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Week 12/8/19

PUBLISHED: December 16, 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


In the dark, they climbed the stairs, turned in to a corridor. A door opened. They entered a smoky room with a bar and people drinking and talking so quietly that you couldn’t tell whether they were real people or just projected images. The window looked out on an overpass and a compact cluster of buildings and lights. There was a red ball in the sky. Nadia told Sasha about a trip she’d taken many years ago, when she was still a child, to the house of some friends of her parents. It was the first time she’d ever left the walled side of the city. Everything was new. When she arrived, she was given gifts: a doll, a seashell, a music box. She’d never seen anything like it.

Later, she would tell Sasha the same story again. I don’t think she realized that she was telling the same story. People always tell the same stories, even when they try to tell new stories. Stories are laid out in front of us, like objects, and over time we realize that they’re all made of the same material, a solid mass of stone and metal.

Audio Intern Sydney Halleman
Excerpt from “Sevastopol” in the New Yorker


Sure, the Karens wore black overcoats and Emilys wore bright ones and the Sarahs wore shearling denim and the Alexandras were all drowning in scarves. But these were just costumes. We all spoke in a manner that was sort of pre-annoyed, and a way of holding our heads in public that said “this is how you hold your head.”

Aura-wise, we were clones.

But still, we are not Karens, the Karens that have now proudly taken their place in the center of the world stage, the policewomen of all human behavior. All non-Karens of all ages should be on the lookout for Karens—mocking you when you ask for a raise, cutting your best jokes, shaming you for losing your lanyard—and their assaults on our happiness, selfhood and freedom.

Because I know that Karens are going to Karen. They are unstoppable. All they see are open doors. We should blame the Karens, but maybe we should blame the doors too? Incidentally, all Karens love The Doors, because they were a little rebellious, but not to the extent that they failed to achieve mainstream success.

Editorial Intern Emily Sumlin
Excerpt from “My So-Karen Life” in the New York Times


The folks in Byron’s corner of the Dakotas, a sparse place of prairie potholes abundant with waterfowl and the platforms of flaming fracking fields, were fiercely proud of how hard life could be there and how well they managed in spite of that fact. You might get yourself caught in a ditch, but you had neighbors you could call for help. The guys in Byron’s kitchen called one another a lot. Of the seven men, only two were married. Several were in their fifties and sixties. When I asked why, they said all the girls went off to college and married someone there. Few wanted to come back and be a rancher’s wife.

Loss comes in many forms. When biologists call a species “functionally extinct,” they don’t mean that it’s disappeared completely; individuals of a functionally extinct species may still exist, but there are not enough of them to ensure their survival. Their ecosystem has been shattered, the threads that link them to the rest of their world are stretched too tight, and at that point, it’s only a matter of time. No wife to share the load, no children to sass, no grandchildren to spoil. A naturally sparse landscape becomes vacant in a new way, a twist on the same abandonment in the streets of Detroit. Communities dismantle. Those who remain, dig in, in body and mind both.

As I sat with the men, I remembered the ditches of my own past, digging in the dark, in the rain, with the friends who made up my community. I remembered the sweet stench of slaughter, our hands together in the blood, and the disappointment when a crop failed. I’d gotten a steady $400 each month from the nonprofit where I worked at the time, plus room and board, so my livelihood wasn’t at stake, just my labor, my time, my hope. I remembered moving from a barn on twenty acres to a studio apartment in New York City and realizing that few people I met had any clue what sustained them. A decade at the end of my dirt road in Oregon, pre-internet, with no television and only a humble small-town library, had left me an idiot by New York standards—What was Sex and the City? Who was Foucault?—but I knew how to build a staircase and what kind of Douglas fir tree would be big enough to mill the lumber required to do it. I could milk a goat and make cheese and prune the apple tree that thrived, in part, from my pee. I knew how to dig ditches. The endless bartering that I experienced in rural Oregon, exchanges of eggs or zucchini or assistance, translated to expressions of love and generosity absent in the city. The only currency was money, and earning it was cleaved from any living, breathing, growing thing.

Executive Editor Allison Wright
Excerpt from “United in Change” in Orion Magazine


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