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, Autobiography, Memoir, Feminism

Hard to Love Review

  • Thomas
    January 1, 1970
    In some ways I feel like I have waited for this essay collection all my life. In Hard to Love, Briallen Hopper rejects the rigid dichotomy so often enforced in society: marry your romantic partner and live happily ever after, or grow old and die alone. Hopper trail blazes a courageous newer path, where she finds connection and love with her close friends. She also celebrates other underappreciated forms of love, like love of writing and art and love between siblings. I so appreciated how Hopper In some ways I feel like I have waited for this essay collection all my life. In Hard to Love, Briallen Hopper rejects the rigid dichotomy so often enforced in society: marry your romantic partner and live happily ever after, or grow old and die alone. Hopper trail blazes a courageous newer path, where she finds connection and love with her close friends. She also celebrates other underappreciated forms of love, like love of writing and art and love between siblings. I so appreciated how Hopper shows the messiness of these relationships, like the turmoil she experienced with her friend Cathy when she moved in with her, or how her bond with her brother grew distant in part because of their differing religious and political beliefs. Above all, Hopper's writing flows with intelligence and a willingness to unpack assumptions. Her compassion for herself, her friends, and her family shine clear. One quote about chosen family that made my heart grow warm:"What I love about found family is that it can accommodate all the love and meals and holidays and hospital visits of any other family - all the true confessions and late-night conversations and child chaos and quotidian mess and hugs and endearments and quantity time; and yet it is often kinder than original family, and more miraculous, because it is a gift given when you are old enough to appreciate it, a commitment continuously made when you know what that commitment costs and means. A family found in adulthood can never attain the involuntary intimacy of the siblings who have known you since birth, and squabbled with you in bathrooms and at breakfast tables from time immemorial. But sometimes, perhaps for this reason, a found family can know and love you for who you are - not for who you once were, or who you never were."I feel like I have waited for these essays all my life because I write about the glorification of romance and my love for my friends on my blog all the freaking time. Just last week I texted one of my close friends A that I wish I saw examples of women and femmes who basked in their singleness and close friends, because I often only see people enmeshed in romantic relationships or single people desperate to escape singlehood. Through herself in Hard to Love, Hopper offers that example of a woman finding love with her friends and her writing. Two of the essays toward the start of the collection, "Lean On" and "On Spinsters," blew me away with the depth of their insight. "Lean On" acts as a radical defense of relying on others, especially outside of romantic relationships, in a society that encourages self-reliance and detachment. "On Spinsters" serves as an ode to single women and those throughout history who have built loving relationships outside the government-sanctioned institution of marriage. These two essays worked their way into my heart and into the list of top essays I have ever read with ease. A short paragraph from On Spinsters that wowed me (one of many):"I cling to the word 'spinster' in the second decade of the twenty-first century because it serves as a challenge to the way our society still conflates coupledom with love, maturity, and citizenship, while seeing unmarried people as - to quote Justice Kennedy - 'condemned to live in loneliness.' And, to borrow a phrase from second-wave historian Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, I cling to the word because it links me with my spinster sisters throughout history in a shared 'female world of love and ritual.' I cling to it and hold it close because, to riff on a refrain from Hilton Als, it's the spinsters who made me."Hopper covers so much amazing ground in terms of writing that centers friendship and other forms of non-romantic intimacy. She writes about how she and a group of friends formed a care team for their friend who got diagnosed with cancer and did not have a partner to rely on. She shares, with great vulnerability and sincerity, about her search for sperm so she can have a child without a traditional romance in tow. She analyzes a show she loves, Cheers unpacking its dynamics of romance and friendship and what works and does not work within a feminist framework. These essays showcase Hopper's versatility as a writer. They highlight how writers have so much ground to cover outside of romance, a radical notion for women and femmes in particular.I would recommend these essays to absolutely everyone, especially those who also want to nurture love in friendship and in other non-romantic forms. The collection is perhaps not perfect - I felt that some of the essays toward the end (e.g., "The Stars") could have benefited from a firmer thematic connection to the other essays. I also wish Hopper had done more to unpack her white, cis privilege in her essay on the Women's March, as she did a fabulous job of doing so in her essay "The Foundling Museum." Still, I cherished this collection so much and am grateful for the feminist ideas and genuine love it contributes to the literary canon. An excellent essay collection that I hope helps others appreciate and cultivate their own many types of love.
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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • Cara
    January 1, 1970
    I so enjoyed the company of this book.
