Welcome to the Book Marks Questionnaire, where we ask authors questions about the books that have shaped them.
This week, we spoke to Brown White Black author Nishta J. Mehra.
Book Marks: First book you remember loving?
Nishta J. Mehra: Probably Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. That was the start of falling in love with books that broke me open. I still crave that feeling.
BM: Favorite re-read?
NM: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese because it is my favorite kind of novel: historical fiction in the backdrop, set in a country other than the one in which I live, characters you grow to know intimately, plus plenty of intergenerational love & tragedy.
BM: A book that blew your mind?
NM: The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells. A must-read not simply for the facts it contains, but for the brilliant framing of those facts. Essentially, it is a book about the stories we humans tell ourselves and the power inside of those stories.
BM: Last book you read?
NM: Just finished listening to The Night Watchman on audio; I love it when authors read their own books (as I was lucky enough to be able to do!) and Louise Erdrich has a wonderfully soothing yet animated reading voice.
BM: A book that made you cry?
NM: When I finished Fatima Mirza’s A Place for Us, I ugly cried. Very rare in my experience that contemporary fiction grows stronger in the last quarter of the book, but this one—my goodness, what an ending.
BM: What book from the past year would you like to give a shout-out to?
NM: Sarah Vap’s poetry collection Winter: Effulgences and Devotions. Poetry is one of the few things keeping me going during quarantine, and this collection is stunning.
BM: A book that actually made you laugh out loud?
NM: The Sellout by Paul Beatty—it’s a brilliant piece of satire so astonishing I regularly paused to say to my wife “You gotta hear this!” and then read passages of it aloud.
BM: Classic book you hate?
NM: From first grade through graduate school, there has only been one time that I did not finish an assigned book, and that was with A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I just could not get through it.
BM: Favorite book you were assigned in high school?
NM: Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.
BM: Book(s) you’re reading right now?
BM: Favorite children’s book?
NM: Okay, this may sound odd but a few years ago, I bought my daughter a copy of Sex is a Funny Word: A Book about Bodies, Feelings, and YOU, just so we would have it when the time came. Well, she’s 8 now, and the time came a few months ago—we read through the whole thing together, and let me tell you, I think a lot of people would be a lot less screwed up if they’d had access to this book when they were younger.
Nishta J. Mehra was raised among a tight-knit network of Indian immigrants in Memphis, Tennessee. She is the proud graduate of St. Mary’s Episcopal School and holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from Rice University and an M.F.A in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona. An English teacher with over a decade of experience in middle and high school classrooms, she lives with her wife, Jill, and their child, Shiv, in Phoenix. In addition to Brown White Black: An American Family at the Intersection of Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Religion, she is the author of The Pomegranate King, a collection of essays.
Nishta J. Mehra’s Brown White Black: An American Family at the Intersection of Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Religion is out now in paperback from Picador