [see full film below], which was produced by the National Film Board of Canada in 1978. The film chronicles the effort of Quinlan, one of 5,000 people living on the streets in Montreal, to get ...
Ancient Cartography (04/19)
Mapmaking has been a vital part of human curiosity for millennia. The oldest known world map is the Babylonian Map of the World, also known as the Imago Mundi, which dates back to the 5th century BCE. This early map is not alone. Archaeologists have found many map-like representations in caves, some of which even show images of star ...
Great Topiary Gardens (04/19)
Mike Muñoz might be a magician with a mower and a wizard with a weed whacker, but his real talent is topiary. If, like Mike, you thrill to see people, animals and mythical creatures carved from living trees and shrubs, here are a few great public topiary gardens to add to your itinerary.


Levens Hall, Cumbria, England
Regarded as ...
The Oud (03/19)
In previous 'beyond the book' articles we've looked at different aspects of contemporary Syria - such as its culture and the refugee crisis. Now, we take a look at its music through a close up look at one of the Muslim world's most popular instruments.

Aeham Ahmad, author of The Pianist from Syria, owned a music store with his father ...
The Charkha (03/19)
In Girls Burn Brighter, the charkha, a kind of spinning wheel, is a means of self-sufficiency and independence for Poornima and Savitha. Savitha carries the scraps of the sari she made for Poornima across the world, as a reminder of the simple happiness the two girls found when weaving together.

The charkha is one of the oldest known ...
Notable Female Indian Filmmakers (02/19)
At one point in Love, Hate, and Other Filters, Maya's best friend Violet tells her that love is 'a part of who you are, not an object you can film and capture in different kinds of light.' Maya is used to viewing the world - including her own life - through the lens of film. She wants to be a documentary filmmaker, and Ahmed's novel ...
Vinyl Records (11/18)
Despite the many digital streaming options for listening to music, vinyl records are still popular with some listeners. Like Frank in The Music Shop, many music aficionados love the sound quality of vinyl records and nostalgia has increased their popularity. Vinyl records still comprise a noticeable portion of the market. According to the...
Performance Poetry and Slams (07/18)
Most sources date the first 'poetry slam' to Chicago in 1984, when the American poet Marc Kelly Smith held the first open mic. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Smith did this because 'poetry readings and poetry in general had lost their true passion' and he wanted to 'bring poetry back to the people.' So he initiated the weekly ...
Traditional Cambodian Music (04/18)
Traditional Cambodian music plays a key role in Music of the Ghosts. Hearing it triggers memories for both of the story's main characters, and three hand-made instruments—a single-stringed lute, an oboe, and a drum—set the plot in motion.

Music and Buddhism have a strong connection; music is sometimes seen as a ceremonial ...
Music During Nero's Time (04/18)
The appreciation of music seemed to be one of Emperor Nero's favorite pastimes. He not only organized musical competitions, but played several instruments himself.

Brass instruments such as the tuba (a long, straight trumpet-like device) and the cornu (the precursor of the French horn) were mostly used by the military of the day ...
Christina's World (02/18)
Andrew Wyeth's painting Christina's World, the subject of A Piece of the World, was initially met with little fanfare, and its critical reception was lackluster. Nevertheless, the painting, which features Christina Olson reaching toward her home in the distance, was purchased during its first showing at a New York Gallery in 1948 by ...
The Art of Glassmaking (01/18)
At one point in Glass House, Brian Alexander describes his childhood experience of peering into one of the glass manufacturing plants in his home town: 'Nuns had spent years engraving images of hell on my imagination. The flames shooting out of the squat stack on the roof, the white-red glow of the furnace inside, the gray shadows of the ...
Paul Gauguin: A Flawed Artist (12/17)
In Castle of Water, one of the characters is headed to the Marquesas Islands, part of French Polynesia, because he wants to pay his respects to the renowned French painter, Paul Gauguin, who breathed his last there.

Paul Gauguin was born in 1848 in France to a French father and a mother with mixed French and Peruvian heritage. While ...
Arts, Artists and Authoritarianism (11/17)
In This is How It Begins, Ludka Zeilonka, art history professor and survivor of the World War II Nazi invasion of Poland, rescued a valuable painting from certain theft or destruction at the hands of the Germans. She has kept it hidden for over 70 years, protecting it and keeping its provenance intact for posterity. As an idealistic young...
Tell it to the Book-keeper (11/17)
'Want to know what a book-keeper's job is, boy?' he muttered. 'We keep the actors from ruinin' the play.'

Emma thinks her sudden promotion to stage manager of her high school's drama department is a stretch in Molly Booth's debut novel Saving Hamlet but it is nothing like the crash course she receives when she finds herself in the ...
Storyboarding (09/17)
In The Animators, best friends Sharon and Mel spend hours hunched over their artwork that will form the basis of an animated movie. 'I know a day of work has been really good when I have to look up from the board and recall who I am and what I'm doing,' Sharon says. That 'board' that she refers to is one of a series of images that ...
Child Prodigies in Visual Art (07/17)
When we hear the phrase 'child prodigy,' our minds almost automatically go to Mozart and other musicians, and from there, towards young geniuses in the areas of mathematics and science. One of the shorter lists of child prodigies is in the visual arts: drawing, painting and sculpture. But the world has witnessed some exceptional artistic ...
Folk and Bluegrass Music (06/17)
In Before We Sleep, Oliver, a World War II veteran, repairs fiddles for others to play folk and bluegrass tunes.

Fiddles and violins are essentially the same instrument (for more about this, read the 'Beyond the Book' for Black River), but the music that they produce can be classified into different categories. According to Strings ...
The Tango (04/17)
Fans of the ballroom dance known as the 'tango' probably think of it as synonymous with elegance and sophistication, with dazzlingly turned out women and men striding gracefully amid a throng of champagne-and-caviar glitterati. A fair impression, given the tango's portrayal in Hollywood movies and musicals. But the tango began more than a...
The Our Gang Films (01/17)
One of the central characters in The Sellout is Hominy Jenkins, an elderly black man who was, in his youth, a lesser-known member of the group of child actors featured in the Our Gang series of short films. Hominy Jenkins might be fictional, but Our Gang was certainly not. Produced from 1922 to 1944 by comedy producer Hal Roach, the ...
Arts Education Empowers Youth with Disabilities (01/17)
Aristotle once said, 'Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.' Those words were uttered nearly 2,400 years ago, but they are still relevant today. Education that gives meaning is the kind of learning that we remember. Today, art education is one place where teenagers learn about the world surrounding them ...
Kenneth Lochhead's "Flight and Its Allegories" and the Gander International Airport (01/17)
If you flew on a transatlantic flight at some point in the mid-twentieth century, odds are you found yourself at Gander International Airport in Gander, Newfoundland, on at least one leg of your journey. For years, before the advent of wide-body jets with higher fuel capacity, Gander was the main refueling stop for aircraft bound for the ...
Diego Velázquez's Contemporaries (11/16)
Diego Velázquez (1599 - 1660) was a painter in the court of Spain's Philip IV during the Spanish Golden Age (Siglo de Oro), a period influenced by the Italian Renaissance, during which the arts flourished throughout the country. The exact dates of the Spanish Golden Age vary by commentator, but it began no earlier than 1492 with ...
The Thorne Rooms (10/16)
In The Making of Home, Judith Flanders argues that it can be difficult to know what ordinary homes throughout history looked and felt like, in part because museums with 'period rooms' tend to devote precious space to recreating the opulent homes of wealthy figures from the past. Perhaps it's much more fun to look at ceilings replete ...
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