Here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of essays I like/find interesting/are food for thought; I’ve tried to sort them as much as possible. The starred (*) ones are those I especially love
also quick note: some of these links, especially the ones that are from books/anthologies redirect you to libgen or scihub, and if that doesn’t work for you, do message me; I’d be happy to send them across!
Literature + Writing
Godot Comes to Sarajevo - Susan Sontag
The Strangeness of Grief - V. S. Naipaul*
Memories of V. S. Naipaul - Paul Theroux*
A Rainy Day with Ruskin Bond - Mayank Austen Soofi
How Albert Camus Faced History - Adam Gopnik
Listen, Bro - Jo Livingstone
Rachel Cusk Gut-Renovates the Novel - Judith Thurman
Lost in Translation: What the First Line of ��The Stranger” Should Be - Ryan Bloom
The Duke in His Domain - Truman Capote*
The Cult of Donna Tartt: Themes and Strategies in The Secret History - Ana Rita Catalão Guedes
Never Do That to a Book - Anne Fadiman*
Affecting Anger: Ideologies of Community Mobilisation in Early Hindi Novel - Rohan Chauhan*
Why I Write - George Orwell*
Rimbaud and Patti Smith: Style as Social Deviance - Carrie Jaurès Noland*
Art + Photography (+ Aesthetics)
Looking at War - Susan Sontag*
Love, sex, art, and death - Nan Goldin, David Wojnarowicz
Lyons, Szarkowski, and the Perception of Photography - Anne Wilkes Tucker
The Feminist Critique of Art History - Thalia Gouma-Peterson, Patricia Mathews
In Plato's Cave - Susan Sontag*
On reproduction of art (Chapter 1, Ways of Seeing) - John Berger*
On nudity and women in art (Chapter 3, Ways of Seeing) - John Berger*
Kalighat Paintings - Sharmishtha Chaudhuri
Daydreams and Fragments: On How We Retrieve Images From the Past - Maël Renouard
Arthur Rimbaud: the Aesthetics of Intoxication - Enid Rhodes Peschel
Tragic Fable of Mumbai Mills - Gyan Prakash
Whose Bandra is it? - Dustin Silgardo*
Timur's Registan: noblest public square in the world? - Srinath Perur
The first Starbucks coffee shop, Seattle - Colin Marshall*
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai's iconic railway station - Srinath Perur
From London to Mumbai and Back Again: Gentrification and Public Policy in Comparative Perspective - Andrew Harris
The Limits of "White Town" in Colonial Calcutta - Swati Chattopadhyay
The Metropolis and Mental Life - Georg Simmel
Colonial Policy and the Culture of Immigration: Citing the Social History of Varanasi - Vinod Kumar, Shiv Narayan
A Caribbean Creole Capital: Kingston, Jamaica - Coln G. Clarke (from Colonial Cities by Robert Ross, Gerard J. Telkamp
The Colonial City and the Post-Colonial World - G. A. de Bruijne
The Nowhere City - Amos Elon*
The Vertical Flâneur: Narratorial Tradecraft in the Colonial Metropolis - Paul K. Saint-Amour
The trolley problem problem - James Wilson
A Brief History of Death - Nir Baram
Justice as Fairness: Political not Metaphysical - John Rawls*
Should Marxists be Interested in Exploitation? - John E. Roemer
The Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief - Scott Berinato*
The Pandemic and the Crisis of Faith - Makarand Paranjape
If God Is Dead, Your Time is Everything - James Wood
Giving Up on God - Ronald Inglehart
The Limits of Consensual Decision - Douglas Rae*
The Science of "Muddling Through" - Charles Lindblom*
The Gruesome History of Eating Corpses as Medicine - Maria Dolan
The History of Loneliness - Jill Lepore*
From Tuskegee to Togo: the Problem of Freedom in the Empire of Cotton - Sven Beckert*
Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism - E. P. Thompson*
All By Myself - Martha Bailey*
The Geographical Pivot of History - H. J. Mackinder
Rim of Life - Manu Pillai
Exploring the Indian Ocean as a rich archive of history – above and below the water line - Isabel Hofmeyr, Charne Lavery
‘Piracy’, connectivity and seaborne power in the Middle Ages - Nikolas Jaspert (from The Sea in History)*
The Vikings and their age - Nils Blomkvist (from The Sea in History)*
Mercantile Networks, Port Cities, and “Pirate” States - Roxani Eleni Margariti
Phantom Peril in the Arctic - Robert David English, Morgan Grant Gardner*
Assorted ones on India
A departure from history: Kashmiri Pandits, 1990-2001 - Alexander Evans *
