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Beyond the Book Articles
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Door Locks Throughout History (05/22)
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 ...
How TV & Film Portrays Capital Accumulation (05/22)
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 ...
Creation Myths (05/22)
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 ...
Your Early 20s, Joan Didion's "On Self-Respect," and Social Media Culture (05/22)
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 ...
Social Media Addiction (04/22)
In The Candy House, the allure of social media, with its illusions of security, comfort and happiness are frequently described in terms similar to those related to addiction. Egan presents characters who struggle with substance abuse and deal with their isolation by withdrawing into the social media platform Own Your Unconscious.

While...
Au Pair Exchanges (04/22)
The novel The Caretakers centers on several young women who are au pairs in France, living there on special visas that allow them to stay with a family, take language classes and immerse themselves for a year in Parisian social life.

The term 'au pair' refers to a (usually young) person who lives with a family in a foreign country in ...
The Mandela Effect (04/22)
In The Impossible Us, Nick becomes connected with a group calling themselves the Berenstain Society. Their name is inspired by one of the most famous examples of what's popularly known as the Mandela effect. The Mandela effect, according to Medical News Today, 'describes a situation in which a person or a group of people have a false ...
Gilmore Girls, Lane Kim and Asian Americans on Television (03/22)
In Mary H.K. Choi's Yolk, June is particularly fond of the Warner Brothers (WB) Network television series Gilmore Girls. At first glance, the show seems like a somewhat anachronistic and unlikely pop culture presence in the novel. Set in Connecticut, it first aired in 2000; Choi's characters June and Jayne, Korean American sisters living ...
Wellness Retreats (03/22)
The events of This Might Hurt by Stephanie Wrobel take place predominantly at Wisewood, a fictional island retreat off the coast of Maine that purportedly focuses on self-improvement techniques and conquering one's inner fears. The concept of a mental health 'retreat' is by no means foreign to Americans, and wellness tourism has grown ...
Syanon: Rehabilitation Center Turned Cult (03/22)
Mikel Jollett and his older brother Tony were just two of the hundreds of children that grew up in the bizarre environs of Synanon, an infamous California cult in the 1970s.

Synanon began in Santa Monica in 1958, the brainchild of Charles (Chuck) Dederich, a recovering alcoholic seeking to extend the Alcoholics Anonymous program that ...
Mudlarking (03/22)
In Sarah Penner's The Lost Apothecary, a historical mystery is set in motion when a character discovers a small blue vial while mudlarking. 'Mudlarking' refers to the practice of scavenging for objects — generally manufactured or otherwise manmade ones that have been lost or thrown away — usually on the shore of a body of ...
Boarding School Syndrome (03/22)
In Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason, which explores psychological wounds and mental illness, Martha's husband Patrick was sent to boarding school at a young age. The image of boarding schools is deeply embedded in the British psyche. Writers from Enid Blyton to James Joyce have found these strange micro-societies to be rich earth. In fiction...
Self-Serve Frozen Yogurt (02/22)
In My Year Abroad by Chang-rae Lee, Pong Lou enlists Tiller Bardmon to help with the formulation and branding of a product called jamu, a kind of restorative drink. However, Pong first tests Tiller's nose for business by having him taste and evaluate flavors for his self-serve frozen yogurt (froyo) chain, WTF Yo!. According to Tiller, the...
The Legend of the Sandman (02/22)
In one story from Kim Fu's collection Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century, an insomniac character is visited by the Sandman and subsequently finds it much easier to fall asleep. There is no consensus among experts as to the origin of the Sandman in folklore, as it is believed to be part of a long history of stories passed from ...
Mermaids and Water Spirits Around the World (02/22)
Simi, the main character in Natasha Bowen's Skin of the Sea, is a Mami Wata, a water deity from West African mythology who is described in the novel as having a mermaid form. While the red-headed Ariel of Disney fame might be the dominant image of what a mermaid looks like for many people, they come in many forms from all over the world, ...
Spiritualism in Victorian London (02/22)
Though the movement of Spiritualism — the belief that the spirits of the dead are able to communicate with the living — was born in New York in 1848 with the Fox sisters, it quickly took hold of the Victorian imagination when it arrived in England in the mid-19th century. Maria Hayden, a famous American medium, arrived in the ...
High and Common "Magick" in Past and Present Narratives (01/22)
Of all the commanding aspects of All of Us Villains, the concept of 'magick' arguably stands as the story's most significant. The residents of Ilvernath treat its existence much as they would electricity and running water, and in many ways are just as reliant on its practical applications as we in the real world are on our smartphones. An...
Winston Churchill in TV and Film (01/22)
Countless movies about Winston Churchill have been made in the decades since World War II, with different actors playing the starring role to varying degrees of success. What are some of the most — and least — memorable of these cinematic depictions, and what effect did these films have in perpetuating the Churchill legend?

