Know Every Name

August 19, 2016 | 6

Year in Reading alumna Porochista Khakpour has a stunning new story in Bennington Review. She writes, “I had made a point of trying to learn the names of everyone in my department, after my previous department chair at my last VAP job advised ‘best way to make a best impression is know every name of professor and student alike.’” For more of her writing, check out her Millions piece on George Saunders.

is an intern for The Millions. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in BOMB, Ploughshares online, Music & Literature, Words Without Borders, and elsewhere. She is currently the assistant fiction editor for Washington Square Review. She tweets at @bdantaslobato.


  1. sorry but “stunning”? First off, the story’s about an English professor. Stories about writers and English professors are what writers/English professors write when they no longer have anything interesting to say. No story about an English professor has ever been stunning.

    2nd, the writing is so poor I wonder if you even read it. To wit:

    “There were boys too but the boys were just boys” [how profound]

    “Their skin was always burnt to an orange glow, like marinated duck” [Duck is rarely marinated and never orange or glowing]

    “as if you could watch the zipper be coerced to a slow descent” [huh??]

    “These girls were little pink and orange rubber things, like hot dogs” [i’m starting to doubt the author has ever seen the color orange]

    “they were nothing like me, not then, of course, or ever” [??]

    “I watched them like you watch a thing that is capable of anything if you look away.” [such as…???]

    This is literally all in the first paragraph.

    example 26329 of why literary fiction is dying. new york writer spends so much time in writerly/academic bubble that their writing becomes removed from the real world. lit mag publishes writer on strength of name only. industry website pimps story cuz it’s easier than actually searching out something new and original. tomorrow the whole cycle starts anew.

    please, millions, don’t play this game any more. you don’t have to.

  2. @toad

    Well, now I’ve read that story on your negative endorsement… expecting to come to the end of its first page sneering. But it wasn’t bad. Agreed that “stunning” is not only OTT but sets the story up to fail in the minds of some readers. But, no: it wasn’t bad at all.

  3. Steve

    you sir are a glutton for punishment! congrats. though i’d argue that it’s a sorry state of affairs when you are forced to defend a story on its “wasn’t-bad”-ness. Is “good” a bridge too far these days? Does quality matter any more? and then there’s the question of the million’s pimping. credibility damaged? gotta say i’m not interested in the opinions of someone who either truly finds that story stunning, or pretends to in the interest of clicks.

  4. @toad

    It’s just that I recognize the story’s wryly conversational tone from the “New Frontier” magazine fiction of the previous century… or from Lucia Berlin. Not especially my thing (I’m into, say, Harold Brodkey’s short stories, which puts me in with a herd of a few dozen weird mammals) but I think the author does the thing well.

    Re: the pimping: isn’t everything public sort of that way….? laugh

  5. Toad,

    I agree that the writing as cited isn’t very good (didn’t read the rest of it), but then The Bennington Review is a tiny literary magazine. This is not to disparage the author or magazine, but to say you might want to keep your powder dry for more egregious, large-scale affronts to aesthetic sense, those involving a conspiracy of industry overpraise for something manifestly undeserving of it, such as Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies.

    Btw, your judgment on writing about English professors is silly and baseless. Coetzee’s Disgrace, one of the greatest novels of the last few decades, is about just that.

  6. ” you might want to keep your powder dry for more egregious, large-scale affronts to aesthetic sense, those involving a conspiracy of industry overpraise for something manifestly undeserving of it…”

    In that case, can’t we do something about Karl Ove Knausgaard and his enablers (such as James Wood, who benefits from the default Anglophilia of NYer readers in much the same way that Karl Ove Knausgaard benefits from James Wood’s hardwired admiration, which had to travel North to find something even whiter, and more banal, than Wood)…?

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