On Books, Bookshops, and More

Welcome to the second issue of Curated!

Hi everyone,

The end of my college semester is almost upon me, and what this means is that I spend more hours huddled under a duvet and reading than I did before. Now, more than ever, when the pandemic’s numbers are swelling and bulging in epic proportions, I thought I would talk a bit about the physical spaces in my world of books, in addition to, of course, my thoughts on what I have been reading recently.

🏰 How high fantasy failed us

I recently read an amazing piece on Aeon called Empire of Fantasy which beautifully describes something that I have seen repeated time and time again in fantasy fiction, and have wondered about for quite some time: why does such a large portion of fantasy fiction involve conquest and discovery of areas by characters belonging to medieval-era civilizations?

This often pops up in the subgenre of fantasy that is popularly referred to as “high fantasy” or “epic fantasy.” High fantasy is a term coined in 1971 by Lloyd Alexander that is basically used to describe a fantasy story of epic proportions (think of works such as those by Tolkien, Lewis, etc. where the fate of an entire fictional universe depends on the adventures of a chosen few, or even a “Chosen One”).

But somehow, a recurring amount of these adventures seem to involve fighting, subduing, or negotiating with inhabitants of lands otherwise unfamiliar to the protagonist. These themes, when set in the real world, may very well be considered to be in bad taste given the long history of colonialism and exploitation so many countries suffered. Yet, they have evolved to become tropes of high fantasy fiction.

This piece argues that this was intentional—it started with the very books that made fantasy what it is today, and has been continued by a series of authors who learned from their predecessors before them. I highly recommend reading the full piece here; if nothing else, it certainly provides a new lens through which one can view children’s literature.

If you agree with some of the ideas in the article, I recommend checking out the Locke Lamora series by Scott Lynch, a fantasy series that I have recently been reading. It utilizes a very different paradigm from the traditional high-fantasy approach. So far, I’ve only managed to read through The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies, but both of them take a very different approach to how their plots justify the hero’s journey. The books also capture the class differences in their pseudo-medieval world quite effectively, which is certainly a refreshing concept when reading a genre typically preoccupied with the lives and adventures of princes, knights, and other nobles.

🎹 Some new tunes I'm obsessed with

I’ve been listening to a lot of Vérité recently, especially her debut 2017 album, Somewhere in Between. I recommend listening to her if you like alternative pop music, and some of my favorites from the album include Phase Me Out, Need Nothing, When You’re Gone, and Saint.

Or listen to the album on Apple Music, if you prefer that!

💵 Startups and venture capital

I recently came across an article describing the rise and fall of WeWork, and how the complex relationships between VCs and founders can sometimes fall apart with adverse effects for a wide range of people, ranging from employees to competitors and customers. The story intrigued me enough that I picked up Reeves Wiedeman’s Billion Dollar Loser to understand how it all came to happen. If you enjoy reading about tech, entrepreneurship, and founders, I really recommend giving this a go—it offers a very deep look at how relationships in the startup world are made, and how sometimes, they can crash.

🖼️ Some pretty pictures

I really enjoyed looking at Marcin Sobas’s House on the Hill. It is quite interesting to see how mists and landscapes interact in his work, and how clothlike the hill itself looks like in this piece. I recommend checking out his Tuscany series—the photographs are truly ethereal.

📄 New blog posts

The last two posts on my blog haven’t strictly been about college life—rather, I decided to blog a bit about the moments I miss most from my pre-pandemic life. Through these posts, I also explore the relationships I have with the spaces where I found most of my books, and write a bit about the evolution of these spaces over the decade or so I have been involved with them.

Read my new blog post series, Book-Hunting, on my blog: Part 1 is available here, while you can read Part 2 here.

And that’s all for this issue! Stay tuned for more curated content on literature, music, and art, as well as more blog posts about college life.

Best,

Sagnik