A Love Letter to Love
If the title of Briallen Hopper’s book, Hard to Love: Essays and Confessions, sounds like a reflection of her temperament, it’s not. Hard to Love focuses on the challenges that arise from any significant bond — not just romantic love.
Throughout the collection, Hopper, a professor at Queens College, challenges societal notions that romance signifies the most important — and satisfying — relationship in a person’s life. Rather, she contends that the relationships she has cultivated with friends, family, and even cultural works have shaped her in meaningful ways.
In the opening essay, “Lean On: A Declaration of Dependence,” Hopper cleverly interweaves personal narrative with feminist literary criticism. She takes Ralph Waldo Emerson to task for his staunch adherence to independence, and critiques Joan Didion for championing solitude. Hopper instead praises a different kind of reliance. “To give us back to one another — there lies the great, the singular power of learning to lean on others,” she writes. “Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: One runs away to find love, and finds only oneself.”
Over 21 essays, Hopper’s writing ranges from personal narratives about her fraught relationship with her brother and helping her close friend Ash through cancer treatment, to more cultural fare. She examines the “comforting bleakness” of Cheers, the secret message of friendship in the 2015 film Sisters, the importance of Shirley Jackson, and the problem of false spinsterhood in Kate Bolick’s 2015 bestseller Spinster.
“I made myself face some of the hardest things in my relationships,” Hopper told The Revealer, “and in the process I sometimes found some kind of absolution or made some kind of amends.”