Hard to Love
A sharp and entertaining essay collection about the importance of multiple forms of love and friendship in a world designed for couples, from a laser-precise new voice.Sometimes it seems like there are two American creeds, self-reliance and marriage, and neither of them is mine. I experience myself as someone formed and sustained by others' love and patience, by student loans and stipends, by the kindness of strangers.Briallen Hopper's Hard to Love honors the categories of loves and relationships beyond marriage, the ones that are often treated as invisible or seen as secondary--friendships, kinship with adult siblings, care teams that form in times of illness, or various alternative family formations. She also values difficult and amorphous loves like loving a challenging job or inanimate objects that can't love you back. She draws from personal experience, sharing stories about her loving but combative family, the fiercely independent Emerson scholar who pushed her away, and the friends who have become her invented or found family; pop culture touchstones like the Women's March, John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, and the timeless series Cheers; and the work of writers like Joan Didion, Gwendolyn Brooks, Flannery O'Connor, and Herman Melville (Moby-Dick like you've never seen it!).Hard to Love pays homage and attention to unlikely friends and lovers both real and fictional. It is a series of love letters to the meaningful, if underappreciated, forms of intimacy and community that are tricky, tangled, and tough, but ultimately sustaining.

Hard to Love Details

TitleHard to Love
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseFeb 5th, 2019
PublisherBloomsbury Publishing
ISBN-139781632868800
Rating
GenreWriting, Essays, Nonfiction

