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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“In certain moods she needed little encouragement to go quite wild. One day she maintained against her husband that she could drink a tumbler of brandy, and as Charles was foolish enough to dare her to it, she drained it to the drop.
Despite her ‘giddy’ airs—as the housewives of Yonville termed them—Emma still didn’t look cheerful. Almost always she had a fixed little line at the corners of her mouth, such as puckers the faces of old maids and thwarted success-seekers. Her skin was pale, white as a sheet all over, and pinched at the nostrils; her eyes stared out at you vacantly. Having discovered three grey hairs at her temples, she talked of ageing.
She had frequent attacks of faintness, and one day spat blood. Charles fussed about her anxiously.
‘Puh, that’s nothing!’ she exclaimed.
Charles took refuge in his surgery and wept, slumped over the table in his office chair beneath the phrenological head.
He then wrote and asked his mother to come, and they had long talks together about Emma.
What should they do? What could they do, when she refused all treatment?
‘I’ll tell you what your wife needs,’ said his mother, ‘and that’s hard work—manual work!’”
Editorial Intern Marinda Boechat
Excerpt from Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert
The city was really beautiful. In a few of the fluorescent windows, employees worked late hours, each alone in his or her office. Dressed in collared shirts, they sat at desks littered with thermoses and Chinese takeout cartons, papers piled high. What were they doing? Where were their homes
Looking at the office workers suspended high above us, I sensed for the first time my father’s desire to leave China and to live in a foreign country. It was the anonymity. He wanted to be unknown, unpossessed by others’ knowledge of him. That was freedom.
I looked up at my father, his gaze also directed to those office buildings. He glanced down briefly and smiled. Like worker bees, he observed in English.
I remember thinking in that moment that I was going to live in New York one day. That was the extent of my ambitions at age nine, but I felt it deeply. I didn’t want to go back to China. When we moved to the U.S., I had wanted to go back home, there was nothing I wanted more, I got on my knees and begged like a dog, but I was six then and stupider and I didn’t know anything. I didn’t feel that way anymore.
Editorial Intern Mary Clare Edwards
Excerpt from Severance, by Ling Ma
The problem with English is this: You usually can’t open your mouth and it comes out just like that– first you have to think what you want to say. Then you have to find the words. Then you have to carefully arrange those words in your head. Then you have to say the words quietly to yourself, to make sure you got them okay. And finally, the last step, which is to say the words out loud and have them sound just right.
But then because you have to do all this, when you get to the final step, something strange has happened to you and you speak the way a drunk walks. And because you are speaking like falling, it’s as if you are an idiot, when the truth is that it’s the language and the whole process that’s messed up. And then the problem with those who speak only English is this: they don’t know how to listen; they are busy looking at your falling instead of paying attention to what you are saying.
Editorial Intern Isabella Ciambotti
Excerpt from We Need New Names, by NoViolet Bulawayo