Writing Post-Orientalist Histories of the Third World - Gyan Prakash
Empire: How Colonial India Made Modern Britain - Aditya Mukherjee
Feminism and Nationalism in India, 1917-1947 - Aparna Basu
The Epic Riddle of Dating Ramayana, Mahabharata - Sunaina Kumar*
Caste and Politics: Identity Over System - Dipankar Gupta
Our worldview is Delhi based*
Sports (you’ll have to excuse the fact that it’s only cricket but what can i say, i’m indian)
'Massa Day Done:' Cricket as a Catalyst for West Indian Independence: 1950-1962 - John Newman*
Playing for power? rugby, Afrikaner nationalism and masculinity in South Africa, c.1900–70 - Albert Grundlingh
When Cricket Was a Symbol, Not Just a Sport - Baz Dreisinger
Cricket, caste, community, colonialism: the politics of a great game - Ramachandra Guha*
Cricket and Politics in Colonial India - Ramchandra Guha
MS Dhoni: A quiet radical who did it his way*
Brega: Music and Conflict in Urban Brazil - Samuel M. Araújo
Color, Music and Conflict: A Study of Aggression in Trinidad with Reference to the Role of Traditional Music - J. D. Elder
The 1975 - ‘Notes On a Conditional Form’ review - Dan Stubbs*
Life Without Live - Rob Sheffield*
How Britney Spears Changed Pop - Rob Sheffield
Concert for Bangladesh
From “Help!” to “Helping out a Friend”: Imagining South Asia through the Beatles and the Concert for Bangladesh - Samantha Christiansen
Clothing Behaviour as Non-verbal Resistance - Diana Crane
The Normalisation of Queer Theory - David M. Halperin
Menstruation and the Holocaust - Jo-Ann Owusu*
Women’s Suffrage the Democratic Peace - Allan Dafoe
Pink and Blue: Coloring Inside the Lines of Gender - Catherine Zuckerman*
Women’s health concerns are dismissed more, studied less - Zoanne Clack
How Food-Obsessed Millennials Shape the Future of Food - Rachel A. Becker (as a non-food obsessed somewhat-millennial, this was interesting)
Colonialism's effect on how and what we eat - Coral Lee
Tracing Europe's influence on India's culinary heritage - Ruth Dsouza Prabhu
Chicken Kiev: the world’s most contested ready-meal*
From Russia with mayo: the story of a Soviet super-salad*
The Politics of Pancakes - Taylor Aucoin*
How Doughnuts Fuelled the American Dream*
Pav from the Nau
A Short History of the Vada Pav - Saira Menezes
Fantasy (mostly just harry potter and lord of the rings)
Purebloods and Mudbloods: Race, Species, and Power (from The Politics of Harry Potter)
Azkaban: Discipline, Punishment, and Human Rights (from The Politics of Harry Potter)*
Good and Evil in J. R. R. Tolkien's Lengendarium - Jyrki Korpua
The Fairy Story: J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis - Colin Duriez (from Tree of Tales)*
Tolkien’s Augustinian Understanding of Good and Evil: Why The Lord of the Rings Is Not Manichean - Ralph Wood (from Tree of Tales)*
The Hidden Cost of Wildlife Tourism
Chronicles of a Writer’s 1950s Road Trip Across France - Kathleen Phelan
On the Early Women Pioneers of Trail Hiking - Gwenyth Loose
On the Mythologies of the Himalaya Mountains - Ed Douglas*
More random assorted ones
The cosmos from the wheelchair (The Economist obituaries)*
In El Salvador - Joan Didion
Scientists are unravelling the mystery of pain - Yudhijit Banerjee
Notes on Nationalism - George Orwell
Politics and the English Language - George Orwell*
What Do the Humanities Do in a Crisis? - Agnes Callard*
The Politics of Joker - Kyle Smith
Sushant Singh Rajput: The outsider - Uday Bhatia*
Credibility and Mystery - John Berger
happy reading :)
Writer Spotlight: Olivie Blake
Olivie Blake (@olivieblake) is the pseudonym of the writer Alexene Farol Follmuth, author of multiple novels, anthologies, graphic novels, and film scripts, many of which involve the fantastic, the paranormal, or the supernatural. Her works revolve around the collective experience, what it means to be human (or not), and the endlessly interesting complexities of life and love. Cult-favorite The Atlas Six was re-released in a revised hardcover edition last month with Tor Books. A sequel in October and a live-action series are forthcoming. Alexene lives and works in Los Angeles with her husband and new baby, where she is generally tolerated by her rescue pit bull.
