bff (best fiction forever)
(Or New Short Fiction to Read Post-"Cat Person")
by Hannah Robbins Hopkins
“The reason that fiction is more interesting than any other form of literature, to those who really like to study people, is that in fiction the author can really tell the truth without humiliating himself.”
— Eleanor Roosevelt in The Autobiography Of Eleanor Roosevelt
If you aren’t connected to hordes of recovering English majors on the social medias, you may have missed the flashbang short story published in The New Yorker this week. For any of us who have found ourselves in murky waters of consent, coercion, and complicity; Kristen Roupenian’s “Cat Person” speaks so clearly to so many of the nights we wish we could forget. For those of us who haven’t, the short piece is sparking important conversations about authority, relationships, and gendered power dynamics. In short: this is a great one, and you’d do well to invest your time reading it.
“You should never read just for ‘enjoyment.’ Read to make yourself smarter! Less judgmental. More apt to understand your friends’ insane behavior, or better yet, your own. Pick ‘hard books.’ Ones you have to concentrate on while reading. And for god’s sake, don’t let me ever hear you say, ‘I can’t read fiction. I only have time for the truth.’ Fiction is the truth, fool! Ever hear of ‘literature’? That means fiction, too, stupid.” — John Waters in Role Models
My husband and I met/fell in love as English majors, taught and studied English, and are now back in grad school (CALL YOUR SENATOR THX) putting our skills to good use. Though we both grew up avid readers, we realized sometime in 2016 that we hadn’t read fiction just for pleasure in years.
Like anyone else at a four-year university, we’d been reading for class, but we couldn’t even recall the last time we’d cracked open a fiction book just for the joy of reading in the first place, arguably the same joy that has given us our educations, jobs, and each other (saccharine, but true!).
And I don’t think we’re alone, either: among the small revelations in the wake of “Cat Person” is the sad fact that many of us just don’t (or can’t) make time for fiction.
“And who among us is not neurotic, and has never complained that they are not understood? Why did you come here, to this place, if not in the hope of being understood, of being in some small way comprehended by your peers, and embraced by them in a fellowship of shared secrets? I don't know about you, but I just want to be held.” — Mary Ruefle in Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures
So for the podcast-on-the-train listeners, the three-pages-before-bed readers, the newspaper-on-the-Kindle subscribers; here’s a quick breakdown of some short fiction and a little poetry, just for you.
If you have a couple spare minutes this hectic holiday season, I hope you can make some time to enjoy stories and storytellers that make us all just a little more human. You’ll be glad you did.
“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” — Mark Twain in Following the Equator
If you have 15 minutes:
Junot Diaz, “Alma”
Nick Fuller Googins, “Origin Stories”
Matthew Olzmann, “Mountain Dew Commercial Disguised as a Love Poem”
Eve Ewing, “to the notebook kid”
Kate Clanchy, “Patagonia”
If you have 30 minutes:
Junot Diaz, “How to date a brown girl (black girl, white girl, or halfie)”
Carmen Machado, “Especially Heinous: 27 Views of Law & Order SVU”
Thomas Bolt, “Insurance”
April Ayers Lawson, “Three Friends in a Hammock”
Eudora Welty, “A Visit of Charity”
If you have an hour:
Anne Carson, “The Glass Essay”
Benedict Kiely, "Bluebell Meadow”
Chris Drangle, “A Local’s Guide to Dating in Slocomb County”
Will Blythe, “Five Encounters with Vegetation”
Renee Gladman, “No. 32”
If you have a weekend:
Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies
Dara Horn, The World to Come
Meg Rosoff, How I Live Now
Donna Tartt, The Secret History
Meg Wolitzer, The Interestings
And you want new fiction in your mailbox on the regular, subscribe to these forever favorites:
The Oxford American
The Paris Review
The New Yorker