ObDisclaimer: Just my opinions, I have no music degree, this is me analyzing music for my own benefit and I don't claim this will make sense to anyone else, comments/criticisms welcome.
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Yes! I have a balcony this time! And it is lovely. I may go out and write on it. Being on tour has its occasional perks.
I’m in Chapel Hill tonight, at the great Flyleaf Books, where the fun begins at 7pm. If you’re in the area, come on by and see me!
Tomorrow, I return to Richmond, VA for the first time in ten years (yikes! Where does the time go) at the Fountain Bookstore. If you’re near Richmond, I would love to see you there!
Also, in this short entry I have used up all my all explanation points for the day!
I continue to snag books out of my son’s Scholastic book order forms. One of the latest was Shadowshaper [Amazon | B&N | IndieBound], by Daniel José Older. It’s an enjoyable, relatively quick read. Here’s the summary:
Sierra Santiago planned to have an easy summer of making art and hanging out with her friends. But then a corpse crashes the first party of the season. Her stroke-ridden grandfather starts apologizing over and over. And when the murals in her neighborhood begin to weep real tears… Well, something more sinister than the usual Brooklyn ruckus is going on.
With the help of a mysterious fellow artist named Robbie, Sierra discovers shadowshaping, a thrilling magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. But someone is killing the shadowshapers one by one — and the killer believes Sierra is hiding their greatest secret. Now she must unravel her family’s past, take down the killer in the present, and save the future of shadowshaping for herself and generations to come.
The “About the Author” section notes that Older lives in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, which is where the book takes place, and it shows. Sierra’s world feels real and fully developed, populated with interesting people and places. It’s a far cry from some of the generic pseudo-New York settings you sometimes get.
I love the concept of shadowshaping, the way the magic works as a collaboration between spirits and shadowshaper, and the possibilities of that power. One of my favorite scenes was watching Sierra discovering what she could do with a simple piece of chalk.
Sierra and the rest of the cast are great, all with their own personalities and flaws and conflicts. They feel like real people…it’s just that some of them can bring their artwork to life.
My only complaint is that the villain felt a bit flat and obvious. But the ideas behind that villain, the theme of the privileged cultural outsider barging in and making a mess of things, are totally valid and powerful. I wouldn’t want that to change; I just would have liked to see a little more depth to them.
And kudos for the awesome librarian.
I’ve seen a number of reviews praising the diversity in the book. On the one hand, I do think that’s worth recognizing, and I definitely appreciated it. On the other… I don’t know. I wish we could reach a point where we don’t have to praise authors for showing the world the way it is, and could instead just note when authors fail to portray a realistically diverse world. Does that make sense? I dunno…probably something that needs a longer blog post to unpack.
Anyway, to wrap this up, the ending was lovely and made me eager to read Shadowhouse Fall, which comes out in September of this year.
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
Chalk, by Paul Cornell, is in many ways a remarkable book. But it’s not an easy read, and for Cornell, it’s a story that has personal meaning for him, and is a book that has a lot of him in it. He’s here now to tell you more about it, and why as a writer it took him years to get this story right.
Chalk is a book that’s been with me for over twenty years. It’s taken that long, and many, varied drafts, to shape the ideas in it into a story that, hopefully, works. That was partly because the subject matter is intensely personal to me in several ways. It’s a book about bullying, about growing up in the 1980s, about Wiltshire’s prehistoric landscape, so often I found myself having to force onto the page material I had found difficult to express in real life. It’s a novel about the interaction between magic, consensus reality and the mind (Isn’t ‘consensus reality’ a strange term, when actually what’s involved is the opposite? A simple majority doesn’t make a consensus. Nobody experiencing a different reality seems to get a vote. For a lot of people, ‘non-consensual reality’ would be closer to the truth).
In the real world, it seems to me that every time the impossible touches the accepted it’s a singular event, something so strange and startling that human efforts to categorise those events (crop circles; the UFO myth; ghosts) have come to feel to me to be missing the point to an almost obscene degree. We encounter the unknown and seek to make it mundane. Which is a different thing to seeking to understand it. So I wanted my story of Waggoner, a child at school who has something terrible done to him, and then has horrifying things from both this world and another take an interest in him, to be rooted entirely in his subjective experience.
Waggoner is split into two boys, both with his name, who live alongside each other. I want to underline that that’s not a metaphor, not a literary device, or if it is, only in the same way that all magic is. The book says it ‘really happened’. The way that reality contorts and fudges things to let the second Waggoner be there is an aspect of the text I feel very strongly about, because I feel, again, that’s how the impossible touches the everyday, on a moment by moment basis, not by laying down a set of rules for itself and keeping to them. That’s physics, and/or fiction that seeks to fulfil different expectations than this book does.
‘Are you an evil twin?’ Waggoner asks the other version of himself at one point. But he’s not. He may be the one who does awful, violent things, but the Waggoner who narrates the story isn’t ‘the good one’. Waggoner tries to make sense of what’s happened to him through writing his own stories, and sometimes imagines what he’s going through to be a revenge plot, with the possibility of victory over his tormentors, but it’s not. It’s a lot harder on him than that. Chalk is a book about cycles of abuse, and as a victim, Waggoner’s only possible heroism is in seeking to break those cycles. That point, that there’s no nobility or ending to anyone’s narrative in acts of revenge, has been at the heart of these twenty years of multiple drafts. It’s a hard thing for me to force myself to accept.
In many ways, Chalk is a book about whose narrative wins. The new Waggoner has aims which are part of a great and noble story of heroism and struggle, and are as horrifying as that sounds. The previously whole Waggoner has the stories he writes, which use every genre he can find in his environment to try to digest what he’s dealing with. Angie Boden, the heroine of the book, has created for herself a whole method of practical magic from the pop charts, and her narrative of the world is based on that. And Waggoner’s Mum and Dad are trying to tell a meaningful story of themselves as failing middle-class people in Thatcher’s Britain.
I’m in there somewhere. I’ve decided it’s a very bad idea to indicate how much of Chalk happened to me. If you’re a fellow survivor of, well, virtually anything, I hope it’s a book which leads you along through a narrative that will wake all that stuff and then slay it. It’s the blues. It’s comfort through reworking. I hope it gives you control. I know you don’t want revenge, not really. Not when you look around and see all the revenge narratives unfolding everywhere.
Who would have thought it would take me twenty years to write a book about right now?
An email from Jonathan Weinberg:
I’m passing along, for whatever interest it holds, Jonathan Gienapp’s new (to my mind very good) essay on originalism in constitutional law, which I thought you might appreciate. [(myl) Jonathan Gienapp, "Constitutional Originalism and History", Process 3/20/2017.] His focus is on originalists’ shift from their initial position that the Constitution should be interpreted in accordance with its drafters’ intentions, to their more recent position that it should be interpreted in accordance with its “original public meaning” — that is, in accordance with what a well-educated person, at the time the document was promulgated, would have understood its text to mean. Gienapp makes the point, which I had not before thought to put that way, that while “Originalism 1.0” called for the use of historians’ tools, Originalism 2.0 — the search for original public meaning — calls instead for linguists’ tools. As a historian, he decries this; he urges that historians’ tools are essential to determine the meaning of a document in its original historical context.
As Prof. Gienapp observes, the main force behind Originalism 2.0 was Antonin Scalia. For more on Justice Scalia and the transformation of originalism, see
"Scalia on the meaning of meaning", 10/29/2005
"A result that no sensible person could have intended", 12/8/2005
"Is marriage identical or similar to itself?", 11/2/2005
"Everything is too appropriate these days", 4/5/2006
"Does marriage exist in Texas?", 11/19/2009
"The meaning of meaning: Fish v. Scalia", 1/4/2011
"Justice Breyer, Professor Austin, and the Meaning of 'Any'", 6/6/2011
"Scalia and Garner on legal interpretation", 7/17/2012
"What did Justice Scalia mean?", 10/7/2013
For Scalia's arguments against Originalism 1.0, or at least against its reliance on considerations of original intentions, see his review of Steven Smith's Law's Quandary, discussed in "Scalia on the meaning of meaning". For a contrary view, see Larry Solan's 2004 article "Private Language, Public Laws: The Central Role of Legislative Intent in Statutory Interpretation".