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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Our various struggles - to communicate, to recognize and accommodate each other’s desires, simply to coexist - force me to encounter and interact with something, or rather someone, entirely other. George can respond to a handful of words (and choose to ignore a slightly larger handful), but our relationship takes place almost entirely outside of language. She seems to have thoughts and emotions. Sometimes I think I understand them, but often I don’t.
Like a photograph, she cannot say what she lets me see. She is an embodied secret. And I must be a photograph to her. Just last night, I looked up from my reading to find George staring at me from across the room. “When did you come in here?” I asked. She lowered her eyes and lumbered away from me, down the hall - not a silhouette so much as a kind of negative space, a form cut out of the domesticity. Despite our patterns, which are more regular than anything I share with another person, she still feels unpredictable to me. And despite our closeness, I am occasionally thrilled, and even a bit scared, by the foreignness of her. Having a child greatly exacerbated this, as there was absolutely no guarantee - beyond the one I felt absolutely - that she wouldn’t maul the baby.
The list of our differences could fill a book, but like me, George fears pain, seeks pleasure, and craves not just food and play, but companionship. I don’t need to know the details of her moods and preferences to know that she has them. Our psychologies are not the same or similar, but each of us has a perspective, a way of processing and experiencing the world that is intrinsic and unique. I wouldn’t eat George, because she’s mine. But why wouldn’t I eat a dog I’d never met? Or more to the point, what justification might I have for sparing dogs but eating other animals?
Editorial Assistant Caroline Hockenbury
Excerpt from Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
What frightens people about #MeToo is in part, I think, that everyone is guilty. And we’re starting to realize it in new ways. If you grew up in a culture that structurally undervalues women, then you, yes you, have undervalued them. Maybe you haven’t taken some people seriously enough. Maybe you’ve treated them badly. Maybe you’ve condescended to them in your heart. Maybe you’re worried about their having power. Or, maybe, it’s now clear to you—in ways you couldn’t see before—that you did heinous things, things you wouldn’t have done to people you truly respected as equals. Maybe you’re trying to figure out how to understand this moment without thinking of yourself as a monster, which you have never felt you were. Maybe you long for redemption and feel it’s no longer available.
This is why fixing our apology culture matters. Moving as it can be to watch men move past the things they’ve done, it usually feels redemptive because we don’t have to see the people they did things to. That’s not the case anymore. We all need ways to heal and be healed. Forgiveness may take a while; it may not come at all. But a reckoning can’t begin and end with the self.
Editorial Intern Sydney Bradley
Excerpt from “Junot Díaz and the Problem of the Male Self-Pardon,” Slate, Lili Loofbourow, June 24, 2018
Hall, too, could be a little crabby. I always loved this about him—the earned misanthropy of a person who has witnessed too many absurdities, and endured the relentless commodification of what was once pure. He was especially agitated by the existence of Vermont. (I understood this to be a delightful interstate spat, in the grand tradition of New York vs. New Jersey, or any other number of semi-inscrutable regional feuds.) In an essay titled “Reasons for Hating Vermont,” he cites the state’s urban pilgrims—born-rich city-dwellers who voyage north on long weekends to get their hands dirty, but not really—as loathsome, a plague on the landscape. “In Vermont when inchling trout are released into streams, a state law requires that they be preboned and stuffed with wild rice delicately flavored with garlic and thyme,” he writes. Touché, Hall!
Hall’s essays are often polemical, and frequently very funny. His book “Life Work,” from 1993, is a meditation on the nature and practice of work (“I’ve never worked a day in my life,” it opens) and the strange rituals that humans devise to navigate our days (he subscribes to Baudelaire’s notion that work is actually less boring than having to amuse yourself). The goal of work—the bliss of writing, for Hall—is in the way it collapses time. “In the best part of the best day, absorbedness occupies me from footsole to skulltop. Hours or minutes or days—who cares?—lapse without signifying.” He couldn’t much abide reading “junk prose,” or watching television or movies, but he was mesmerized and thrilled by sports, and especially the Red Sox: “I sit with my mouth open, witlessly enraptured.”
Executive Editor Allison Wright
Excerpt from “Donald Hall’s Lifework,” New Yorker, Amanda Petrusich, June 26, 2018