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Week 11/10/19

PUBLISHED: November 17, 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. 


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“But what are you crying about, Mama?” he said, quite wide awake now. “Mama, why are you crying?” he cried in a tearful voice.

“I? I won’t cry anymore—I’m crying for joy. I haven’t seen you for so long. I won’t cry, no I won’t,” she said, swallowing her tears and turning away. “Well, now it’s time for you to get dressed,” she added after a moment’s silence, when she had recovered; without letting go of his hand she sat down by his bed on a chair where his clothes were lying ready.

“How do you get dressed without me? How—” She had wanted to start talking simply and cheerfully, but she could not and turned away again.

“I don’t wash with cold water, Papa said not to. And have you seen Mr. Vassily? He’s coming. And now you’ve sat down on my clothes!”

Seryozha burst out laughing. She looked at him and smiled.

“Mama! Darling, Mama! Dearest!” he shouted, flinging himself at her again and hugging her. It was as though he clearly understood only now, after seeing her smile, what had happened. “You don’t need that on,” he said, taking off her hat. And as though seeing her anew without her hat he flung himself at her again and kissed her.

“But what did you think about me? You didn’t think I was dead?”

“I never believed it.”

“You didn’t believe it, my sweet?”

“I knew it, I knew it all along!” he cried, repeating his favorite phrase; and seizing her hand as she stroked his hair he pressed the palm of it to his mouth and covered it with kisses.

Podcast Producer Robert Armengol
Excerpt from Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy


Across town, while the Murderer met the mule, there was Clay, and Clay was warming up. Truth be told, Clay was always warming up. At that moment he was in an old apartment block, with stairs at his feet, a boy on his back, and a storm cloud in his chest. His short hair was flat on his head, and there was fire in each eye.

Running next to him, on his right, was another boy—a blond one, a year older—struggling to keep up, but pushing him all the same. On his left was a sprinting border collie, which made it Henry and Clay, Tommy and Rosy, doing what they always did:

One of them talked.

One of them trained.

One of them hung on for dear life.

Even the dog was giving her all.

For this training method, they had a key, they’d paid a friend; it guaranteed entry to the building. Ten dollars for a stuffed lump of concrete. Not bad. They ran.

“You miserable piece-a shit,” said Henry (the moneymaker, the friendly one) at Clay’s side. As he struggled, he loped and laughed. His smile swerved off his face; he caught it in his palm. At times like these, he communicated with Clay through tried and tested insults. “You’re nothing,” he said, “you’re soft.” He was hurting but had to talk on. “You’re soft as a two-minute egg, boy. Makes me sick to watch you run like this.”

Editorial Intern Annie Yanofsky
Excerpt from Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak


Despite the [1918 flu] pandemic’s seeming disappearance, its traces are everywhere in the literature and the culture, and this instructive tension lies at the heart of the book. All the reasons for the erasure—from the war’s dominance to the invisible quality of this viral threat to the difficulties of representing illness—are intrinsic to the pandemic’s literary representations, paradoxically captured in gaps, silences, atmospheres, fragments, and hidden bodies. Recovering the pandemic in the literature requires recognizing these traces and seeing their spectral quality as inherent to a tragedy that fundamentally differed from the war’s more obvious manifestations. If we know what to look for, the literature of the era emerges as particularly adept at representing the pandemic’s particular qualities and its vast yet hidden presence. The pandemic’s very instantiation was often one of atmosphere, of body sensations, and of affective threats, and its threat was literally microscopic. The war, by contrast, was easier to see, with demarcated roles for soldiers and civilians and events that unfolded in a realm accustomed to visibility: male contests of strength and power. Certainly the literature at the time made the war a central focus. Yet this literature (and, as I detail, especially modernist literature) also excelled at representing the pandemic’s spectral presence and the changes it produced on the streets, in domestic spaces, within families, and in the body.

Associate Editor Heidi Siegrist
Excerpt from Viral Modernism: The Influenza Pandemic and Interwar Literature by Elizabeth Outka


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