Many splendored? Sometimes, but it’s always intriguing


Love stories come in many different forms. For Valentine’s Day, we asked members of the Harvard staff and faculty what books they think about when they think about love. The results mixed fiction with nonfiction, happy romances with tragic insight, all of which make intriguing reading for this holiday.


“Anyone who’s been in love, or even just had a crush, will find themselves in her analyses.”

Michelle Interrante, about Anne Carson’s “Eros the Bittersweet”

Book cover: "Anatomy of Love."

Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz

Associate Professors of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

Married couple and creative partners Olds and Schwartz wrote a book on lasting relationships, “Marriage in Motion.” Olds shared the couple’s pick: “We loved the Helen Fisher book ‘The Anatomy of Love,’” she said. “It is a fascinating description of her observations and research, and her access to the data on a huge sector of the population that participated in Match.com made it even more compelling. She also has a wonderful way of translating her scientific findings for the lay public.”

Book cover: "Eros and the Bittersweet."

Michelle Interrante

Archivist/Records Manager, Harvard Art Museums Archives

Interrante chose Anne Carson’s look at the Greek concept of love, “Eros the Bittersweet.” “Her subtle observations about love are truly eternal and relatable,” she said. “Anyone who’s been in love, or even just had a crush, will find themselves in her analyses — no prior experience with ancient Greek poetry required!”

“Sometimes, the greatest insights into love can come from reflections on ways love can go wrong.” 

Quinn White

Book cover: "The Bridge of San Luis Rey."

Quinn White

Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy

White’s work focuses on the ethics of love and interpersonal relationships, which may play into one of his picks: Thornton Wilder’s novel “The Bridge of San Luis Rey.” “Sometimes, the greatest insights into love can come from reflections on ways love can go wrong. This short book is well worth everyone’s time and features truly exquisite writing,” he said.

For a second choice, White went with Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel “The Left Hand of Darkness,” which explores the idea of gender fluidity. “Maybe an odd choice, but a deeply moving story, featuring a profoundly unreliable narrator, about the love that can arise even across profound difference. A classic of sci-fi, but highly recommended even for those who don’t normally like science fiction!”

Book cover: "Come as You Are."

Sharon Bober

Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

Bober, the founding director of the Sexual Health Program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, picked “Come As You Are” by sex educator Emily Nagoski, calling it “one of the most delightful, accessible, and deeply useful resources about sexual desire out there. It is an eye-opener for both individuals and couples who want to understand how love, sex, emotion, brain chemistry, and social context are all essentially connected to the experience of desire.” 

“It is an eye-opener for both individuals and couples who want to understand how love, sex, emotion, brain chemistry, and social context are all essentially connected to the experience of desire.” 

Sharon Bober, about “Come As You Are” by Emily Nagoski

Book cover: "Hamnet."

Carol S. Steiker

Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law

“During the pandemic, I read a lot, but for a while I lost the pleasure in it,” said Steiker, who also serves as Harvard Law School’s special adviser for public service. “What broke the dry spell for me was Maggie O’Farrell’s 2020 novel ‘Hamnet.’ The story draws on facts from Shakespeare’s life to imagine his marriage and his inspiration for writing ‘Hamlet.’  

“Stop reading this if you haven’t read the book, because — spoiler ahead. After Shakespeare’s son Hamnet (a name interchangeable in Elizabethan England with Hamlet) dies, Shakespeare brings him back to life in the young prince Hamlet.

“Shakespeare’s wife unexpectedly comes to London and sees a performance of the play, and the couple, isolated in their separate grief, are drawn together. The love of parents for children and the way in which shared parental love binds a couple to one another are so beautifully rendered.”

Book cover: "Frankissstein."

Patrick Goodsell

Properties Carpenter, American Repertory Theater

Goodsell chose Jeanette Winterson’s “Frankissstein: A Love Story,” “a narrative that oscillates between Mary Shelley writing ‘Frankenstein’ in 1816 and Ry Shelley, a transgender doctor in the present, as they both navigate love and the question of what it means to be human.”

“Slow burn, enemies to lovers, humor and hijinks, pulls at your heartstrings … What more can you ask for?”

Madeleine Wright, about “You Deserve Each Other” by Sarah Hogle

Book cover: "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh."

Alexander Rehding

Fanny Peabody Professor of Music

Michael Chabon’s “extraordinary first novel, ‘The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,’” was the theorist and musicologist’s pick. “When it came out, in 1988, I was 18, and the summer of love and adventure during which the story is set really resonated with me at the time — and has stayed with me ever since.”

Book cover: "Beach Read."

Madeleine Wright

Marketing and PR Coordinator, American Repertory Theater

Wright had four picks: “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” by Gabrielle Zevin, which she describes as “a portrait of two Harvard students, inexorably tied to each other through unimaginable pain and extraordinary joy. Sadie and Sam are the epitome of platonic soulmates.” “This Time Tomorrow,” by Emma Straub: “Heartfelt and singular, this novel’s portrayal of the love between a father and daughter will prompt you to pick up the phone and call your loved ones the moment you stop crying.” “Beach Read,” by Emily Henry: “This novel is exactly what it claims to be — a feel-good, lighthearted love story with a literary bent and charming characters who will stick with you long after its close.” And finally, “You Deserve Each Other,” by Sarah Hogle: “Slow burn, enemies to lovers, humor and hijinks, pulls at your heartstrings … What more can you ask for?”

Book cover: "The Lover."

Barbara Claire Lindstrom

Receptionist and Volunteer Coordinator, American Repertory Theater

To explain her pick, “The Lover” by Marguerite Duras, Lindstrom simply quoted from the lush seductive work: “One day, I was already old, in the entrance of a public place a man came up to me. He introduced himself and said, ‘I’ve known you for years. Everyone says you were beautiful when you were young, but I want to tell you I think you’re more beautiful now than then. Rather than your face as a young woman, I prefer your face as it is now. Ravaged.’”



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