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Week of 4/1/18

PUBLISHED: April 3, 2018


In an effort to better acquaint you, the reader, with the VQR staff, members of our team will share excerpts from our personal reading—The Best 200 Words I Read All Week. From fact to fiction, from comedic to tragic, we hope you find as much to admire in these selections as we do.

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I’m not Penelope married to faith married to waiting

bound in fine soft strands of silk dyed and stretched

in my world longing has teeth and fins has a taste

for blood longing is a room built entirely of knives

all edges facing in all points afire and also somehow

held to the vessel in my world sirens are the town criers

saying something’s happened and maybe to you saying

someone got too close to danger sirens are the past tense

of rescue meaning clean-up in aisle three where

the glass racks have fallen before the mast where the sea

rose up between the meat and the waiting where the bed

refused as usual to become the boat where the dead

drape and tangle in the rigging the sheets in the loom

and the sirens gather to wail flicker and shine where they

gather together to sing of damage to sing us home


Executive Editor Allison Wright
Poem from The Book of Endings by Leslie Harrison


The museum’s objects understood that a breakup is powerful because it saturates the banality of daily life, just as the relationship itself did: every errand, every annoying alarm-clock chirp, every late-night Netflix rental. Once love is gone, it’s gone everywhere: a ghost suffusing daily life just as powerfully in its absence. A man leaves his shopping lists scattered across your days, cluttered with his personality tics and gratuitous periods, poignant in their specificity: lg. black trash bags summoning that time the trash bags were too small, or g. onion, the type necessary for a particular fish stew prepared on a particular humid summer evening. The exhibits were all vocabulary words drawn from private shared languages that I would never entirely understand—the beaten-up pot, the plastic bin—or relics from civilizations that no longer existed: a wooden toilet paper dispenser conjuring days when a young couple was constantly running out.

Editorial Intern Kate Snyder
Excerpt from “The Breakup Museum,” Leslie Jamison, The Virginia Quarterly ReviewVolume 94/1


The idea that the moral sense is an innate part of human nature is not far-fetched. A list of human universals collected by the anthropologist Donald E. Brown includes many moral concepts and emotions, including a distinction between right and wrong; empathy; fairness; admiration of generosity; rights and obligations; proscription of murder, rape and other forms of violence; redress of wrongs; sanctions for wrongs against the community; shame; and taboos.

The stirrings of morality emerge early in childhood. Toddlers spontaneously offer toys and help to others and try to comfort people they see in distress. And according to the psychologists Elliot Turiel and Judith Smetana, preschoolers have an inkling of the difference between societal conventions and moral principles. Four-year-olds say that it is not O.K. to wear pajamas to school (a convention) and also not O.K. to hit a little girl for no reason (a moral principle). But when asked whether these actions would be O.K. if the teacher allowed them, most of the children said that wearing pajamas would now be fine but that hitting a little girl would still not be.

Office Manager Laura Plaia
Excerpt from “The Moral Instinct,” Steven Pinker, The New York TimesJanuary 13, 2008



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