Hard to Love Review

  • Briallen Hopper
    January 1, 1970
    The best book I've ever written!
  • James Steichen
    January 1, 1970
    I’ve been reading Briallen Hopper’s insightful prose for many years, and I’m excited to see all of her best work in one beautiful volume.Imagine if an Anne-of-Green-Gables-esque young woman grew up in late twentieth-century Washington state, wrote a dissertation on Uncle Tom’s Cabin and James Baldwin, had an encyclopedic knowledge of everything from cocktails to the Golden Girls, and went on to teach at Yale and Queens College. And she can play the piano! But she’s a real person! Absolute must-r I’ve been reading Briallen Hopper’s insightful prose for many years, and I’m excited to see all of her best work in one beautiful volume.Imagine if an Anne-of-Green-Gables-esque young woman grew up in late twentieth-century Washington state, wrote a dissertation on Uncle Tom’s Cabin and James Baldwin, had an encyclopedic knowledge of everything from cocktails to the Golden Girls, and went on to teach at Yale and Queens College. And she can play the piano! But she’s a real person! Absolute must-reads are her definitive essay on The Fault in Our Stars and her magisterial (no other word suffices) reexamination of the concept of the spinster.
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  • Keri Walsh
    January 1, 1970
    What could happen if we declared and even celebrated our mutual dependency on our friends and siblings, or on our church, work, political and other communities? What if we acknowledged the deep meaning we derive from our feelings for the books and movies and television that are most dear to us, or even the love we have for our most honored possessions? This book suggests that all of these kinds of undersung love can offer us nourishing alternatives to the two paths most often celebrated in Ameri What could happen if we declared and even celebrated our mutual dependency on our friends and siblings, or on our church, work, political and other communities? What if we acknowledged the deep meaning we derive from our feelings for the books and movies and television that are most dear to us, or even the love we have for our most honored possessions? This book suggests that all of these kinds of undersung love can offer us nourishing alternatives to the two paths most often celebrated in American life: rugged individualism and marrying off. Hard to Love begins with an essay called “Lean On” that is an insightful takedown of the value of Emersonian self-reliance, an essay that is both deeply funny and a persuasive rallying cry for honoring all of these different kinds of relationships. Hopper embodies “Self-Reliance” in the person of her grad school boyfriend (at the end of her long and ultimately disappointing romance with this broad-shouldered Californian rugged individualist, she begins to learn the key lesson of this book: "Rather than resting all my weight on one unreliable man, I began to spread myself out. I learned to practice mutual, broadly distributed leaning: to depend on care that was neither compulsory nor conditional, and on lavish, unrationed, unanticipated kindness.")What I love best about Hopper’s essays is that they combine spiritual wisdom and encouragement (she is a preacher), eloquence (she is a writing teacher), astute cultural criticism (she has a Ph.D. in American literature from Princeton), and a deeply endearing comic, self-effacing glamour (she is a red-lipstick and faux-fur wearing diva in the Mae West/Anita Loos/Dorothy Parker/Ma Rainey tradition). She writes about all kinds of things—her personal pantheon of objects and experiences that embody the kind of leaning she celebrates: the Women’s March, the sitcoms Cheers and The Golden Girls, baking for her students, forming part of a care team for a friend with cancer, her large family (she is part of a group of creative sisters reminiscent of Austen, Brontë, Alcott). The funniest essays in the collection, like “How to Be Single,” are the kind of pieces you want to circulate gleefully on Facebook because everyone needs to read them; the most profound, like the one on reading Flannery O’Connor’s prayer journals with a friend facing terminal illness, are the kind you want to turn to when facing your own darkest nights of the soul. Hopper knows herself well and harbors few illusions. She looks at things as honestly as she can, even when looking is painful—she does not hide from her own vulnerabilities or her privileges-- but still she transforms and lifts everything up in the light of her empathy and endless fascination and her wit.Some books I might compare this to are: Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, Samantha Irby’s We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, and Lindy West’s Shrill. Like these books, Hopper’s writing is intimate, entertaining, absent of clichés (she would never let herself sink into one), and a balm for life’s scariest moments as well as its more mundane ones. She writes about navigating the plot of a woman’s life after having “missed the boat” (for whatever variety of reasons) of marriage, home ownership, and children—she takes us on journeys involving roommates and sperm donation clinics and precarious jobs, all buoyed by relationships with friends that only deepen as she realizes how much she honors these bonds and how sturdy they are. I should confess that the author is a close friend of mine. Together we’ve slumber-party-watched The Best Years of Our Lives and Desk Set and co-baked Sylvia Plath’s Tomato Soup Cake recipe. We’ve been students in grad seminars together, taught together, and are now members of the same beloved writing group. Sharing this review feels like a tribute to the kind of “leaning on” described in Hard to Love. In Bri’s book the voices and names and stories of her friends are everywhere. As one of them, let me say say how glad I am that inspiration to practice the art and religion of “leaning on,” whether over cocktails or hospital beds, will extend beyond her immediate circle—welcome to the Briallen Hopper lifestyle! (soundtrack by Rodgers and Hart).
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  • Emma Eisenberg
    January 1, 1970
    If Carrie Bradshaw were v much smarter, more intersectional & more anti-racist & capitalist, this might be the book she'd write. We are in need of all the narratives about lives that do not proceed along a coupling, marriage, & baby track & Hopper's are better than most. I particularly appreciated the way she leaves open the space for both/and and neither/nor, ala "Sometimes it seems like there are two American creeds, self-reliance and marriage, and neither of them is mine." 10/ If Carrie Bradshaw were v much smarter, more intersectional & more anti-racist & capitalist, this might be the book she'd write. We are in need of all the narratives about lives that do not proceed along a coupling, marriage, & baby track & Hopper's are better than most. I particularly appreciated the way she leaves open the space for both/and and neither/nor, ala "Sometimes it seems like there are two American creeds, self-reliance and marriage, and neither of them is mine." 10/10 would binge again
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  • Sraah
    January 1, 1970
    this helped me a lot when i needed it most. so many quotes really stood out to me. this book gave me strength in myself that kept trying to hide its face from my own self. i also really enjoyed learning about Cheers."The paradox was that my newfound self-reliance was a symptom of my utter reliance on him. I depended on his demand that I not depend. I leaned on not leaning on him. The irony was he left me anyway.""I was ashamed that I needed him emotionally and existentially in ways he didn’t see this helped me a lot when i needed it most. so many quotes really stood out to me. this book gave me strength in myself that kept trying to hide its face from my own self. i also really enjoyed learning about Cheers."The paradox was that my newfound self-reliance was a symptom of my utter reliance on him. I depended on his demand that I not depend. I leaned on not leaning on him. The irony was he left me anyway.""I was ashamed that I needed him emotionally and existentially in ways he didn’t seem to need me.""And I was ashamed of my willingness to settle for a love life in which my desire to twine like a vine was constantly thwarted by a man who was always carefully disentangling himself from my tendrils and tentacles.""I was a leaning willow, and when my man could and did detach himself from me, I learned that leaning willows , unlike mighty oaks, are built to withstand quakes and storms. They can bend almost to the ground without breaking.""Even our faults and flaws can become bearable when mediated through the eyes of others, since our closest friends can show us the awful sides of ourselves that we would never have seen, but in ways that sharpen us instead of wearing us away.""“Codependence” is a beautiful word that could mean mutual support but instead means mutual harm.""Leaning, or being leaned on, can make one feel luscious, melting, known, held, solid, suspended, steely, light. It can also make one feel used, worn out, weak, diminished, infantilized, guarded, sick, spent. Leaning can be love.""Maybe I was breaking down, but I also broke through.""I still don’t ever want to let things go, but now I know that I can."
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  • Amy DePoy
    January 1, 1970
    Spinsters, Sisters, Gal Pals, Cheers, Dramatic Emersonian Ex Boyfriends--what more could you want???? In a society that values romantic love over all else, there is nothing so refreshing as a strong feminist narrator and a tale of all the different roles a woman can take throughout her life. That book is Hard to Love: Essays and Confessions by Briallen Hopper. Hopper, a professor of creative writing, graduate of the Yale divinity school, and overall amazing human being, weaves a spellbinding tal Spinsters, Sisters, Gal Pals, Cheers, Dramatic Emersonian Ex Boyfriends--what more could you want???? In a society that values romantic love over all else, there is nothing so refreshing as a strong feminist narrator and a tale of all the different roles a woman can take throughout her life. That book is Hard to Love: Essays and Confessions by Briallen Hopper. Hopper, a professor of creative writing, graduate of the Yale divinity school, and overall amazing human being, weaves a spellbinding tale of dramatic Emersonian ex-boyfriends, spinsters of past and present, on being and not being a mother, and the endless and enduring power of friendship. This debut is nothing short of extraordinary in both prose and organization. From the Women’s March to Cheers, Hopper covers middle aged spinsterhood, a quest to becoming a mother, changing sibling relationships, and the experience of caring for a dying friend. I can’t even pick which chapter is my favorite. “Lean On” is a treatise in every sense of the word—it is a resounding cry, a defending of a world view. It is complex and interwoven and absolutely compelling in every way. “How to be Single” made me laugh out loud and read it aloud to my roommates. “Pandora in Blue Jeans” is a tale about women authors that made me excited to research the content, as Hopper obviously did. “The Foundling Museum” and “Moby-Dick” were earnest and heartbreakingly honest. “Waveforms and the Women’s March” should be the new feminist manifesto. Even the acknowledgements are a thesis statement—list upon list of found families and friends who have been there along the way. Hard to Love is one of my favorite essay collections I've ever read. I'll reread it many times in the years to come.
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