Words that Kill (Your Heart)

While Valentine’s Day was added to the calendar in the year 496 AD, people have loved a good romantic story throughout history. But when was the very first romance novel written? Many scholars point to ancient times, specifically in Greece. When you think about it, the birth of romantic fiction at that time period makes sense since Ancient Greece was known for its love of love and all that entails.

One of the first acknowledged purely-romantic stories was called Chaereas and Callirhoe (also under the title Callirhoe). Scholars estimated that it was written around the middle of the first century AD on papyrus . It employed Greek mythology symbolism, referenced relevant geography, and commented on historical events of the time. The author was named Chariton, and he was born in the Greek city of Aphrodisias. A temple of Aphrodite resided in Aphrodisias, which is not a big shocker. Did the local worship of the goddess of love influence Chariton’s writing? It’s confirmed that in Chariton’s novel his female character Callirhoe is compared to Aphrodite.

Papyrus of the Callirhoe from Karanis (London: The Egypt Exploration Society, 1900)

But what about the juicy plot? The story is set in Syracuse around 400 BC. Chaereas, our male protagonist, falls in love with a beautiful woman named Callirhoe. The two lovers marry, and because Callirhoe is so irresistible, her turned-down suitors decide to destroy her life. They trick Chaereas into believing his new wife is unfaithful, and instead of asking his beloved if they’re correct, he decides to kick his wife so hard she dies…Or does she?

They bury her in a tomb believing that she is deceased. Chaereas drops the ball on guarding his dead wife because pirates raid her resting place. Suddenly, Callirhoe awakes from a coma as they open her tomb! They sell her as a slave to a man named Dionysius. They marry as well, and Callirhoe is too nervous to say that her previous husband got her pregnant. She gives birth and Dionysius is none the wiser, believing the child to be his own. Was this the first love triangle? Imagine the chaos if the Ancient Greeks had paternity tests!

Somehow, Chaereas magically finds out that his wife is still alive. He goes on a gallant trip to save her, but he ends up becoming a slave as well. Both of them are put before the King of the Persians. He too falls in love with the damsel and tries to take Callirhoe for himself. Thus, a war erupts in the entire city! This plot is starting to sound like a mini-Trojan War. Chaereas raids the city and destroys the naval army with Egyptian rebels. Wait, how did Egyptian rebels get in the story? The Ancient Greeks did not seem to care about continuity.

The battle was won, and the Persians were defeated. The two lovers, Callirhoe and Chaereas, are reunited and sail back home. Callirhoe must have forgotten that whole ‘kicked to death’ thing. Callirhoe sends a letter to Dionysius instructing him to raise their son as his own and then send him back to Syracuse when he’s old enough. This was personally the funniest part of the story. Dionysius gets a letter saying his son isn’t his flesh and blood, that his wife was actually married the whole time, that she is leaving him for that previous husband, and expects him to raise their child and give him back safely. The audacity!

Unfortunately, that’s where the story ends. Many copies of Chaereas and Callirhoe were found all over Greece and Egypt, suggesting it was also the first popular romance novel. I wonder what Chariton would think of the romance genre today.

-Laura Rodgers, Intern


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10 Essential Books by Asian Authors

Lunar New Year is right around the corner! This is a time of celebration with family and friends and fresh starts for millions of people. As half of the world gets ready to welcome in the year of the dog, you too can join in on the festivities by reading any one of these books by amazing Asian authors.


My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Kabi Nagata

Equal parts humorous and heart-breaking, this autobiographical manga takes readers on the journey with Nagata as she navigates her mental illness, relationships, and sexuality. A sequel is slated for a June 2018 release.


Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Meeting your significant other’s family for the first time is nerve wracking enough, but when your boyfriend’s family is among the top ten richest in Asia, things get intense fast. This best seller is the basis for the upcoming movie of the same starring Constance Wu and Henry Golding.


Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang

The hit TV show of the same name is based on an autobiography by chef Eddie Huang. Huang’s memoir takes readers from his childhood with his Taiwanese immigrant parents through his career failures to his long-awaited success in his bao restaurant.


