Skip to main content

Week 1/5/20

PUBLISHED: January 13, 2020

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


My father recently lost a toe. The second one on his right foot, lopped off in an outpatient procedure, quick and painless. Such a funny thing to lose, everybody thought—my mother, sisters, brother, the grandkids all finding much levity in the situation. They call him “Nine-toed Joe” now, and for his birthday his granddaughters gave him customized white tube socks, the ghoulish gap of his little amputation rendered with a red Sharpie. My father found the gift hilarious, and wore the socks proudly with his new sandals right through to Halloween. I laughed, too, pretending not to find it disturbing and macabre. His toes had become grotesque with old age, as toes do when you approach eighty, after decades of punishing footwear: Army boots, oxfords, wingtips, Chuck Taylor Converse All Stars on the basketball court, running shoes in which my father pounded the pavement, training for marathons he never ran. Now he’s barely able to get any shoes onto his feet in order to make it to church.

When I learned about his impending procedure one spring, in a text message from my sister, I called my father immediately to protest. He told me not to worry. Don’t even think of making the trip up.

“Dad, don’t do it!” was all I could say, but I couldn’t convince him otherwise. It was his decision, he said. It wasn’t up to me.

Business Manager Diane John
Excerpt from “My Father’s Toe” in the Virginia Quarterly Review


Qassem Suleimani is dead. Good riddance. In a region where there are a lot of bad actors, he was certainly among the worst. There has been so much fearmongering over the potential ramifications from killing the head of Iran’s Quds Force that lost in all of the commentary is the fact that the man was drenched in blood. Set aside the American deaths on his hands and consider the hundreds of thousands who have died just in Syria after Iran, under Suleimani’s direction, mobilized to save its ally Bashar al-Assad.

The pitched debate over whether Suleimani was planning an imminent attack—something that is always in the eye of the beholder—on U.S. personnel and interests when he was struck down by a U.S. airstrike last week is important, but the fury with which it is being waged obscures a more fundamental concern about the Iranian general’s demise. It would be one thing to kill Suleimani and bear the burden of the associated risks if there was a plausible case to be made that getting rid of him would have a salutary effect on Iraq and the U.S. ability to influence events there. That seems unlikely.

Associate Editor Alex Brock
Excerpt from “There Is Nothing Left for Americans to Do in Iraq” in Foreign Policy


That whole spring Levin was not himself, and he lived through dreadful moments.

I cannot live without knowing what I am and why I’m here. And I cannot find that out; therefore I cannot live, Levin said to himself.

In time that is infinite, in matter that is infinite, in space that is infinite, an organic cell is formed; this cell maintains itself for a while, then bursts, and that cell is—myself.

This was an agonizing falsehood, but it was the sole, ultimate result of ages of human thought in this direction.

This was the ultimate belief underlying all systems of human thought in almost all their branches. It was the prevalent conviction, and involuntarily Levin, without knowing when or how himself, had made just this his own, as being at any rate the clearest.

But it was not only a falsehood, it was a cruel mockery on the part of some evil power, a power that was repugnant, and that it was impossible to submit to.

You had to free yourself from this power. And every man had the means of escape in his own hands. You had to put an end to this dependence on evil. And there was one means—death.

And Levin, a happy, healthy family man, was a number of times so close to suicide that he hid a rope, in order not to hang himself, and walked about without his gun for fear of shooting himself.

But Levin did not shoot himself, and did not hang himself; he went on living.

Podcast Producer Robert Armengol
Excerpt from Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Recommended Reading