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Beyond the Book Articles
Cultural Curiosities

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National 9/11 Memorial & Museum (04/12)
The search for the World Trade Center Memorial design, which is now being built where the Twin Towers once stood, began in 2003. While honoring those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, the memorial also pays tribute to the seven people killed and thousands injured in the WTC attack on February 26, 1993. Memorializing these 3,...
The Symbolism of Doves (04/12)
Alice Hoffman's The Dovekeepers shows us a world where doves, in addition to serving day-to-day purposes, represent so much more. Along with their close cousin, the pigeon, doves make up the bird family Columbidae. And while they're often thought of as bright white birds, with over 300 species, they actually come in all shapes and sizes....
Pho : A Vietnamese Delicacy (03/12)
In Camilla Gibb's novel The Beauty of Humanity Movement, Old Man Hung is the resourceful owner of a rickety pho stand, and, in many ways, he holds the community together throughout Vietnam's political turmoil, one bowl at a time.

Pho (pronounced 'fuh') is a Vietnamese rice noodle soup that is eaten at any time of day (breakfast, ...
The Reader Organisation (11/11)
Rarely have I been as excited about an organization as I am about The Reader Organisation, a British-based group whose mission is to bring about a reading revolution. A reading revolution!

'The work we do,' says The Reader Organisation, 'is driven by a love for great literature and a strong belief that shared reading is a deeply ...
The Symbolism of Ravens (10/11)
Raven Summer begins with a raven beckoning to Liam to follow him. He flies a bit ahead, stops, calls to Liam - Jak jak! Jak jak! - and then flies a bit ahead again. Like this, the raven leads Liam to the abandoned baby. What is the symbolism of this loud, large beaked, black bird?

Ravens figure prominently in many legends from ...
Checking Facts (10/11)
Deadly Spin unravels misinformation surrounding the contentious topic of American health care. Considering that Wendell Potter has shown how difficult it is to uncover the truth about such a widely discussed issue as this, where can the average citizen turn to find unbiased facts? Some suggestions include:

PolitiFact
This website ...
Religious Snake Handling (10/11)
Pentecostalism is a sect of Christianity that originated in rural areas of the USA in the early 1900s. Members believe that baptism in the Holy Spirit results in a personal experience of God, but salvation requires that they practice the teachings of Jesus Christ. They take every word of the Bible as literal truth and act on those ...
When is blue green, and when is it grue? (09/11)
Deutscher has much to say about the color 'blue': its presence or absence in a language or culture, its sister-color, 'green' with which it combines as a single hue in some languages, and notes that it is the color most difficult for children to learn.

Did you know?

  • Many languages do not have separate terms for blue ...

Practice Babies (09/11)

All it took was the unexpected image of a cute, bare-bottomed baby to set the wheels of The Irresistible Henry House in motion. While Lisa Grunwald was researching another book, she happened upon an online exhibition detailing the history of Cornell University's home economics program which ran from 1900-1969. Originally ...

The Perfect Pie (09/11)
Joyce Maynard always seems to incorporate fresh produce and cooking into her stories, with a special affinity for baking. A scene in The Good Daughters includes freshly baked biscuits from scratch and ripened strawberries, while the preparation of a peach pie in Labor Day provides one of the most poignant moments in the book.

...
Real Dogs Portrayed in Fiction (09/11)
The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of his friend Marilyn Monroe creates a believable character in Maf, a character based on Marilyn Monroe's dog. Fiction about or including dogs has a popular and long history. Wikipedia offers an expansive page listing the dogs in literature including Odysseus's faithful companion Argos, and ...
Vish Puri's Favorite Dishes (08/11)
Investigator Vish Puri just won't stop his quest for the elusive killer. Unless, of course, it's dinner time. Or lunch time. Or time for an afternoon snack. If you already like Indian food, The Man Who Died Laughing will make your mouth water. And if you haven't tried Indian food, here's a cheat sheet to some of the Most Private ...
Coleridge's Frost at Midnight and The International Dark Sky Association (08/11)
Brilliant provokes much thought on a variety of topics: circadian rhythms; the health dangers of light exposure; the depiction of natural and man-made light in art (Brox discusses three of Van Gogh's night paintings and explains what light and darkness was like for him.); the Columbian Exhibition; the eccentric and visionary Nikola ...
Early Cookbooks and Recipes (08/11)
In The Cookbook Collector, George purchases a large collection of old and rare cookbooks - all of which exist in real-life.

Cookbooks have a wonderful and interesting history. The earliest surviving recipe collection in English are the 200 or so recipes known as the The Forme of Cury ('The Rules of Cookery') which is believed to ...

Risks on the Road & Survivor's Guilt (07/11)
Risks on the Road
According to the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration's (NHSTA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System, of the 34,172 fatal automobile crashes in 2008, 718, about 2%, were cyclists like Celine Zilke. A much higher number of fatalities, 4,414, were pedestrians. Trend data between 1994 and 2008 shows a slightly ...
Vampires - Monsters or Romeos? (06/11)
The vampires of folklore are hideous and frightening figures, walking corpses that feast on the blood of the living. But during the Victorian era, writers began to create stories about a different kind of vampire, typified by an aristocrat who represented both death and sexual desire, a possible reaction to the repressiveness of the...
The Equality Trust and Happiness (05/11)
Authors Wilkinson and Pickett work to enact the ideas they put forward in The Spirit Level on their Equality Trust website and its campaign for economic equality. Visit this site for blog entries and updates on their work.

Watch a video of Wilkinson and Pickett talking about the ideas in The Spirit Level:

If money doesn't buy ...

The Mummers of Newfoundland (04/11)
Two vivid and lively scenes in Galore reflect the occasion of mummers performing house-visits in the fictional outport community of Paradise Deep, Newfoundland. The practice of mumming (also known as mummering or janneying)  in Newfoundland originated with the early immigrants from Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Mumming ...
Slave Castles & Synthethesia (03/11)
Slave Castles
A pivotal scene in Amaryllis in Blueberry occurs when the Slepy family visits one of West Africa's slave castles. Though the slave castle in the story isn't mentioned by name, research will lead you to the Elmina and the Cape Coast region located on the coast of Ghana.

Castles were constructed along the coveted ...
The Omega Point (01/11)
What does Don DeLillo share with Marilyn Manson and Dilbert?

Answer: An interest in the omega point, a theory developed by the French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in his book The Phenomenon of Man, which was written in 1938 but was so contested by the Catholic church that it wasn't published until just after his death in 1955.
...

The Kitchen God (01/11)
The playful yet poignant narrator of Sam Meekings's Under Fishbone Clouds introduces himself as Zao Jun, a being who, before becoming the Kitchen God, was a mortal human. There are many versions of his story spread throughout different regions of China, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia, coming from both Taoist and Buddhist traditions, though ...
The Chinese Zodiac (09/10)
Author Alison Goodman models her concept of the twelve energy dragons of good fortune after the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. Falling in an established order within the cycle, the animals, according to legend, once bickered over who would head the ...
A Short Lesson in Restaurant Terminology (05/10)
PERSONNEL
Chef: the cook in charge of a restaurant; from the French chef de cuisine, literally the head of the kitchen.
Executive Chef: sometimes called the head cook, he or she is the one responsible for running the food preparation in a kitchen, ordering food and supplies, making staff schedules, dealing with administrative tasks. ...
A Beginner's Guide to Mountaineering (05/10)
Mountain climbing, or mountaineering, is the sport of attaining or attempting to attain high points in mountainous regions, mainly for the pleasure of the climb. Before the 18th century, climbing for sport was rare. Humans did ascend high peaks, but generally only out of necessity or for religious reasons (many ancient religions ...
Candy Bars, Fascinating Facts (04/10)
Chocolate as a drink was a favorite of Montezuma, Emperor of the Aztecs. Hernando Cortez brought the drink back to Spain in 1529. It remained a favorite of the Spanish royalty for many years before being consumed widely throughout Europe.

It was not until three centuries later in England that chocolate was first used as a non-liquid ...
The World's Largest Porch Swing and Nurturing Talent (03/10)
The memory of her family's visits to the World's Largest Porch Swing in Hebron, Nebraska, sustains Mibs during the bumpy bus ride to Salina where her seriously injured father is hospitalized.

Wackiness like The World's Largest Porch Swing has a sweetness in Savvy and has nothing to do with kitschiness. Instead, Law is inviting us to ...
Women and Botany (03/10)
Before her husband forbade her from pursuing any hobbies or interests, Mary Eleanor Bowes devoted considerable time to studying botany and overseeing the gardens at her family estates. She even became the patron of Scottish naturalist William Paterson, funding his expedition to South Africa, from where he brought native plant specimens as...
Traditional Recipes for Preserving the Sweetness of Summer (02/10)
Jane Fielding's home and family are the center of My One Hundred Adventures. Her mother's inventive, fresh cooking, the gathering of fresh sea food, berries and greens, and the calm fellowship the Fieldings enjoy at mealtimes sustain and fortify Jane as she greets each new adventure. Jane's mother preserves the sweetness of summer...
A Beginner's Guide to Tall Ships (02/10)
The Red Wolf Conspiracy takes place almost entirely aboard an immense sailing ship (aka 'tall ship') with seven decks and five sails, similar, albeit perhaps on a grander scale, to those one might envision in use during the 18th century. Although the book is set in a fantasy world, Redick references familiar ship types and crew ...
Cooking by Feel (01/10)
Although Lillian calls her cooking classes 'The School of Essential Ingredients' and has been asked what those are, she doesn't keep a list of them, nor are any of her recipes written down. While she does acknowledge that baking requires a more carefully balanced set of ingredients (she also believes that couples should make their own ...
The Story of Stamps (01/10)
Great Britain's 'Penny Black' plays a significant role in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. It was the first stamp, first issued on May 6, 1840. It cost one penny, was printed in black, and bore the profile of Queen Victoria. For the next 60 years (until her death in 1901), Queen Victoria's portrait was the only subject allowed on ...
Dog Training Methods & The Seeing Eye (11/09)
Edgar Sawtelle would not have much to say—or sign—to the Dog Whisperer. Cesar Millan, the star of 'The Dog Whisperer' on the National Geographic Channel, is known for his 'pack-oriented' philosophy, which traces canine behavior back to their survival instinct for living in highly organized packs led by a single, strong leader. ...
Everett vs. Chomsky (11/09)
In Don't Sleep, There are Snakes, the elephant in the room—or rather, the elephant in the Amazonian jungle—is the noted American linguist, Noam Chomsky. To put it far too simply, Chomsky and Everett are feuding over which has supremacy in linguistics: genetics or culture, nature or nurture.