American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Yang weaves a three-part tale that incorporates the myth of the Monkey King into the narrative of Jin Wang, a second-generation Chinese boy who struggles with racism and his own identity after his move to a mostly white school.


To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Aah, the relatable pains of high school romance. The first book of this trilogy details the events after a worst case scenario: all the private love letters Lara Jean has written gets mailed out to all the boys she has ever had a crush on.


The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Following up his Pulitzer Prize winning book The Sympathizer, Nguyen returns with this new selection of stories written over a twenty-year period. His stories about immigration, trauma, family, and love come to us at a time when we needed it the most.


Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

This New York Times bestseller follows a Korean family through several generations as they cope with family upheaval, a move to Japan, and the constant struggles to assimilate to a culture that treats them as perpetual foreigners.


My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma

This charming young adult novel features three of the best things in the world: Bollywood movies, eighties pop culture, and romance novels.


Sugar and Salt by Ninotchka Rosca

Short and simple, but by no means frivolous. This fable centers around the role of sugar and salt in Filipino history and as well as the importance of Filipina women through the period of colonial oppression.


This Way to the Sugar by Hieu M. Nguyen

Nguyen’s debut poetry collection captures a multi-faceted American experience. From race and culture to sexuality and haunting memories, each carefully crafted word delivers heavy emotions and imagery. Nguyen’s heavily-anticipated upcoming book Not Here will be released in April 2018.


Cindy Nguyen-Pham, intern

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The History of Words

Since 1807, the Boston Athenaeum has served as a cultural marker for the city of Boston. It’s a five-story library that includes art and treasures while also holding many lectures and events. The nineteenth-century building is located past the beautiful Boston Commons and overlooks the Granary Burying Ground. The Athenaeum has displayed exhibitions about various subjects, such as a biography of Lafayette (America’s favorite fighting Frenchman!) and a history of all the sculptures and paintings they have accumulated, and held many book debuts. It’s on my personal list of places to go before I kick the bucket.

This photo was taken during the “Sink or Swim” event with MIT faculty guest speakers.

One of those events is happening this February 13th! Martin Puchner, the author of The Written World: The Power of Stories to Shape People, History, Civilization, will be the star of the show. With a rating of 3.8 on Goodreads, his novel’s main theme is how literature has affected the economy, politics, culture, and people’s lives throughout history. I am a huge history lover and a writer, and this book sounds right up my alley. If I wasn’t a broke college student, I would love to buy every novel about ancient literature. That’s why I appreciate these events because the admission fee is only ten dollars and you can speak with the author about a topic you both find fascinating.

By: Ryan Breslin

A clip from early June 2012 (https://vimeo.com/45448855), shows Puchner give his “Theater and Philosophy” lecture. Martin Puchner, who is originally from Germany, is currently a professor at Harvard University. He holds the “Byron and Anita Wien Chair of Drama and of English and Comparative Literature,” and founded The Mellon School of Theater and Performance Research at Harvard University. In addition, he edits books such as the Norton Anthology of World Literature (2012). Puchner currently lives in Cambridge, but he is a traveler at heart and uses those experiences to enrich his writing. He loves to play the piano, violin, and viola for fun!

But let’s get back to the book. This historical nonfiction work was published just last year. World: The Power of Stories starts off with the Iliad’s influence on Alexander the Great (what?) and flash forwards in time all the way to J.K Rowling (what?!). It even touches on secret spy writings in the Soviet Union. How does all of this connect? Come to the Boston Athenaeum on February 13th at 12:00pm to 1:00pm to find out!


-Laura Rodgers, Intern

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The Power of an Editor: Raymond Carver and Gordon Lish



Raymond Carver

The relationship between an author and their editor has always had profound influence on the work produced. There have been many examples of this relationship working or not working throughout literary history, and one of the most famous examples in this century is none other than that of acclaimed short story writer Raymond Carver and his editor Gordon Lish.

