Reading with... Megan Whalen Turner

(photo: Jeannette Palsa)

Megan Whalen Turner, an author of fantasy for children and young adults, received a 1997 Newbery Honor for The Thief, the first of her Queen's Thief series. Her books are filled with political machinations, divine intervention, friendship, fortitude and deceit. Moira's Pen (Greenwillow Books) is a compendium of short pieces from the world of her Queen's Thief series, illustrated by Deena So'Oteh.

Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:

Put on your hiking boots, pick up a knapsack and join me as I tour the world of the Queen's Thief.

On your nightstand now:

The last time I answered that question, I was living temporarily in Del Mar, Calif. I didn't have a nightstand and all my books were on the floor. Now I am back home in Shaker Heights, I have a nightstand, and it turns out all my books are still on the floor.

Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend; Georges Perec's Life: A User's Manual; Tamsyn Muir's Gideon the Ninth, Harrow the Ninth and Nona the Ninth; M.L. Buchman's Estate Planning for Authors; I'm Waiting for You by Kim Bo-Young.

I've just finished My Brilliant Friend and now wish I hadn't put it off so long. Life: A User's Manual I read intermittently--it's a whale to consume one savory bite at a time. I started on Nona the Ninth and had to go back to begin again with Gideon when I realized that I've forgotten tiny but crucial details. I don't know where my brain went during the pandemic, but I hope it comes home soon.

The Buchman book was very motivating. It has been years since I first read Neil Gaiman's advice that creative artists make a will and name an executor for their intellectual property. Now that I've finally done it, I'm telling everyone they should do it. If you're a writer, please make an estate plan. You don't want your life's work left in limbo or in the hands of people who won't take good care of it.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Not What You Expected by Joan Aiken. Before I started this collection, I thought all short stories were like the dry, mealy ones I read for school. Aiken's magical stories really were not what I expected. When I finished reading, I wanted more stories so much I was willing to try writing them myself. I finally did, publishing Instead of Three Wishes in 1995. Kim Bo-Young's book on beside my nightstand is evidence that the interest in short fiction that Aiken kindled has not dimmed.

Your top five authors:

As this is an impossible task, I'm going to cheat by adding "of short fiction" before the colon.
Joan Aiken, Ursula Le Guin, Ann Beattie, Natalie Babbitt, John Barth.

Book you've faked reading:

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot.

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins. Fair warning, I wouldn't describe it as horror, but it is gruesome. A man very much like a god takes in a handful children after the death of their parents and raises them to be librarians of an impossible library. I finished it and immediately started reading again.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Gerhard Munthe: Norwegian Pioneer of Modernism by Jan Kokkin. Honestly, I would have bought it anyway, but when I saw the gorgeous coffee table book on a trip to Oslo what I should have done was order a copy online and pick it up from my local bookshop like a sensible person. Instead, I bought it immediately and then had to lug it all the way home.

Book you hid from your parents:

I am so grateful that I never needed to hide a book from my parents.

Book that changed your life:

Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones. If my friend hadn't let me take his copy home with me, I might never have fallen in love with Diana's work, would never have written to her, would never have received her advice and encouragement and almost certainly would not be published today.

Favorite line from a book:

Lois McMaster Bujold writes a series of books about the Vorkosigan family beginning with The Warrior's Apprentice--or with Shards of Honor depending on how you are introduced to them. When Cordelia Vorkosigan is asked to rein in her impetuous offspring for his own safety, she says, "He has a right to choose his own risks. And to run them."

I love that combination of empowerment and its associated consequences. I think we can be so focused on keeping our children safe that we deny them the agency and the sometimes-negative experiences they need to grow. I see this in discussions of censorship and banning books. People want to "protect" readers, but that's because they don't trust those readers to make decisions for themselves. They'd let their kids ride a bike, knowing they might get hurt, but won't let them risk reading a book for the same reason.

Five books you'll never part with:

Reading a book knowing that my mother, my grandmother or a friend has held and read that same book means a great deal to me. These books connect me to people I love.

That copy of Dogsbody which my friend graciously said I could keep after it was clear I was never ever giving it back.

My Ántonia by Willa Cather, given to me when I was 13 by a beloved family friend. I was so honored that she thought I was grown up enough to appreciate it.

My mother's copy of The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy.

My grandmother's copy of Graustark by George Barr McCutcheon.

My great-grandmother's copy of The Conqueror by Gertrude Franklin Atherton, her maiden name on the inside cover. We know very little about her beyond that she was a maternal nurse who emigrated from England very young and never spoke of the family she left behind. Maybe I freight it with too much significance that this fictionalized biography of Alexander Hamilton is a book she never parted with.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

I can't help thinking that even if you have a book magically erased from your memory you aren't going to be the same person you were when you read it the first time. When I was asked this question before, I answered Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston because that book rocked my world. Now in my 50s, I realize I'd never exchange a chance to read it again for the first time for the memory of reading it at 19.

So, I'm going to say Gideon the Ninth because 2020 me is still very similar to 2022 me in the ways that 2022 is still way too similar to 2020. And that book is an effing delight.

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