Read on for Olivie’s favored medeian specialty, lessons learned from writing fanfic, her take on dark academia, and the process of self-publishing books people love.
Not to spoil anything for the three and a half people who maybe haven’t yet read The Atlas Six, but can you tell us a bit about the world of the series?
First of all, I appreciate the wording of this question. Thank you for that. Secondly, The Atlas Six is about the six uniquely talented magicians vying for initiation to the Alexandrian Society, a secret society of caretakers who protect and contribute to the archives of “lost” knowledge from the Library of Alexandria and throughout history. In the book’s contemporary setting, the question of how to combat climate change is answered politically and economically with magic, so the characters exist openly in a world where magicians, called medeians, are university-educated and contribute to a system of capitalism much like ours. These particular six candidates each have a rare magical specialty and a myriad of personal motivations for pursuing the Society’s promise of wealth, power, and knowledge—which drives their tendency to want to kiss or kill any of the others at any given moment. (Two of them already hate each other, and the rest are about to.) And there is obviously a catch to this extraordinary opportunity: only five of the six are guaranteed initiation.
What’s the journey been like writing, self-publishing, and re-releasing The Atlas Six?
This is absolutely the weirdest timeline. I don’t know of any better way to put it. I wrote this book when I was starting to think that publishing wasn’t going to happen for me. I’ve always split myself in two, writing manuscripts to cold query to agents while also self-publishing the stories I wanted to tell that I didn’t feel were a good fit for the market. Basically, I was self-publishing for the handful of beloved weirdos willing to follow me wherever I went. (Find your flock, they say. Good advice.)
I knew from my initial concept that this book wasn’t right for publishing en masse—it was too hard to explain in a quick pitch to an agent without sounding derivative. It was too character-driven for genre standards. It had a familiar setting and hook but with a very unconventional execution. There was no hero or villain. Every character was 100% sexually fluid. It was too quiet for spec fic. I was in a really think-y place, trying to figure out whether it was responsible to bring a baby into a world where it’s impossible to be ethical. In the end, I figured I could just write it for myself, exactly as I wanted to write it, while nobody cared enough about me to say no.
So I wrote it. Released it. People seemed to like it, but it wasn’t doing numbers. Within a few months, I had finished another manuscript and finally gotten an agent for a completely separate project—my young adult rom-com, My Mechanical Romance. I figured, okay, I guess I’m a YA author now, at least until those obligations are fulfilled, so Atlas will have to wait. But, I reasoned, thankfully, only a few people were waiting.
Then I got pregnant. I wrote another YA manuscript. Something weird happened on Twitter. (A very “somehow, Palpatine returned” situation.) People started talking about the book. I gave birth to my son. Something weirder happened on TikTok. A LOT of people started talking about the book. Suddenly my book that had absolutely no commercial appeal was...commercially appealing? I signed with Tor to finish out the trilogy (!). Then…producers wanted to meet with me? So I was like? Okay? In between my baby’s naps, I wrote the sequel and optioned the book for TV. I…got on the NYT bestseller list? I went on tour in two countries? At this point, it all dissolves into a fever dream. Is this real? I really don’t know. I haven’t slept more than two consecutive hours in almost a year.
On a serious note, revising The Atlas Six was such an incredible opportunity. I went from being a one-woman show (with the help of one or two friends and, of course, my beloved collaborator @littlechmura) to suddenly having the resources to actually make the book into what I wanted it to be. I got to stretch out a little, narratively speaking, and take up more space. New illustrations! New cover! New feedback! New ways to reach a new audience! Suddenly the book of my mind became the book of many minds and was all the better for it. It was then, and is now, a product of some kind of magic. For five years, I wrote ten to twelve hours a day, posting millions and millions of words for free, purely because I loved it—loved it to the point where it broke my heart to think of doing anything else. And now?
Well, now I have imposter syndrome, of course. But my god, what a beautiful con.
Do you have a favorite character among the six? Why? What does their Tumblr look like?
I don’t have a favorite character—I personally think it’s detrimental for the author to have a favorite when creating an ensemble cast that relies so heavily on changing POVs for the narration—BUT I do feel strongly that Libby and Nico would be the most active on Tumblr. Libby writes poems and carefully curates her aesthetic. I sense a little cottagecore in her. Probably a lot of melancholy art, too. Nico definitely runs an absolute chaosphere of a blog depending on whatever his fixation is at the time. He’s one of those mutuals where you followed him five years ago and can’t remember why because he’s changed fandoms several times, but at least the GIF sets he reblogs are entertaining.