...
Oulipo (01/22)
Hervé Le Tellier, the author of the novel The Anomaly, is a member of Oulipo. Oulipo is an international literary group that was founded in 1960 and embraces 'formal and procedural constraints to achieve literature's possibilities.' The name comes from the French 'Ouvroir de littérature potentielle' (OuLiPo), which translates ...
The Apple in Religion and Myth (01/22)
The unnamed mother in Lynne Sharon Schwartz's story 'Apples' rejoices when her picky daughter delights in a new kind of apple that makes her 'elated and energetic and enthusiastic.' The mother is so impressed she mentions to the pediatrician that the apple might be magical.

This character is certainly not the first to attribute ...
Studebaker and the Land Cruiser (12/21)
In The Lincoln Highway, the main characters undertake a would-be cross-country road trip in Emmett Watson's pride and joy, a 1948 powder-blue Studebaker Land Cruiser.

The Studebaker company, now known as a long-lasting and iconic automotive manufacturer, was founded in South Bend, Indiana in 1852. The Studebaker family had emigrated ...
Grieving Places (12/21)
In The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World, author Laura Imai Messina crafts a fictional story around a real-life place of public mourning, a phone booth, in the Japanese town of Otsuchi, located about three hours inland in northeastern Japan. A man named Itaru Sasaki built the glass booth with a rotary phone inside after the death of a ...
Metempsychosis, Transmigration and Mesmerism (11/21)
Central to Alex Landragin's debut novel Crossings is an idiosyncratic version of soul metempsychosis. Metempsychosis is the reincarnation of a soul from one biological body to another occurring after the first body's death. Reincarnation plays a prominent role in Hinduism and Buddhism. The European concept developed independently in ...
Using (or Not Using) Quotation Marks in Fiction (11/21)
A lack of quotation marks around dialogue is a pet peeve for some readers. Yet it seems to be an increasingly popular stylistic choice in literary fiction, and one that Bryan Washington opts to use in his debut novel Memorial. You may have also encountered this approach in books by Jesse Ball, Junot Diaz, Bernardine Evaristo, Kate ...
Olympic Equestrian Eventing (11/21)
Eventing, sometimes described as an equestrian triathlon, became an Olympic summer sport at the Stockholm Games in 1912, but before that, it had its roots in the military as a series of exercises developed to test and prepare cavalry horses. Equestrian sports date back much further, in some cases all the way back to the ancient Olympics, ...
The Toronto Raptors (10/21)
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 ...
Cassandra of Troy (10/21)
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)....
The Oldest Known Burial in North America: Anzick-1 (09/21)
The evocative prehistorical scene with which Heather Young opens The Distant Dead might be fictional but, as the narrator suggests near the end of the novel, it parallels some real-life archaeological discoveries. One of these is Anzick Boy, or Anzick-1, a Paleoindian child of one or two years old, found buried in Montana in 1968. ...
The Tradition of Las Vegas Magicians (09/21)
Even though I lived in Las Vegas for five years (2012-2017), I never gave it much thought. Magicians were always there, on and off the Las Vegas Strip. David Copperfield's face was on that massive advertisement across the top of the MGM Grand. Mac King, the afternoon comedy magician at Harrah's, was always in any number of small Vegas ...
The Sidekick Character in Detective Fiction (09/21)
In Fortune Favors the Dead, being in the wrong place at the right time earns Will Parker the job of assistant to Lillian Pentecost, New York City's classiest and most unorthodox private investigator. Although Lillian's worsening multiple sclerosis is her initial motivation for hiring the younger woman, Will possesses a keen eye and a ...
The History of Church Pews (08/21)
In Catherine Lacey's novel Pew, the title character is given their name because they are found sleeping on a church pew. The word 'pew' is thought to come from the Dutch 'puye,' meaning the enclosed front area of a building such as a town hall, where important proclamations were made. 'Puye,' in turn, may come from the Latin word '...
Six Flags Amusement Parks (08/21)
In Crooked Hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford, Justine dreams of riding the Big Bend roller coaster at Six Flags. Today, Six Flags is a large theme park company with locations throughout North America and also in China, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Justine, who is living in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma in 1974, is anticipating a...
The Weird and Wonderful History of Weird Tales Magazine (08/21)
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 ...
Live Action Role-Playing (LARP) (07/21)
Before Sunny Dae embarks on a rock 'n' roll career in Super Fake Love Song, he and his friends are minor celebrities in the world of LARPing, which stands for Live Action Role-Playing. If you're familiar with tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons or online role-playing games like EverQuest, LARPing is sort of like one of ...
Vampires in Legend and Literature (06/21)
The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires is about the presence of a suspected vampire in a South Carolina suburb in the 1990s.

