I learned what a palimpsest was in a Women's Studies class in college (I have no idea what it had to do with Women's Studies. Um. I vaguely remember a connection with Slavoj Žižek? If anyone wants to enlighten me on the connection between palimpsests and the works of Žižek, you will earn serious brownie points).
Stupidly put: when a monk wanted to translate the Bible or something into the vulgate but didn't have a blank parchment, he'd find a used parchment, scrape his grocery list or what have you off, and use it anew. And when you can see the old writing behind the new, that's a palimpsest! Apparently, the term is also used in architecture, and I will let the Wik' speak for itself:
"Architects imply palimpsest as a ghost —- an image of what once was. In the built environment, this occurs more than we might think. Whenever spaces are shuffled, rebuilt, or remodeled, shadows remain. Tarred rooflines remain on the sides of a building long after the neighboring structure has been demolished; removed stairs leave a mark where the painted wall surface stopped. Dust lines remain from a relocated appliance. Ancient ruins speak volumes of their former wholeness. Palimpsests can inform us, archaeologically, of the realities of the built past."
Awfully poetic for a Wiki article, don't you think?
You might be wondering why a slacker like me who usually updates twice a week is making two posts in a day, and one is about something she already knows about. The reason is quite simple: one of my favorite authors, Catherynne M. Valente, has a new book out today, and guess what the title is!
...Palimpsest. It's-- the title is Palimpsest. No, no, that was a good guess too.
Anyway: I heard her give a sneak preview reading at SalonCon a few months ago, and I'm very excited for this book. Her novels are incredible post-modern fairytales: I recently read The Orphan's Tales: in the City of Coin and Spice, and it was transcendent. I very rarely get so caught up in a book, but I was sitting at my desk at work, reading and trying so hard not to cry, because if someone had asked me why I was so upset, I would have blubbered something incoherent about soul-leaves and been advised to take the afternoon off and gone to see a doctor.
But I heartily encourage you to give Palimpsest a try-- there's more information about it on the amazon.com page. But don't take my word for it-- Warren Ellis liked it. And he's way cooler than I'll ever be.