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Week of 10/27/19


PUBLISHED: November 2, 2019


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. 

Click here for access to the complete project archive


  1. 

“For those who didn’t dally, our daily treks ended early in the afternoon, but rarely before the heat and aching feet forced us to ask each passing Sherpa, ‘How much farther to camp?’ The reply, we soon were to discover, was invariable: ‘Only two miles more, Sah’b…’

“Evenings were peaceful, smoke settling in the quiet air to soften the dusk, lights twinkling on the ridge we would camp on tomorrow, clouds dimming the outline of our pass for the day after. Growing excitement lured my thoughts again and again to the West Ridge…

“There was loneliness, too, as the sun set, but only rarely now did doubts return. Then I felt sinkingly as if my whole life lay behind me. Once on the mountain I knew (or trusted) that this would give way to total absorption with the task at hand. But at times I wondered if I had not come a long was only to find that what I really sought was something I had left behind.” 

Editorial Intern Annie Yanofsky
Excerpt from Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

  2. 

Though the avian cerebrum possesses only the tiniest nub of the structures associated with mammalian intelligence, recent studies of crows and parrots and revealed that birds think and learn using an entirely different part of their brains, a kind of avian neocortex known as the medio-rostral neostraitum/hyperstraitum ventrale. In both parrots and crows, in fact the ratio of brain to body size is similar to that of the higher primates, an encephalization quotient that yields in both species not only the usual indications of cognitive sophistication like problem solving and tool use but also two aspects of intelligence long thought to be exclusively human: episodic memory and theory of mind, the ability to attribute mental states, like intention, desire and awareness, to yourself and others.

Nature, in other words, in a stunning example of parallel or convergent evolution, found an entirely other and far earlier path to complex cognition: an alien intelligence that only links directly back to minds we’ve long believed to be forever lost to us, like the dinosaurs’, but that can also be wounded under duress, in the same ways our minds can. In one recent psychiatric study conducted at Midwest Avian Adoption and Rescue Services, a parrot sanctuary and rehabilitation facility in Minnesota, a captive-bred male umbrella cockatoo who had been “exposed to multiple caregivers who were themselves highly unstable (e.g. domestic violence, substance abuse …addiction)” was given a diagnosis of complex PTSD.

Business Manager Diane Houdret
Excerpt from “What Does a Parrot Know About PTSD?” in the New York Times

  3. 

Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. Finally, I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.

Editorial Intern Emily Sumlin
Excerpt from Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

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