This reissue includes illustrations from your longtime collaborator, illustrator Little Chmura (@littlechmura). What draws you to this kind of collaboration?
If you were fortunate enough to become friends with a brilliant artist, wouldn’t you try to lure them in, any chance you got? I love art. I love storytelling as an art and writing as an art. I love the adrenaline rush of creativity I get from working with other artists who are equally passionate about their craft. Sometimes, brainstorming an illustration with Little Chmura makes me feel inspiration in its purest form. The incendiary kind. All of my books contain art from her because it just contributes that much more to the story. Or, at the very least, it helps the story vibe properly.
You got your start writing Dramione fanfic. What did writing fanfic teach you about writing?
Okay, random start here, but go with me: I really loved this Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again oral history on Vulture where they said that the film was referred to as a crowd-pleaser in a way that was meant to be an insult. A crowd-pleaser, how meaningless. But the producers posed a critically important question: do you know how hard it is to please a crowd? Fanfic authors do. There is no other medium as dependent on audience enjoyment as fanfic. The entire medium is reliant on characterization and emotional beats. Imperfect plot or disrupted pacing can be forgiven if something sweet or hot happens along the way, but failing to be true to a character’s narrative arc or committing to a cheap bit like gratuitous character death is grounds for the proverbial guillotine.
The number one thing I learned as a fanfic author is always to keep one eye on the audience’s heart. Should it be racing? Fluttering? Aching? Should it, dare I say it, break? Pleasing (or devastating) a crowd is best learned via the fanfic structure: episodic and evolving with constant feedback. Learning how to make someone keysmash in your reviews is a carefully honed skill.
You’re very active online, with copious amounts of asks answered on your Tumblr and a video series on Youtube. Do you have a favorite fan interaction?
I have been more active in the past—this is a very busy year, what with the chaos goblin I birthed, a slightly unhinged production schedule, and three book releases! I’m feeling very guilty about my untended inbox, but I do love Tumblr. There, I said it! I love Tumblr! I love the multimedia curation! The possibility of long-form communication! The ads that do not, in any way, appear to be stealing my data! Anyway, no, I don’t think I could pick a favorite. There have been too many beautiful interactions, especially from people who’ve been reading my stuff for years.
Well, I guess one that stands out is a seemingly small series of events: I wrote a short friends-to-lovers fic about two engineers. It sparked a conversation on Tumblr between women who were pushed out of STEM at an early age and women in STEM fields who had never seen themselves in fiction before. It led to my YA book, My Mechanical Romance, especially after one user told me she wished she’d had my writing when she was younger. I thought, okay, well, good point, I should tell a story specifically for our younger selves. And now here we are.
What would your specialty be if you were a medeian, and why?
Telepathy. I’m incredibly nosy. I’d love to have a more nuanced reason, but that’s honestly it.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?
Potentially a bit overused, but the thing that has helped me most is the “you can edit a bad page, but you can’t edit a blank page” quote that Google is currently telling me comes from Jodi Picoult (I obviously first heard it on Tumblr). I have always been a pantser, meaning I fly by the seat of my pants when I write (fanfic is very conducive for such things), and I really had to learn to love revision. It doesn’t matter if you get the first draft right. The first draft is just the skeleton. To everyone who struggles with anxiety or creative blocks, I typically think it helps to tell yourself the first draft is allowed to suck. It’s kind of supposed to suck! Don’t romanticize this idea that writing is when the muse hands you the perfect words in perfect sequence. The craft of writing isn’t about the first draft. It’s about everything you do to bring the story to life.
What fuels your interest in dark academia? Do you have a favorite dark academia book/film/series/game?
To me, The Atlas Six is true academia—very The Secret History in terms of having long philosophical discussions about the meaning of art and beauty, except I did it with physics and psychology. It’s dark, of course, because of all the gray morality and institutional rot and inadvisable sexual tension. That’s a feature, not a bug, and I love when authors get a little weird with it. I love Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas, Bunny by Mona Awad, Plain Bad Heroines by Emily Danforth. Academia is weird and messed up by most standards, so the outsiders (BIPOC and queer authors) really do some fascinating work handling its darkness.
The Atlas Paradox comes out in October. Is there anything you can tell us about it?
I personally think it is funnier in the way things are funny when the characters have all begun existentially melting. (I’m an empath, she says chaotically.) People who have read it tell me it’s better than the first book. My publishers tell me hearts will be broken. But I leave all that for others to determine, of course…
Thanks @olivieblake! The Atlas Six is now available everywhere you can get books!