Raymond Carver is most well-known for revitalizing the art of the short story with his Hemingway-esque, minimalist writing. He worked closely with editor Gordon Lish during his years as an unknown writer until his career took off and Carver abruptly decided to end their relationship. It would seem that Carver was attempting to fly solo with all the success under his belt, but the reason for the break turned out to be Lish’s overbearing edits.


Gordon Lish

One famous example of Lish overstepping his boundaries as an editor can be found in the short story The Bath, originally titled A Small, Good Thing. The edited version that was published, The Bath, is quite a different story from the draft, A Small, Good Thing. Both stories are about parents at a hospital awaiting news about their comatose son while the baker, who made a birthday cake for the son at the mother’s request, calls them again and again. However, in The Bath, the characters are not referred to by their names but by their titles, such as mother instead of Ann or birthday boy instead of Scotty. Doing so strips away their humanity. There is a lack of compassion and emotions being expressed by the characters despite the highly stressful situation. The ending is ambiguous and abrupt; it is not clear whether or not the boy lives or dies, whether the baker and the couple ever connect. In contrast to this eerie tone, A Small, Good Thing offers the hope for redemption that is characteristic of Carver’s works that are not edited by Lish. All the characters are referred to by name. There are more details to the situation that make it more real. They express compassion, concern, anger, sadness, and a myriad of emotions one would expect from such a difficult situation. Scotty very clearly dies in this version, devastating his parents, but hope comes unexpected in the form of the baker, who apologizes for his behavior and shares food with the grieving parents.


An example of the changes Lish made to Carver’s stories

As with the example above, Lish changed the entire point of countless Carver stories with his cuts and edits. Interestingly enough though, while Carver himself increasingly pushed back against many of Lish’s edits towards the end of their partnership, after he struck out on his own, he only published the full versions of less than half of the short stories that Lish cut up. Many people argue that the Lish edited version is more powerful and literary than the Carver version. Whichever side you are on, this brings up the contentious issue of who the author is and how much power an author has over their own work, especially after it has already been released to the public. So how much power does an editor really have over a story? And how much power should an editor have over a story?

Cindy Nguyen-Pham, intern

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The 2017 Best Genre Prizes

World Literature Today, a ninety-year-old international magazine, released its annual literary prizes of the year. The highly praised magazine has received twenty-three national publishing awards over its history. Their editors cover translated genres, poetry, nonfiction, and academic essays. Nominees included a fiction writer, two creative nonfiction writers, one essayist, and two poets.

Their best fiction book was named “The Binding of Isaac,” by Stephen Mitchell. No, I’m not talking about the notorious indie video game. Mitchell has over twenty books he has translated, including children’s books. This novel focuses on the religious stories from the Qur’an and Hebrew Bible.

Stephen Mitchell

WLT awarded Tiffany Midge and Fabio Morábito the best creative nonfiction awards of 2017. Midge wrote “Bury My Heart at Chuck E. Cheese’s” just last May. She uses humor in her writing and has published both fiction and erotica. She uses her Native American heritage for a different perspective to draw in readers. “Bury My Heart at Chuck E. Cheese’s” deals with death and the indestructible bond between women.

Tiffany Midge

Fabio Morábito writes poetry and prose in Spanish. His creative nonfiction book, “Two Slash Nonfictions,” was translated by Curtis Bauer. He currently teaches in Texas. His work comments on how language interferes with our lives in thousands of ways.

Fabio Morábito

Aminatta Forna won the award for the best 2017 essay for her title, “Selective Empathy: Stories and the Power of Narrative,” which was published last November. Her focus comes from historic storytelling and how cultures are influenced by their heritage. Forna has another novel that will be published in March of 2018. She has received various awards for her writing, such as being the finalist for the Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

Aminatta Forna

Last but not least, the two poets are Carolyn Forché, for her title “Five Poems,” and Craig Santos Perez for his “Ode (Ending with a Confession) to the First Mango I Ate on Guam After Decades Away.” Forché has taught in many universities in the United States. Her poetry mainly centers around politics, but she has stated that she is not a political poet. She believes in bringing people together with her work.

Image result for Carolyn Forché

Carolyn Forché

Craig Santos Perez, being born in Guam and then moving to California, brings light to immigration and colonization issues through his poetry. He has done several interviews, been featured in many literary articles, and was awarded the American Book Award.  

