Ari Shapiro

In 2016, Amitav Ghosh was working on his novel Gun Island, and imagined a scene in which a wildfire was advancing toward a Los Angeles museum. About six months later, that scenario played out in real life, as the Skirball fire burned near The Getty Center in December 2017. Ghosh says he felt "completely shaken."

A-WA is made up of three Israeli sisters, Tair, Liron and Tagel Haim. This melodic trio of Jewish women of Yemeni descent women emphasize mixing their culture's traditions with forward-thinking modifications to sound, visuals and ethos. The sisters are known for eye-popping music videos that challenge gender stereotypes. Picture women in traditional robes that are neon pink while off-roading across a barren desert. The trio's sound is just as distinctive.

Tanya Tucker has always been a hellraiser. The 60-year-old country singer who shot to fame with Delta Dawn in 1972 at 13 has made a career out of charismatic sass, an outlaw image and a signature vocal performance to back it up. Throughout Tucker's career, there have been bestselling albums, awards and recognition including an exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame. There have also been bouts with drug addiction and rehabilitation.

In 1987, reporter Jason DeParle went to sleep on the floor of a shanty in Manila for the first time. He had come to the Philippines to find out more about poverty in the developing world, and when he got there, he asked a nun with connections in a slum to help him find a family to take him in. "She walked me through the squatter camp and auctioned me off on the spot," he says. "I'm not sure who was more frightened, Tita, the woman I moved in with, or me."

"My entire life is in ruins."

The first line in Sarah Parcak's new book might come off a bit bleak, but the archaeologist means this literally, not figuratively. In fact, she's found studying thousands of years of human history has actually given her hope, or at least some hope. "Humans are very resilient," she says. "And in spite of all the terrible things that we have done to each other, I think we're 51% good. So I try to hold onto that, especially being the parent of a young child."

Electric cars are all over the roads these days. But what about electric planes?

Air travel currently accounts for only about 2% of global carbon emissions. But it's expected to grow in the next century, and clean air travel is seen as a key part of slowing global warming.

Edith Magnusson, the hard-working heroine in The Lager Queen of Minnesota is actually a composite of some of the women closest to author J. Ryan Stradal — his own mother and grandmothers. Stradal wasn't seeing the strong, Midwestern women who raised him reflected well in contemporary fiction. So he decided to write those characters himself.

"Sometimes when they are represented they can be oversimplified or caricatured ... " he says. "I know these people too well to do that. They contain multitudes just like everyone does — only they don't toot their own horn about it."

Before writing his first book, author Daniel Nieh was an international model and a Chinese interpreter.

Those previous lives shine through in Nieh's debut novel, Beijing Payback.

"As a model and as a translator, you're always behind the scenes," Nieh says in an interview. "You know, you get backstage, you're a fly on the wall, you're there to be seen or be heard but maybe not to speak. And so you get to witness all kinds of different bizarre situations."

When Steven Hoelscher first came across an essay with Langston Hughes' name on it, he says it felt "totally random." Hoelscher, a professor at University of Texas at Austin, was doing research in the archives of an investigative journalist named John L. Spivak.

In 2013, a video of a marriage proposal set to Betty Who's "Somebody Loves You" went viral on YouTube. The video shows a colorfully clad group perform a coordinated, joyful dance to the pop song in the middle of a Home Depot in Salt Lake City. According to Betty Who, the Home Depot performance is one of a number of proposals and wedding dances with the same soundtrack.

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