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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The minister spoke about community and friendship and “the family you choose,” tremendously aware of his audience, obviously practiced in this sort of thing. How many of these funerals had he personally overseen? Fiona got up and told a story about the day Nico introduced her to Terrence. “He warned me that Terrence had a sense of humor,” she said. “And so I was terrified. I kept waiting for him to put a whoopee cushion on my chair or something. But he didn’t crack a single joke. At the end of lunch he looked at me and he said, ‘You’ve taken care of your brother your whole life, and I—’” Her voice had run into a wall. She tried again but no sound came out. She said, “It would’ve been easier if he’d said something funny.” They all laughed, just to add their voices to the room, to get her through this. “He said, ‘You’ve taken care of your brother your whole life, and I want you to know I’ve got it from here.’ And he did. He didn’t know what he was signing on for, but he was with Nico to the absolute end. And how he’s taking care of him again.” She barely got it out. A girlfriend walked her down from the lectern, rubbing her back.
One of Terrence’s teaching colleagues read a poem Yale couldn’t focus on. The minister led everyone in a meditation. Asher, who was a classically trained baritone, sang the “Pie Jesu” from Weber’s new requiem—a song Yale had only heard a soprano recording of, but that worked just as well for Asher, for the cello Yale had always imagined living in Asher’s throat. Yale, no more Catholic than Asher was, reveled now in the sound of Latin, those pure, liturgical vowels, the crunch of Q’s and C’s. The song wasn’t just a lamentation; it was a wringing out. Yale was a wet washcloth, and someone was squeezing everything out of him over a sink.
Executive Editor Allison Wright
Excerpt from The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. Specialized readers may have come across me in Dr. Peter Luce’s study, “Gender Identity in 5-Alpha-Reductase Pseudohermaphrodites,” published in the Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology in 1975. Or maybe you’ve seen my photograph in chapter sixteen of the now sadly outdated Genetics and Heredity. That’s me on page 578, standing naked beside a height chart with a black box covering my eyes.
My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver’s license (from the Federal Republic of Germany) records my first name simply as Cal. I’m a former field hockey goalie, long-standing member of the Save-the-Manatee Foundation, rare attendant at the Greek Orthodox liturgy, and, for most of my adult life, an employee of the U.S. State Department. Like Tiresias, I was first one thing and then the other. I’ve been ridiculed by classmates, guinea-pigged by doctors, palpated by specialists, and researched by the March of Dimes. A redheaded girl from Grosse Pointe fell in love with me, not knowing what I was. (Her brother liked me, too.) An army tank led me into urban battle once; a swimming pool turned me into myth; I’ve left my body in order to occupy others—and all this happened before I turned sixteen.
But now, at the age of forty-one, I feel another birth coming on.
Social Media Manager Dan Goff
Excerpt from Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides