Shadowshaper

I’m going into this post with two things on my mind. The first is I went to NerdCon:2016 this past weekend (Post about that is coming soon!) and, as it did last year, it’s made me think about the books that have influenced me. It didn’t take any time at all to start reminiscing about the good ole days when I was devouring anything written by Tamora Pierce and then running to the park to practice being a knight like Alanna in The Song of the Lioness series. Mix those beautiful memories with the fact that at Nerdcon: 2016 I had the wonderful privilege of sitting down with the author of Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older, and nine other curious and intelligent story nerds to have a conversation about books and you’ve found my happy place.

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Shadowshaper is set in Brooklyn and follows Sierra as she discovers a magic that lets spirits inhabit her art and bring it to life. After chatting with Daniel José Older for a while and seeing him on multiple panels throughout the weekend it is easy to see how his life and experiences have influenced his writing. While having this knowledge doesn’t change the book, it feels a little like I’ve been let into the greenroom of this story. It’s interesting to me to consider how stories are not just influenced but also often created from perspective. This perspective allows the reader insight into new worlds to explore, understand, and consider. If this book had been around when I was growing up alongside Tamora Pierce’s I imagine I would have been an artistic knight running around Brooklyn (the park across the street) fighting sexism with my sword (really long stick) and art spirits (chalk).  It’s exciting to me to think about how the stories like Shadowshaper, and others that are being crafted now are influencing young readers.

The story itself is rich with familiarity and feeling. It’s interesting to be plopped into Sierra’s world  that she knows so well and watch how she responds to her surroundings change both physically and magically. The relationship between the familiar “real” world of Brooklyn, that is in a state of flux, and the Shadowshaper community, that is experiencing the growing pains of turning power over to a new generation, provides an intricate set of obstacles for Sierra to weave her way through. Daniel José Older sets this stage one floorboard at a time and maintains an exciting storyline that pulls the reader through some of the more complex ideas presented via Sierra and her adventures. From what I understand, we’ve got two more books following Sierra’s story to look forward to, until then I think I may go reread The Song of Lioness series to keep me in the badass lady hero mood!

Keep reading. Keep learning. Keep listening. Keep creating.

The Art of Asking: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help

Amanda Palmer is kind of a badass.  She’s definitely on my list of awesome people I want to be friends with.  I’ve spent the last few years getting to know her music and very loosely following the various kerfuffles (I feel “scandal” isn’t quite the right word.  Also kerfuffle is more fun to say.  Say it.  Out loud…See what I mean?) surrounding her Kickstarter and touring decisions.  Then I saw her TedTalk, which I love love loved, and I discovered that she wrote a book that expanded on it.  Well, combine my book buying habit with my inability to say no to an autobiography and I think we all knew that I was going to own and read this book.

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I very much enjoyed how Amanda structured her stories.  A lot autobiographical books tend to follow the timeline very strictly and occasionally include commentary.  Amanda’s book has a specific purpose…the title is a dead give away, she’s discussing how she “learned to stop worrying and let people help.”    This covers both her professional and personal life.  She’s had an interesting enough career that if she had just written about her professional life I would have been satisfied.  Instead, parallel to her professional story, she writes about her personal stories of letting people in and letting people help.  This adds a lot of depth to what she’s saying and makes her story so much more touching.

The problem I have with a lot of autobiographical stories is that it is so hard to bare it all and let people in on the complex feelings and thought processes, that some authors don’t even try.  Stories come out sounding very cut and dry, like every choice was an obvious one and the only clue that it might not have been was them saying “this was difficult for me.”  It’s just not honest.  Amanda is honest.  Her story is complex, her emotions are real, and the combination made me cry a couple times while reading her book.  She’s witty enough that sometimes I would laugh cry, which is not a good look on me.  My face twists up in a strange way, let’s just say it’s best that I read this primarily in the comfort of my own home.

When I was anxiously waiting for The Art of Asking to arrive at my doorstep I looked up a few reviews of it.  Now that I’ve read the book I feel the need to address something that popped up in the reviews a few times.  It seems that quite a few people took issue with this story because they felt Amanda was neglecting to mention that the help you receive when you come from a place of privilege is very different (probably significantly better) than if you are impoverished or part of a minority group.  It’s true that she did not spend time discussing that specifically, though I think the people that got upset about it forgot that the book is not about other people, it’s about Amanda Palmer.  I was truly disappointed to see reviewers from sources that I respect and read regularly harping on this because all it accomplished was put on display the fact that they’ve forgotten how to take a book for what it is.  Perhaps they got swept up in the drama of book bashing and The Art of Asking just happened to be next in the queue.  Either way they focused in on something that isn’t in the story instead of reviewing the story itself.  The story includes years of Amanda building a community around her that is willing to help, if she needs and asks for it.  Whatever your opinion is of her, she can’t be denied the credit of working incredibly hard for all that she has accomplished.  Her story, to me, didn’t say “ask and ye shall always receive.”  It said, “Work hard, surround yourself with good, likeminded people, and when you need help, ask for it with no presumption.”  Which is a wildly wise and awesome message, if you ask me.

I highly recommend this book to everyone, but especially those that are feeling uncertain about following your dreams.  This is an inspiring read that, if you’re anything like me, will rekindle the desire to work towards your own happiness by following your passions and maybe asking for help along the way.