Chomsky's theory of universal ...
"Crimes of the Century" (11/09)
Tacking down a precise date for when the term 'Crime of the Century' was first utilized is not easy, but most scholars would attach the name of Jack the Ripper to the creation of that notorious slogan. The killing spree in 1888 that resulted in the deaths of at least five accountable victims and possibly ten more was never solved, but...
Norse mythology and Runes (11/09)
Norse mythology is the best preserved version of Germanic paganism, sharing the same essential pantheon with Anglo-Saxon mythology. Both have their roots in a hypothetical Indo-European mythology that is believed to be at the root of most pre-Christian religions in Europe and India (including Hinduism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism) ...
The Vidocq Society (11/09)
'Legend has it that if you give Vidocq two or three of the details surrounding a given crime, he will give you back the man who did it---before you've had time to blink. More than that, he'll describe the man for you, give you his most recent address, name all his known conspirators, tell you his favorite cheese. So compendious is...
S&H Green Stamps (10/09)
Chances are if you’re under 40 you might not remember S&H Green Stamps, but since I’m one step over that hill, I clearly remember licking those sticky little stamps and dreaming of all the possibilities they held as I carefully pasted them onto the enticing matching rectangles. For those of you who can recall pressing those ...
Nanotechnology in Medieval Times (10/09)
Though Graceling is certainly set in a magical history, the time period seems distinctly medieval, based on the descriptions of clothing, weapons, buildings, and the general atmosphere. A descriptive passage towards the end of Graceling made me wonder about the science and craft of stained-glass-making in medieval times. Wielding ...
Predestination (09/09)
One of the crucial scenes in Home, a scene so important that it repeats and vastly expands on a scene from Gilead, occurs when John Ames and his wife Lila visit the Boughtons for dinner, and Jack discomfits them all by pressing Reverend Ames for his views on the doctrine of predestination. "Do you think some people are intentionally ...
The Africa-America Institute (09/09)
The work of the airlift organizers continues: The Africa-America Institute is a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, non-profit organization with headquarters in New York, and offices in Washington, South Africa, and Mozambique. Founded in 1953, AAI's mission is to promote enlightened engagement between Africa and America through education, ...
Resurrection Men (09/09)
When we think of grave-robbing, we usually think of dark tales involving bandits pillaging graves for jewelry or other valuables. But the value of bodies in the 19th century stretched far beyond that of their adornments. Before people began donating their bodies to science, the only legal supply of cadavers in the UK for medical ...
Post-Life Environmentalism (09/09)
Clara has such a detached attitude toward the more clinical aspects of her job as undertaker – removing organs, sewing the mouth shut, applying makeup – that her description of these tasks seems no different than a fishmonger discussing the gutting and filleting of salmon. And MacKinnon includes enough subtle hints as to the ...
Estate Appraisal (08/09)
Jenkins' crackerjack antiques appraiser Sterling Glass unlocks a veritable Pandora's Box when she commences to open doors and snoop around the secret rooms and passageways of Wynderly. She quite literally uncovers ancient family secrets that might be best left unexposed to the harsh light of judgment. The problem is, however, many of the ...
Hakawatis and A Thousand and One Nights (06/09)
Once upon a time, not terribly long ago, hakawatis, or storytellers, were commonplace fixtures on Middle Eastern streets. As coffee-drinking gained popularity in Ottoman times, the hakawatis moved from the streets into the coffee houses. Hakawatis were paid by the owners of the coffee houses to draw customers, and the best could ...
The Language of Wales (06/09)
Wales, located on the south-west peninsula of Great Britain (the main island of the United Kingdom) is one of the four constituent nations of the UK, the others are England, Northern Ireland and Scotland (map). Its population is about 3 million (5% of the UK).  For more about the history of Wales, see the sidebar to The ...
Doppelgangers (05/09)
When Cassie sees a woman lying stabbed to death who looks exactly like her, with an ID that matches the identity she used for years as an undercover detective, it seems clear that she is looking at her own doppelganger.
  • The dictionary describes a doppelganger (or doubleganger, from the German for 'doublegoer' or lookalike) as a ghostly...
The Slow Food Movement (05/09)
The Slow Food movement began in Italy as a thoughtful protest against the arrival of American fast food in Rome in the 1980's. Seeking to promote an alternative to the Western diet and way of eating, eating slowly in the Slow Food sense means to eat with a full understanding and appreciation of every single step involved in bringing ...
Donating Dresses (05/09)
Lucky's cover features a lime-green dream dress that Phoebe plans to wear to her over-the-top 8th grade graduation party. That beautiful dress, the way it makes Phoebe feel when she tries it on, and the way it makes her feel when she realizes that her parents can no longer afford to buy it for her, embodies Phoebe's expectations ...
Wolves as Totems (04/09)
Although many in the USA will associate totems - objects, animals or plants revered as a symbol of a tribe and often used in rituals - with Native Americans, totems are found in many cultures throughout the world, tracing far back into prehistory. Google the word and you'll find websites such asanimaltotem.com, devoted to helping one find...
The AMBER Alert Program (03/09)
The AMBER Alert Program is a voluntary partnership between law-enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation agencies, and the wireless industry, to activate an urgent bulletin in the most serious child-abduction cases. The goal of an AMBER Alert is to instantly galvanize the entire community to assist in the search for and...
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