The vampire is a type of legendary creature falling into the broader category of 'revenant'—a person who has returned from the dead, often to do harm to the living. Many people tend to think of...
The Origins of Trick-or-Treating (05/21)
In the story 'Chick-A-Chee!' from How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa, an immigrant father takes his children trick-or-treating on Halloween in the hope that they will integrate better into the local culture.

Around the world today, treat-or-treating is very much seen as an all-American activity. However, its origins can...
The Nag Hammadi Texts (04/21)
Sue Monk Kidd's novel The Book of Longings was in part inspired by a work entitled 'The Thunder, Perfect Mind.' Narrated by a female divinity, the poem is one of over 50 ancient texts that were found near the town of Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945.

The tale surrounding the discovery of the works is fascinating in its own right. ...
The Founding of Home Depot (03/21)

As he passes the lumber and rounds into a lane full of bagged cement, the logic behind the division of inventory dawns on him. The contractors' half of the store holds all the fundamental elements for building a home, all of which later get concealed by the ornaments for sale on the other side, all the paints, light fixtures, moldings, ...

Hitler's Plan to Create a "Super Horse" (01/21)
It's well known that Hitler obsessed over the purity of the so-called Aryan 'master race,' but many might be surprised to learn that his interest in eugenics extended to horses as well. He desperately wanted to selectively breed a line of horses that were unparalleled in strength and purity of bloodline. With snow-white coats, they would ...
The Stories That Houses Can Hold (01/21)
Having moved 17 times in the wake of my late father being transferred at his job, I don't have a nostalgic connection to anywhere I've lived. The connection many people feel in their bones, heart and soul to a specific home is a mere curiosity to me—an interest in what people remember, how they seek to describe it. I live ...
Mythical Healers (01/21)
The central characters in Follow Me to Ground are two human-like beings with mystical powers to heal all illnesses and even resurrect the dead. It seems we have forever been fascinated by the magic of healing and the ability to cheat our own mortality. Ancient mythologies from across the globe featured powerful healers that humans turned ...
Agege Bread (01/21)
Agege (pronounced 'a-GAY-gay') bread is a sweet white bread known for its unique soft and dense texture. It is a common food in Nigeria, particularly in Lagos, where it is produced by local bakeries and sold by vendors on the streets. In Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi, Taiye attempts to master baking Agege bread, but finds ...
Palimpsests (12/20)
The heroine of V.E. Schwab's novel, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, often takes notice of what she refers to as 'palimpsests,' which she defines as instances where the past is blotted out and written over by the present.

The word palimpsest comes from the Greek palimpsestos, meaning 'scraped again.' Strictly speaking, the term ...
Exploiting the Unknown: Entertainment in the Georgian Era (11/20)
A taste for blood and an unfortunate willingness to exploit those considered 'Other' are not wholly unique to the Georgian period, but their prevalence during the era cannot be ignored. By 1726, when the subject of Dexter Palmer's novel Mary Toft; or, the Rabbit Queen, claimed to have given birth to a rabbit, the concept of difference as ...
The American Roadside Motel (11/20)
In Simone St. James' thriller The Sun Down Motel, a roadside motel in upstate New York serves as the location for a ghost story that takes place in alternating timelines occurring in the years 1982 and 2017. It's hardly surprising that the author would place a motel at the center of this spooky suspense novel, as motels have something of ...
Stave Churches (10/20)
It's no secret that Lars Mytting loves trees. He wrote a novel titled The Sixteen Trees of the Somme (2017), and is known for his international bestseller Norwegian Wood (2015), a nonfiction guide to sources of firewood that gives instructions on how to chop, stack and cure wood for burning. With The Bell in the Lake, he continues with ...
Emergency Preparedness Needs (09/20)
Ellis Kimball in Let's Call It a Doomsday is ready for the apocalypse, whatever form it takes. Would you be prepared? Most of the population of the United States lives in a place where some kind of natural disaster is possible, be it tornado, hurricane, flood, drought, blizzard or earthquake. As soon as the radio or television stations ...
Virtue Signaling (08/20)
'Virtue signaling,' that ubiquitous pejorative flung like so much feces across party lines by political pundits, has created a minor crisis in moral discourse. The phrase was allegedly coined by James Bartholomew in an article appearing in the right-leaning British periodical The Spectator, in which he reacted to what he saw as the ...
Minecraft and the Uncensored Library (06/20)
The story 'Mind Craft' in Sleepovers by Ashleigh Bryant Phillips is named for one character's incorrect way of referring to the video game Minecraft, which is a multi-platform 'sandbox game,' the term for a game that leaves the player relatively free to explore a setting without having to progress through it in a linear fashion. Minecraft...
Puppies and Prisoners (06/20)
In Owen Laukkanen's thriller Deception Cove, protagonist Mason Burke participated in a prison dog training program that brought meaning to his life during his incarceration. The origin of these programs can be traced back to a 1925 Boston Daily Globe news item. This article claimed that Pep, a Labrador owned by Governor Gifford Pinchot of...
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