|photo: Chris X. Carroll
Sayantani DasGupta grew up hearing stories about brave princesses, bloodthirsty rakkhosh and flying pokkhiraj horses. A pediatrician by training, she teaches at Columbia University. When she's not writing or reading, DasGupta spends time watching cooking shows with her trilingual children and protecting her black Labrador Retriever Khushi from the many things that scare him, such as plastic bags. She is a team member of We Need Diverse books and can be found on Twitter. Game of Stars (Scholastic), her sequel to The Serpent's Secret, is out now.
On your nightstand now:
Pride and Prejudice, which is no surprise, because I'm a huge Jane Austen fan and it's always there. Her wit and detailed observations of social mores will never go out of style; but her family-centered contexts appeal to me as an immigrant daughter.
I also have a copy of Octavia E. Butler's Bloodchild and Other Stories, a collection of brilliant short stories I am teaching this semester in my race and speculative fiction class. Who gets to imagine themselves into the future? A question that drives so much of my own fantasy writing.
Besides that, there is a huge pile of kidlit and YA books including P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han, The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Yan Glaser and Above and Beyond: NASA's Journey to Tomorrow by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Toss-up between A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle and A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L'Engle. Her books taught me that science and story are deeply connected--a lesson that's stayed with me in my own professional work and writing.
Your top five authors:
I have so many favorites, but here are some I go back to again and again:
Jane Austen taught me to embrace my snark; Salman Rushdie taught me to embrace my Indian snark and not italicize or Otherize Desi words and contexts; Julia Alvarez inspired me to tell my immigrant daughter story, and not worry about leaving out the humor. I am also a fan-girl dork for the bard--particularly, predictably, his comedies. I'll see any Shakespeare play performed pretty much anytime, anywhere. And Jalal al-Din Rumi, preferably Coleman Barks's translations. There was a period where I would read my kids a Rumi poem every morning before sending them off to school.
Book you've faked reading:
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. I'm embarrassed to say it, but I just couldn't. Man, whale, what?
Book you're an evangelist for:
Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore. As a Bengali, so much of my sensibility, even spirituality, was shaped by Tagore's poems and songs. If someone hasn't read Tagore, I always buy them a copy of Gitanjali.
Book you've bought for the cover:
I bought Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan years before the movie came out because of a combination of cover and title. It just goes to show you how important representation is. I think I saw the title and cover in an airport bookstore, impulse-bought without ever having heard of it and read it immediately. I'm pretty sure I laughed out loud during the whole flight.
Book you hid from your parents:
Forever by Judy Blume. A beat-up copy circulated around our elementary school.... In retrospect, I'm not entirely sure what I understood of it at the time, but, wow, did I pore over it.
Book that changed your life:
Probably the first books I read as a teen by authors of color. To grow up as a brown-skinned immigrant daughter never having seen myself represented in books or media, and then to discover these works--The Color Purple by Alice Walker, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall, The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie--was life-altering. I felt suddenly awake and alive, aware that I was worthy of taking up space in the universe.
Favorite line from a book:
Any quote by Audre Lorde. I teach her genius work a lot and quote from her nonstop: "When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid." (from The Cancer Journals)
Five books you'll never part with:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen for the reasons stated above!
Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie. In my mind his best, and most underappreciated book. A beautiful fantasy about the power of stories.
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. His magical words and worlds!
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling. A work of simple genius, I never tire of re-reading it.
The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien for obvious fantasy-fan reasons.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Besides the ones I've already mentioned, probably Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë--I remember being swept away by all the darn longing in that novel. Romantic longing, yes, but the longing to be as well. I read it as a teen at a point when I, too, felt about to burst out of my skin with that Alexander Hamilton (as envisioned by Lin-Manuel Miranda) longing to leave a mark, be more, do more. I don't think anything can substitute for reading the right book at the right time in your life.
Genre of book that's most influenced you:
I read fantasy, write fantasy and even teach a lot of multicultural fantasy writing. But my parents are enormous mystery buffs, and both write mystery stories and novels in Bengali. So I was brought up on mystery stories from a very young age. When I was in medical school, my parents would often call me, asking for details regarding poisons or the like (for their books!). Although I didn't list them above, Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers stories are so familiar to me, they're like a part of my family.