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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 ...
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 ...
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...
A Brief History of Podcasts (05/20)
The action in Denise Mina's novel Conviction is set in motion when the protagonist listens to a true-crime podcast.

Serial audio broadcasts have existed for more than a century; many of us remember gathering around our radios each week to listen to favorite shows, or remember parents or grandparents doing so. In many ways listening to ...
Symbolism of the Pig (04/20)
In addition to having a very real fugitive pig running through the streets of Brussels, Robert Menasse deploys a pig leitmotif throughout The Capital that takes on a wealth of significance across the novel. Characters discuss the value of pig's ears, and pork is served in a succulent cherry beer sauce. Even fictional pigs such as Babe, ...
A Coney Island Tour (04/20)
Here we are, at the famed Coney Island in Brooklyn, through the eyes of Billy O'Callaghan in his novel My Coney Island Baby. The air is 'mean with cold.' Snow's coming, so along Surf Avenue, past Nathan's Hot Dogs, 'most of the stores along here are shuttered…some closed for the season, others having already written off the day as a...
Borodinsky Bread (03/20)

Early on in Savage Feast, Boris Fishman, beginning to recount his family's exodus from the Soviet Union, states that there were 800 kinds of bread in the U.S.S.R. It's true. According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor in 1985, there is domashanya, a basic household roll; stolichniye, the bread of Moscow, and orlovsky, which ...

The Shape-Shifting Monsters of African Lore (02/20)
Stories of shapeshifters have permeated literature and art from the beginning of civilization. Therianthropy, or the changing of a human into an animal, is perhaps the most commonly known trope of the shapeshifting genre, with illustrations of such changes dating back all the way to 13,000 BC.

In his novel, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, ...
Shakespeare and the Double Entendre (01/20)
In Benet Brandreth's The Spy of Venice, William Shakespeare is a brilliant wordsmith but still a young man with all of a young man's appetite for adventure and women. He's witty with a rapier-like pen and rakish sense of humor. But wait. Many people reading Shakespeare's plays might doubt that the Bard of Avon had much...
Animal Sounds in Different Languages (01/20)
In Babel: Around the World in 20 Languages, Gaston Dorren writes about how Korean includes separate words for different kinds of meows. One word refers to the ordinary cry, and a different word is used to describe a more urgent vocalization. With this information, Dorren illustrates how sounds are indicative of a language's idiosyncrasies...
The History of Bowling (11/19)
Bowling as a sport is arguably more familiar than it is popular. Top competitors and heroes of the sport are not typically household names, yet most people have a basic understanding of how it's played. Even without famous athletes promoting it, bowling is a steady component of modern culture. However, there has been a decline in its ...
The History of the Condom (10/19)
Women's health clinics like the one depicted in A Spark of Light offer many services beyond abortion, including providing access to pregnancy prevention tools like condoms. The condom is arguably the oldest pregnancy prevention method used by men that's still widely used today, albeit its early popularity was more to do with protecting ...
Musings on A Nation of Reinvention (10/19)
In Beautiful Country Burn Again, author Ben Fountain posits that the United States reinvents itself to survive times of extreme crisis. He believes that these severe times of change happen approximately every 80 years, making the Civil War the first great reinvention, followed by the Great Depression and the New Deal in the 1930s, and ...
SERE (10/19)
In Elliot Ackerman's novel Waiting for Eden, a pivotal scene is set at the Marine Corp's SERE school.

SERE is an acronym that stands for 'Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape.' Created by the U.S. Air Force at the end of World War II, the program was modeled after the experiences of British and US aviators who were able ...
The Cold War UFO Craze (09/19)
In A Girl's Guide to Missiles, Karen Piper overhears her father talking about a coworker's belief in aliens. It's just one of many moments in which she associates her childhood at the top secret China Lake Naval Station with paranoia, secrecy and fear of the unknown. While Piper knows that the secrecy of her home is due to weapons ...
Tollund Man (09/19)
Anne Youngson's debut work, Meet Me at the Museum is an epistolary novel consisting of letters between a farm wife living in England and a Danish museum curator. The correspondence begins when she writes to inquire about Tollund Man.

The naturally mummified corpse known as Tollund Man (so named because he was found close to the small ...
Real Life Tree Houses (08/19)
Unlike Harry in Jon Cohen's Harry's Trees, readers can't stay in the fictional tree house built by Amanda Jeffers's late husband, but there are plenty of other wildly inventive and beautiful tree houses around the world that people can visit, explore - and even sleep in! Here are just a few:

Just 20 miles outside Seattle,...
The Ferrymen of Souls (08/19)
Quietly the ferryman is a recurring character in Once Upon a River, a spectral presence that exists somewhere in between truth and fantasy. Radcot's denizens, many of whom believe they have spotted Quietly on the Thames, have constructed dozens of versions of his story, but in essence he is described as 'a man who comes and goes without ...
Angels (08/19)
Angels continue to intrigue many, as evidenced by Sophie Cameron's debut novel, Out Of The Blue. In Zoroastrianism (which dates back to about 1500 BCE) and the Abrahamic religions (the major ones being Judaism, Christianity and Islam), angels are generally considered spiritual beings created by God to serve him in many roles, including ...
Qat (07/19)
As a young boy growing up in war-torn Mogadishu, the capital of the East African country of Somalia, Abdi Nor Iftin and his brother Hassan often looked for enterprising ways to support their family. They stumbled onto a lucrative business when they started selling the qat leaves they gathered from the ground around market stalls or stole ...
World of Wonders (05/19)
In her memoir, The Electric Woman, Tess Fontaine recounts her experiences working for a five-month long season with World of Wonders, the last traditional traveling sideshow in the United States.

