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Today I’m thrilled to welcome New York Times bestselling author Megan Whalen Turner! Her work includes Instead of Three Wishes: Magical Short Stories; “The Baby in the Night Deposit Box,” which was included in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Seventeenth Annual Collection; and, of course, her beloved Queen’s Thief series, which won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature in 2011. The second book, The Queen of Attolia, is one of my particular favorites—it’s clever, absorbing, and filled with wonderful characters and political maneuvering—and I’m excited about the release of the next Queen’s Thief novel, Thick as Thieves, on May 16!

Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

This is my local bookshop, Loganberry Books in Cleveland, Ohio:

Loganberry Books
Credit: Harriet Logan

To highlight the works of women, they’ve flipped the books written by men so that the spines don’t show.  The books are still alphabetical, so if you are looking for a book by George Perec, you can still find it. Go to the P’s, find Elizabeth Peters and start pulling the nearby books off the shelf to check who wrote them.  The reversal is only temporary, meant to show the disparity in the numbers of books by women and by men.  As Loganberry owner Harriet Logan said, “This is not by talent, choice, or even popularity, but mostly through industry favoritism, social opportunity, and habit.”

There is something else that the reversal shows, that if you have a system, almost any system, for organizing your books, it’s not that hard to find something—so long as you already know it exists. If you want a book by George Perec, you can find it, and when they flip all the men’s books around at the end of the month, you can still find the women’s books: it’s just that you are much less likely to come across a book by a woman by chance alone.

I believe that Discovery, the process of finding books and authors that are new, is the most important aspect of increasing diversity in publishing.  Some people find their new books by reading reviews regularly and getting newsletters in their inbox, but the vast majority of readers pick up the thing that’s on the endcap at Barnes and Noble.  Or maybe they see the tagline, NYT Bestseller, on the Amazon description.  Publishers, jockeying for those few places, put their money into the best bet for appealing to the widest audience.

Some people don’t have the advantage even of the endcaps at Barnes and Noble, and if they did, those aren’t the books that would make a difference in their lives.  Many of them don’t have a librarian in their school to ask for recommendations.  I think we need a better method of Discovery, especially for those people—a better method of bringing smaller audiences into contact with exactly the book they long to read.  Publishing would have a better chance of diversifying if a book could more reliably make it to its intended audiences without being a blockbuster first. The only thing worse than watching a great book sink without a trace is knowing that there’s a kid somewhere who would have loved it and who will never get a chance to read it.

For me, the wonderful thing about a bookstore like Loganberry is the delight of finding something wonderful and unexpected. I can weight the odds toward diversity by keeping an eye out for women, for names that might belong to indigenous people, or titles that indicate a marginalized voice. Or I can reach for the book of a well-known author displayed on a table and see next to it a book (an entire book) that teaches you how to judge how deep water is just by looking at it.  (I bought that one.) That serendipity is more difficult to manage online where the algorithms that push books onto my screens aren’t under my control.

I fall into reading ruts pretty easily.  When I was a kid, I read all the Black Stallion books, all the Susan Cooper books, all the Alistair MacLean books.  It took effort and sometimes blind luck to get me out of my comfort zones.  Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is one of my favorite books and I only read it because it was on the shelf in a small apartment where I was trapped as a nanny to a sleeping baby.  I love Iain Banks and I am not sure I would have if his books hadn’t constituted 40% of all books in English in the Oslo Public Library the year I lived there.

As more and more of my purchases are made online, as more of my reading is online, I worry about the algorithms that are used to put books in front of my eyeballs.  Amazon’s whole imperative is to show me books just like ones I’ve read already. Even as I am trying to diversify, I can I see myself going down a narrower and narrower tunnel.

In particular, I am wondering where my blind luck will come from.  Who is going to put into my hands that book that is different from everything I’ve read in the past—that I never would have guessed I would love?  I’m counting on places like Loganberry and my local librarians more than ever before, but I worry about those who have no access to either a Loganberry or a librarian.  For them, we urgently need an online system and one that works not only for the dedicated reader—one that works for the uninitiated so that they can connect to books they had no idea existed, books that can change their world.

Megan Whalen Turner in Egypt

Megan Whalen Turner is an award winning author of short stories and novels for children, teenagers, and adults. She has won the LA Times Book Award for YA Literature, the Mythopoeic Prize and a Newbery Honor. She also spent one brief glorious week on the New York Times Bestseller list.

She has never won a Guggenheim, but her husband, the cognitive scientist Mark Turner, has. While he was on sabbatical as a Guggenheim Fellow she also enjoyed a year off to write her first book, a collection of short stories called Instead of Three Wishes.

She has lived in Ohio on and off for the last twelve years, with extended trips to places like San Diego, Oslo, Norway, and Lower Saxony. She is in Egypt right now, but will return to the United States in April for the launch of Thick As Thieves, a new book set in the world of The Queen’s Thief.