  • 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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  • KayW4
    January 1, 1970
    Full disclosure: I know the author, and I am mentioned in the acknowledgements (thanks Bri!). And let me tell you what an enormous relief it is that I am able to review this book after all. Because I decided a long time ago that I wouldn't review books by people I know if I don't love them (the books, I mean - although I suppose it often applies to the authors too). It's a little like writing recommendation letters for students (which I do frequently); unless I can honestly rave about them, it's Full disclosure: I know the author, and I am mentioned in the acknowledgements (thanks Bri!). And let me tell you what an enormous relief it is that I am able to review this book after all. Because I decided a long time ago that I wouldn't review books by people I know if I don't love them (the books, I mean - although I suppose it often applies to the authors too). It's a little like writing recommendation letters for students (which I do frequently); unless I can honestly rave about them, it's not appropriate for me to be writing their recommendation, and it's better to leave it to somebody else better qualified to get that rave in. And then thank everything holy I read "Hard to Love" and completely and utterly adored it. "Hard to Love" is a mix of essays written directly for the publication of this book, and texts published in various journals and magazines in the last decade. One of the standouts of the former variety is her essay on the TV show Cheers called "Everything You've Got." It's not your usual snarky pop culture-savvy breakdown of how and why and show appeals to us in a particular moment. Instead, it's a loving (but not uncritical!) engagement with a show that, through its heightened depiction of class in urban America, weirdly enough managed to say something profound about heterosexual romance. And vice versa. It's the essay that I think stands out in the collection as a showcase of just what a phenomenal writer we've got in Hopper. But let's be honest. What readers will take from this book isn't what Hopper has to say about TV, hoarding, or Emerson, or Flannery O'Connor. It's the almost breathtaking honesty with which she chronicles her life experiences and weaves them in to her thoughts on TV, hoarding Emerson, and Flannery O'Connor - and so much more. It's not a perfect book, of course. I imagine those English-language readers who are not American in origin or current residence might feel the usual frustration at the lumping together of "life" experiences/problems (manifestations of religion, racism, classism and so on) and "modern North American" experiences. But it's a smart and sensitive enough book that unlike in many of the other countless instances in which one encounters this assumption, it's very hard to fault this one in particular, because it's just too darn good. And somehow the alchemy which shouldn't work does work - it really DOES matter to your dating life (while in grad school at least) if your prospective mate refuses to give up on the ideals of a douchebag like Ralph Waldo Emerson. It's not "academic" or "literary" - I mean it's both those, but it's also real life. That intertwinedness - of singing the praises of leaning on people (while subtly throwing an enormous amount of shade on Sheryl Sandberg's ludicrous "Lean In" concept while never once mentioning it or her by name), while talking about having to wear adult diapers of a certain brand name because of her recent surgery... it's the way Hopper makes those two things so interconnected in an organic and genuine way that's a deeply impressive feat. And it makes for a moving, wise, roller-coaster (of many kinds) read.
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  • Lindsey Centrella
    January 1, 1970
    In our society, women are taught at an early age that the ultimate goal in life is to find true love and marry, and those who fail will be unhappy and feel unfulfilled. Through a series of experiences and critical analysis, Hopper reaffirms that love is not just romantic love, and a life well-lived can indeed happen with friendships, sisterhood, and family; all we have to do is reach out and lean on.
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  • Emily Johnson
    January 1, 1970
    This book is beautiful, searing, and helped me to think about love and friendship in new ways. If you are a human who knows other humans, you should read it.
  • Katie Bennett
    January 1, 1970
    I loved it so freakin much. Hopper writes with as much intelligence as the best (Sontag, Solnit, Didion), but also with a kind of light touch and personableness that’s sometimes lacking from the very smart but very formal famous essayists. The collection focuses on relationships that exist beyond romance: friends, sisters, roommates, caretakers. Hopper shows that these relationships are just as important as romantic love, and by giving more attention to them, you actually make the world a more e I loved it so freakin much. Hopper writes with as much intelligence as the best (Sontag, Solnit, Didion), but also with a kind of light touch and personableness that’s sometimes lacking from the very smart but very formal famous essayists. The collection focuses on relationships that exist beyond romance: friends, sisters, roommates, caretakers. Hopper shows that these relationships are just as important as romantic love, and by giving more attention to them, you actually make the world a more empathetic place: “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.” Also, I hadn’t heard of many of the books& movies examined in “Hard to Love,” but Hopper writes about them in a way that convinces me I need to watch/ read them immediately! The list includes two movies staring Bette Davis, “Now, Voyager” & “Of Human Bondage,” James Baldwin’s essay “The Devil Finds Work,” the TV show “Cheers,” the book series “Tales of the City,” Robin Wasserman’s “Girls on Fire,” Shirley Jackson’s memoirs “Life Among the Savages” & “Raising Demons,” and Grace Metalious’s “Peyton Place”
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  • Sarah
    January 1, 1970
    The first essay was great! The rest were fine, but took too much time relating a theme to a book, movie, or TV show, sometimes spending several pages describing their plots. That's not what I was looking for.
  • Cristy
    January 1, 1970
    3.5 stars
  • (a)lyss(a)
    January 1, 1970
    I really wanted to like this book, it was on me for thinking it was something different.I appreciate that this book is raw and open and honest. Diving into the life of Hopper and her experience with codependency and how romantic love isn't the ultimate goal. It's a bit of a dense read that hits you hard.
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  • Lydia Wang
    January 1, 1970
    the essay on sperm banks / moby dick will stay with me for awhile, but not sure any of the others left a very positive or negative impression
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