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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There are some institutions—drugs, church, and money—that aligned the superstructure of white wealth in Houston with the heart of black and brown culture beneath it. There are feelings, like ecstasy, that provide an unbreakable link between virtue and vice. You don’t have to believe a revelation to hold on to it, to remember certain overpasses, sudden angles above and under the cold and heartless curves of that industrial landscape, a slow river of lights blinking white and red into the distance, and the debauched sky gleaming over the houses and hospitals and stadium churches, and your blood thrumming with drugs or music or sanctity. It can all feel like a mirage of wholeness: the ten thousand square miles around you teeming with millions of people who do the same things, drive under the same influences, respect the same Sundays, with the music that sounds like their version of religion. “Our life is impossibility, absurdity,” wrote Simone Weil. “Everything we want contradicts the conditions or consequences attached to it…It is because we are a contradiction—being creatures—being God and infinitely other than God.”
Editorial Intern Isabella Ciambotti
Excerpt from “Losing Religion and Finding Ecstasy in Houston” in the New Yorker
The smaller man was looking around, with an air of a child just come to a birthday party—at the clumsy old island schooners tied up at the water’s edge, with red sales furled; at the native women in bright dresses and the black ragged crewmen, bargaining lowly over bananas, coconuts, strange huge brown roots, bags of charcoal, and strings of rainbow-colored fish; at the great square fort, and at the antique cannons atop its slanted seaward wall, pointing impotently to sea; at the fenced statue of Amerigo Vespucci, almost hidden in purple, orange and pink bougainvillea; at the houses of Queen’s Row, their ancient arching plaster façades painted in vivid colors sun-bleached to pastels; at the old gray stone church, and the white-washed Georgian brick pile of the Sir Francis Drake Inn.
“It’s beautiful,” he said with sudden firmness. “It’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my life. If you don’t think so, you ought to get your head examined.”
Business Manager Diane John
Excerpt from Don’t Stop the Carnival by Herman Wouk
Wasting time is a defining feature of Trump’s presidency. He is fairly adept at frittering away his own days, spending an indeterminate number of hours languishing in front of the television, simply to watch cable news coverage of himself so he can then offer comments about it on Twitter. But when it comes to wasting the time of everyone around him, the president is without peer. Trump’s haphazard style of governance forces journalists, lawyers, and government officials to expend innumerable hours on doomed initiatives and errant tweets. His corrosive effect on American politics forces Americans to devote far more hours of their life to thinking about him than they should. All of this amounts to a tax of sorts on the national psyche—one that can never be repaid.
Human lives are bounded by time and attention. Every moment that’s spent focused on one thing can’t be spent another way. At a certain level, it’s not healthy to tabulate all of these expenses. In other circumstances, however, it’s unhealthy not to do so.
Associate Editor Alex Brock
Excerpt from “Trump’s Tax on the National Psyche” in the New Republic