Michael Schaub

"The fire you like so much in me / Is the mark of someone adamantly free," Liz Phair declared in her 1993 song "Strange Loop."

The song, which appeared on her debut studio album, Exile in Guyville, was a fitting introduction to the Chicago-raised singer-songwriter ⁠— Phair was serving notice that she was unwilling to be anyone other than herself, and if people didn't approve of her sexually frank and defiantly profane lyrics, or her lo-fi sensibility, they were more than welcome to listen to something else.

The Spanish port city of Algeciras boasts a long and rich history, and is home to some of the country's most beautiful parks, plazas and churches. But Maurice Hearne and Charlie Redmond, the two aging Irish men at the heart of Kevin Barry's Night Boat to Tangier, aren't interested in any of that. They're spending all their time in the city's dingy ferry terminal, along with a mass of weary travelers and a handful of bored employees.

The narrator of "One Gram Short," the second story in Israeli author Etgar Keret's new short story collection, Fly Already, is desperate for some weed. He's not much of a smoker himself, but the woman he has a crush on — a coffee-shop waitress named Shimka — is a fan, and he's hoping he can impress her by offering to share a joint with her.

"Sometimes, I feel I got to get away," sang the Who in their 1965 single "The Kids Are Alright," and no wonder the song became an instant classic for the youth of Townshend and Daltrey's g-g-g-generation — teenagers of every age tend toward the restive, longing to experience life beyond whichever town or city they were raised in.

Sheila, the narrator of Kimberly King Parson's story "Guts," can't run away from bodies: not her own, not others'. Ever since she started dating Tim, a medical student, "all the sick, broken people in the world begin to glow." She imagines tumors and incipient heart attacks in strangers, all the while remaining conscious of her own body, which fails to bring her joy: "I should love my body more," she reflects, but she doesn't.

Cindy, the 14-year-old narrator of Sarah Elaine Smith's Marilou is Everywhere, wants to disappear. The girl feels suffocated by her lonely, poverty-stricken existence in rural southwestern Pennsylvania, particularly after her single mother has left for an indeterminate amount of time, trusting her two older brothers to take care of her. "My life was an empty place," Cindy reflects. "From where I stood, it seared on with a blank and merciless light. All dust and no song."

The long string of horrors that took place at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys wasn't a secret, but it might as well have been. Former students of the Florida reform school had spoken out for years about the brutal beatings that they endured at the hands of sadistic employees, but it wasn't until 2012, when University of South Florida anthropologists began to uncover unmarked graves on the school's campus, that the world began to care.

For several decades in the 20th century, the Los Angeles metropolitan area was known as the bank robbery capital of the world.

The area's abundance of freeways made it easy for robbers to quickly put distance between themselves and the banks they targeted, escaping into other jurisdictions before the police even knew what was happening.

There are some trials that naturally lend themselves to dramatic recounting in books or movies. They're usually the same ones that get called "trials of the century." Cases, for example, involving John T. Scopes, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, Adolf Eichmann and O.J. Simpson all captured the public imagination and inspired writers and filmmakers to take a shot at depicting the courtroom drama that ensued.

If the past nine years have had you feeling on edge, Jared Diamond has good news and bad news for you.

The good news: You're not alone. "Even when I tell myself that we should be suspicious because every decade has seemed at the time to be the one offering the most cause for anxiety," Diamond writes in his compelling new book, Upheaval, "I still have to agree: the current decade of the 2010s really is the one offering the most cause for anxiety."

David McCullough is best known to most readers for his popular biographies of some of the most prominent names in American history — Theodore Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, John Adams and the Wright Brothers have all been subjects of his meticulously researched volumes.

The problem with first love is that it's almost always followed quickly by first heartbreak. While it's true that some high-school romances endure for decades, for the most part, today's teenager in love is tomorrow's emotionally destroyed young person. Teenage love is bittersweet, but the bitter has a way of overwhelming the sweet.

A mention of the Secret Service today might conjure up images of unsmiling men and women wearing sunglasses and dark suits, surrounding the president, perhaps discreetly touching their earpieces once in a while.

Or if you're a history buff, your thoughts might turn to 19th-century lawmen hot on the trail of counterfeiters. (Investigating financial crimes is still part of the agency's purview.)

American history, as it exists in the popular imagination, has often tended toward the self-congratulatory.

Events of the past are frequently filtered through a majority lens, focusing on the perceived heroics of, for example, white abolitionists and civil rights activists. To hear some tell it, the civil rights struggle of the 1960s ended when President Lyndon B. Johnson, having indulgently listened to Martin Luther King Jr., signed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, after which racism was solved and everything was better forever.

Fans of Amy Hempel have gotten used to waiting. In the 34 years since her debut book, Reasons to Live, was published, the short story writer has released just four books, one of which was a collection of her previous volumes. Her last book of new material, the critically acclaimed The Dog of the Marriage, hit bookstore shelves 14 years ago. In terms of literary output, she's basically the anti-Joyce Carol Oates.

New York and Los Angeles tend to get all the ink, but you could make an argument that Houston is the most uniquely American big city there is. Sprawling and diverse, the Bayou City shows us how a variety of cultures can coexist and band together after hardships, such as the hurricanes that have battered the city over the past several years.

At some point in their careers, all authors have heard some variation on the advice "Grab the reader from the front page." For some writers of literary fiction, this translates to "Describe the sun shining on a New England lake in very exacting detail," or something of that nature.

Han Kang has been a familiar name to Korean readers for two decades, but it's only recently that English-speaking audiences have been able to read her work. She made her major American debut in 2016, when the English translation of her novel The Vegetarian was released in the States; the horrifying story of a woman who comes undone after giving up meat became an unlikely breakout hit. A year later, her novel Human Acts followed; while the subject matter wasn't similar to The Vegetarian, the critical praise it received was.

On the very first page of American Spy, narrator Marie Mitchell, a former FBI agent, hears a noise in her house. Deciding it's best to be cautious, she grabs her handgun, right before her worst fear is confirmed — a man with a gun enters her bedroom. There's a struggle; Marie ends up with a few broken blood vessels in her cheeks, and the stranger ends up with a bullet in his head.

The unnamed narrator of Maurice Carlos Ruffin's We Cast a Shadow has two great loves. The first is wife, Penny, with whom he enjoys a playful, passionate relationship. The other is their young son, Nigel, a sensitive, intelligent 11-year-old boy with a sweet nature and a childlike sense of curiosity. Nigel, the narrator thinks, is perfect.

There's a lot to recommend life in a large town or small city, but there's no doubt it can get claustrophobic — familiar faces can get too familiar, and it's hard to blend into the crowd when everyone in the crowd knows who you are.

In 1776, the governor of New York and the mayor of New York City conspired to assassinate George Washington. And it might have succeeded if it weren't for a would-be counterfeiter and an iron mill foreman.

It sounds like the plot of a mildly implausible historical thriller, but it actually happened and it's one of the more remarkable stories to come out of the American Revolution, even if it's not one you learned in history class.

When college football championship time rolls around each year, you're not likely to encounter the names Harvard or Yale.

The legendary schools play in the Football Championship Subdivision, which in recent years has been dominated by teams like North Dakota State and James Madison. When an Ivy League school does manage to crack the Top 25, it's usually Princeton or Dartmouth.

For centuries, people have used mythology to try to make sense of the fact that the people of the world speak so many different languages.

One example of the origin story of the "confusion of tongues" comes from the Old Testament — God confounded the language of the people as punishment for trying to build the Tower of Babel, the story goes, which they did in attempt to physically reach heaven.

"I just can't find the time to write my mind the way I want it to read," sang Jeff Tweedy in "Box Full of Letters," the very first single from Wilco, the alternative-rock band he's fronted since 1994.

And it's true that the singer-songwriter has kept himself busy over the last 24 years, recording 10 albums with Wilco (as well as several collaborations) and one with Tweedy, the band he started with his son Spencer.

U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse has good timing.

That's not because his new book, Them: Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal, comes at a time when prospective presidential candidates are starting to publish arguments for their potential 2020 bids (the Nebraska Republican hasn't ruled out a run, but he's said it's unlikely.)

There's never a shortage of memoirs by successful businessmen and, for the most part, they tend to play out the same way.

The cover often features a photo of the author in a suit, smiling, with his arms confidently folded across his chest. The book itself tells a rags-to-riches story, broken up with obvious aphorisms and bulletted lists detailing how you, too, can earn millions if you just put your mind to it, darn it. Words like "synergy," "impact" and "disruption" all get healthy workouts.

Americans like to think of our country as the land of the free — but that's not the case for everyone: More than 2 million Americans are in jails or prisons in the U.S.

The end of the summer is bad news for students, teachers and masochists who enjoy feeling like they're literally on fire whenever the sun is out. But it's good news for football fans, who have had to endure seven long, gridiron-free months.

That wasn't always the case, though.

For three years in the mid-1980s, sports fans could enjoy football in the Spring, thanks to the United States Football League — which featured colorful players and uniforms, and put an emphasis on fun.

Ohio, the debut novel from author Stephen Markley, begins with a parade, but it's not a happy one. The town of New Canaan has gathered to salute Rick Brinklan, a native of the city who was killed in action in Iraq. The novel then jumps in time to 2013, six years after that parade: "It's hard to say where any of this ends or how it ever began, because what you eventually learn is that there is no such thing as linear," Markley writes. "There is only this wild ... flamethrower of a collective dream in which we were all born and traveled and died."

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