Craig Santos Perez


The world eagerly awaits for the next round of awards!


–Laura Rodgers, Intern

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Ursula K. Le Guin: A Legacy

On January 22nd, the world of literature was shaken by the sad news of Ursula K. Le Guin passing. Le Guin, a well-respected American novelist, was most known for writing science fiction and fantasy books that dealt with issues relevant to this day such as gender, sexuality, environmentalism, and more. No doubt Le Guin was and will continue to be an important influence on not only the science fiction genre but literature as a whole. In celebration of her life and legacy, here is a selection of great works from the master writer.

Earthsea (1968-2001)

Le Guin’s masterpiece of a series is made up of five novels and eight short stories, all centering on the magical world of Earthsea. Although Le Guin intended the series to be for children, the wold tackles many social and moral issues that extend beyond that intended audience. Characters often deal with the struggle between power and responsibility, the balance of good and evil rather than skewing one way or the other, and coming of age. In 2006, Studio Ghibli released an animated film titled Tales on Earthsea loosely based on the series.

The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)

This novel won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, cementing its place as one of the most significant works in science fiction. In this novel, the male protagonist is sent on a diplomatic mission to a planet where the inhabitants have no fixed sex. The novel explores sex, gender, and androgyny while subtly critiquing gender roles and toxic masculinity in our own society. This was also considered one of the first feminist science fiction books.

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas (1973)

Generally classified as a short story, this plot-less piece describes a summer festival in the utopian city of Omelas. However, the perpetual happiness of the city is contingent on keeping one child isolated and miserable. The truth is revealed to all the citizens once they are old enough, and they can either choose to stay or walk away. Once again, Le Guin calls into question the ambiguity of morals.

The Dispossessed (1974)

Set in the same universe as The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed takes place on twin planets that are anarchist and capitalist respectively. This book was a response to the devastating Vietnam War and contains political themes that are still relevant to our society.

No Time to Spare (2017)

No Time to Spare was Le Guin’s last publication before her death. Her work in science fiction is so iconic that it is easy to overlook her nonfiction publications, but her books in this field are just as well-written and thought-provoking. This particular book is a collection of essays on Le Guin’s outlook on subjects ranging from gender and genre to the power of words and her personal distaste with ageism.

Cindy Nguyen-Pham, Intern

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Exit West – Best Novel of 2017?

With 2017 up and gone, publications sent out their list for top novels of the year. A few titles, however, overlapped with other similar articles. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, for example, was displayed on the websites of Time, Goodreads, the Guardian, Esquire, and various other articles for one of the best books of 2017.

Image result for exit west mohsin hamid

Mohsin Hamid is a Pakistani writer who has been on the rise since his fiction novel Moth Smoke (2000). He earned a dual citizenship for Pakistan and the United Kingdom in 2006. His second novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, was published in 2007 and quickly rose to the New York Times Best Seller list. It sold over a million copies across the world.

Hamid uses his novels to touch on real world issues, which is why his writing is appealing internationally. Exit West focuses on the love of two migrants who start in a city encased in civil war, and flee using magical doors. There is a section about London that shows the true light of the theme of refugee problems. The two main characters, Nadia and Saeed, are forced to live in a ghetto called “Dark London” with barely any food or electricity. This is a parallel to how many refugees are forced to live in sub-par conditions. 

The people of the foreign cities wish for them and others to return where they came from. Hamid brings civil war up close to the reader and how it affects relationships of all kinds.

Exit West is dangerously close to the real world. Donald Trump wrote the executive order restricting immigrants and halting refugee relocation last January. In June, the U.N Refugee Agency stated the world’s displaced population had reached 65.5 million. Australia and several European countries began forcibly deporting refugees.

Now, in 2018, the Global Compact is attempting to draw on world powers to help refugees. The United States withdrew from the group, however, and the outlook for assistance is foggy. Exit West mingles true world problems with aspects of fantasy, and is truly a must-read for the past year of fiction.


-Laura Rodgers, Intern

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