As the name implies, sideshows are smaller acts that are part of a larger fair or circus. According to the International Independent Showmen'...
The Art of the Flaneur (05/19)
The word flaneur sounds like a term for a connoisseur of flannel fabric but, in fact, the Oxford dictionary defines flaneur as 'A man who saunters around observing society.' It is derived from the French word flâner which means 'saunter, lounge.'

According to an article in the New Republic, Charles Baudelaire gave birth to the ...
Greyhound Racing (05/19)
In Michael Ondaatje's novel Warlight, the narrator assists with 'importing a dubious population of unregistered foreign dogs' into England for the sport of dog racing.

Modern dog racing is an outgrowth of an older sport called 'coursing,' in which dogs hunt game by sight instead of using their sense of smell (hounds as a category are ...
Nainoa Thompson and Modern Day Wayfinding (04/19)
Although Sea People is largely written as a history focusing on Polynesia and its earliest inhabitants, it also introduces readers to the islands as a whole: the culture of the Polynesian people, the botany and wildlife of the many islands and the adventurous spirit of a people who loved exploration. This adventurous spirit, however, was ...
Fingerprint Alteration (03/19)
In Joseph Knox's noir thriller The Smiling Man, the police can't identify the murder victim because the man had gone to extremes in order to conceal his identity. Clearly a person in an occupation that required anonymity, he had resorted to perhaps the ultimate means of operating under the radar of law enforcement authorities. He had ...
Dancing Bears (02/19)
The third section of Neel Mukherjee's A State of Freedom follows Lakshman, a young father taking care of two families in the slums of India. When one day Lakshman stumbles upon a stray bear cub wandering about the streets, he sees the animal as his golden ticket to earning a fortune by starting a dancing bear routine.

Dancing bears ...
A Second Career as a Private Investigator (02/19)
In Walter Mosley's crime novel, Down the River Unto the Sea, the protagonist, Joe King Oliver, is a former NYC police detective who starts his own private investigative agency as a follow up career. In real life this choice is not uncommon.

Due to the generally early retirement opportunities within most public law enforcement ...
The Origins of Human-Canine Friendship (02/19)
Sigrid Nunez's The Friend reminds us of the power and beauty of the human-canine friendship. Many of us have witnessed the relationship first-hand – our dogs 'listen' to us, they comfort us when we are sad and they are the first to greet us when we come home – but where and when did it originate? How did the gray wolf ...
Trinacria (02/19)
Auntie Poldi, in Mario Giordano's Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions, is intrigued when she encounters an unusual tattoo on the murder victim. It's Sicily's trinacria, an heraldic-style image whose origins linger in the shadows of Greek mythology.

Heraldry (the art of devising and displaying armorial insignia) may have begun on the ...
Creative Blocks (01/19)
Many writers, artists, and other creatives experience the occasional block – an inability to create or a sudden lack of ideas for moving forward with their work. Both Alex and Christine deal with this issue in Tessa Hadley's Late in the Day, and for Alex the block spans many years. The term creative block was coined in 1947 by Dr. ...
Tidbits from Timekeepers (01/19)
Simon Garfield's Timekeepers, is a book about our obsession with time. It is chock filled with the ways our lives revolve around it, the instruments we use to manage it, and some people's odd perspectives on it. Here are five quirky, fun facts from the book:

1. The Oxford English Dictionary keeps a list of frequently used nouns. The ...
Sidewalk Chalk (01/19)
In C. J. Tudor's thriller The Chalk Man, twelve-year-old Eddie and his friends create a secret language using stick figures drawn with chalk. The story takes place in 1986, but of course chalk games have been around for a lot longer than that.

Chalk has too. The word chalk comes from the latin calx, which means limestone. Limestone is ...
Money Laundering (01/19)
A high stakes money laundering scheme is at the core of Steve Cavanagh's legal thriller The Plea. Eight billion dollars in illicit cash is flowing through the accounts of a Manhattan law firm that enjoys a solid gold reputation. The United States federal government is hot on the case, but nailing the parties involved at just the ...
Holiday Survival Guide (10/18)
In Seven Days Of Us, Francesca Hornak has her characters quarantined for seven days during the holiday season; Days trapped with one's family is stressful enough, but the added pressure of "The Holidays" can really turn up the heat. 

So why, one might ask, are the holidays a particularly stressful time for so many? ...
The History of the Typewriter (09/18)
Tom Hanks' short story collection Uncommon Type, puts his love for typewriters on display. Hanks has a personal collection of over one hundred machines, made up of nearly every make and model ever put on the market. For those who grew up in the digital age, typewriters may seem all but extinct, a relic of a past era. But at one time, ...
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