Thursday, February 12, 2009

Chandra Prasad

Chandra Prasad has written several books, including Death of a Circus, which Tom Perrotta says is “narrated with Dickensian verve, a keen eye for historical detail, and lots of heart.” She is the originator and editor of — as well as a contributor to — Mixed: An Anthology of Short Fiction on the Multiracial Experience, which was published to international acclaim by W.W. Norton.

Her more recent book is On Borrowed Wings, a novel set in Depression-era Connecticut about a quarryman’s daughter who attends a prestigious university in 1936 in the guise of a boy.

A few days ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m going to preface this entry by saying my son just turned two, and it’s a big, intense, rambunctious two. The taller this child gets, the shorter my attention span. Thus, I’ve been reading smaller works: magazine articles, short stories, the backs of cereal boxes, in-one-sitting things. My steady intake has included The Week Magazine, The Economist (which lately has been sweepingly critical of President Obama for no well-argued reason), The New York Times Magazine (the last few weeks of the “Lives Column” have been standouts), and Mental Floss Magazine, which is just plain fun. Two quality non-fiction collections on my bedside table are Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering edited by Suzanne Kamata and Couldn't Keep It to Myself: Wally Lamb and the Women of York Correctional Institution. The latter book has a marvelous cover, like Lamb’s new book: The Hour I First Believed.

And speaking of beautiful images, I can’t stop staring at a book of photos called Jungles by Frans Lanting. I bought this book after seeing a Lanting exhibit of the same title at Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven, Connecticut. These are intense, lush photos of jungle flora and fauna that show nature at her most riotous. Jungles is, generally, a powerful call for jungle conservation, and for me personally, armchair escape from a particularly blustery New England winter.

It must be the cold weather that has me visiting another book with a tropical backdrop: Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I last picked this up in eighth grade English class, but I didn’t get most of the symbolism and allegory then. So much is packed into this slim novel, everything from political ideology to classic mythology. It’s kind of astonishing.

In a precarious pile on my bedside table also sit these books: The Great Negro Plot: A Tale of Conspiracy and Murder in Eighteenth-Century New York by Mat Johnson (Johnson contributed to my mixed-race anthology entitled Mixed), Serena: A Novel by Ron Rash (bought after seeing a deluge of great reviews), The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason (impulse purchase from a used bookstore in my neighborhood), The Good Wife by Stewart O’Nan (because O’Nan is also good), The Lucifer Principle by Howard Bloom (actually, my husband is reading this one), and The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen (another strong-reviews-inspired buy). In terms of subject matter, these books run the gamut. The title character of Serena is a bad-ass lumberjack empress who rides around on a white horse with an eagle on her shoulder, while The Lucifer Principle examines why evil impulses shape human culture and history. With each book, I’m everywhere from a couple chapters in to a couple chapters from the end. So far the works are uniformly strong. I am impressed by all, and riveted in particular by Serena, which is a diatribe against irresponsible deforestation, an overview of Appalachia's modern history, and a classic yarn of good versus evil.

Having been into the absurd yet utterly captivating HBO vampire series True Blood (this show and Mad Men I monitor, record, and watch with the faith of a zealot), I’ve gone and started the Twilight series. I finished Twilight and am partway through New Moon. With Twilight, writing technique was a little raw in places, and the resolute insistence on abstinence had raised my eyebrows more than once. New Moon shows more poise. In the case of both books, swift pacing more than makes up for occasional literary hiccups. Overall, I take my hat off to the author, Stephanie Meyer, for creating an engaging, unpretentious series. These books keep making it to the top of the teetering pile.

And to end where I started this entry, in kids-land, there are some children’s books lining my son’s shelves that are as imaginative, arresting, and wondrous as any adult fare: 10 Button Book by William Accorsi, When Dinosaurs Came with Everything by Elise Broach and David Small, and There is a Bird On Your Head! by Mo Willems.
Read an excerpt from On Borrowed Wings, and learn more about the book at the publisher’s website.

Visit Chandra Prasad's website.

The Page 69 Test: On Borrowed Wings.

--Marshal Zeringue