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
When the soldier reached the end of the car he touched the gun on his hip, lightly, with his right hand, to make sure it was still there, and she thought of how he had touched her shoulder the same way—lightly, and with that same hand—and she hoped he would come back again. Then the last shade went down and the darkness was complete and she could not see the soldier at all. Now she could not see anyone at all and no one outside the train could see her. There were the people inside the train and the people outside the train and in between them were the shades. A man walking alongside the tracks would just see a train with black windows passing by in the middle of the day. He would think, There goes the train, and then he would not think about the train again. He would think about other things. What was for supper, maybe, or who was winning the war. She knew it was better this way. The last time they had passed through a city with the shades up someone had thrown a rock through one of the windows.
Editorial Assistant Suzie Eckl
Excerpt from When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka
It’s not like I care about restaurants or workers more than a restaurant owner or a chef, but I do think they are loath to see a future other than what already exists. That’s because of their investment in the current system, which benefits them. I don’t mean to say that the benefit they accrue is so large and so bountiful that they’re consciously trying to keep workers down, though I’m sure that’s true for some corporations. What’s more true is that privilege and power become invisible when you have them. Even restaurant owners who may care about their workers ultimately care more about themselves. Workers care about themselves, too, but they don’t have the power to act on that care. I’m losing my point. What was the question?
Are there affirmative things restaurants can change to create a more equitable system?
The options available to workers are limited when this larger system exists as it does. It’s super strange right now to see all this energy around organizing for the benefits of owners and the ownership class. If there’s anything I think should be done, it’s that restaurant owners should abandon entirely their pursuit of a bailout specific to the industry, and focus on policy and government programs that support people generally. If everyone had access to health care, housing, leisure, education for their children, education for themselves—all these things I think are rights—and if all these things they had access to were of high quality, I’m sure some business owners wouldn’t even return to ownership.
The only truly affirmative and sustainable response is a governmental response—one that’s universal, that’s agnostic of industries, at least initially, and that focuses on developing a really robust social safety net, so we don’t have to rely on unfortunate, fake safety nets like poor restaurant jobs.
Executive Editor Allison Wright
Excerpt from “The Case for Letting the Restaurant Industry Die” in the New Yorker
Many of us accept football’s violence, and the culture it breeds, because the game itself promises great rewards — a spectacular play, or the sight of men performing supreme acts of athleticism, at the very edge of impossible. Before Super Bowl XLI, it never occurred to me that a halftime show could exist that would upstage the spectacle on the field. There had been attempts, but often clumsy ones: the awkward cluster of Jessica Simpson, P. Diddy, Justin Timberlake, Nelly, and Kid Rock in 2004; The Rolling Stones, in 2006, looking like they were fulfilling a long-held-off errand, like going to the DMV. Griping about the Super Bowl halftime show had become a sport itself, a bit of glee that could be had by everyone, even casual football watchers.
Then, out of the Miami rain in 2007, rose Prince. He could have played through a list of his hits that night, and we would have all been satisfied. He did play some, of course: a rendition of “Baby, I’m a Star” where he steps to the edge of the stage, pauses, and tells the crowd “somebody take my picture with all this rain.” But the surprise at the bottom of the box—the unexpected bonus tacked on to a paycheck—was the way “All Along the Watchtower” bled into the Foo Fighters’s “Best of You” right after that. The true joy in this for me, both at the time and every time I’ve watched it since, is the mastery and confidence with which he played these songs. Even when Prince wasn’t explicitly telling them, “I can do this shit better than you,” I imagine that most other musicians had to know it was entirely true. And there, for a moment, he reminded us. Prince, for all of his stoic mystery, never gave up on the element of surprise.
Editorial Assistant Dan Goff
Excerpt from “The Night Prince Walked on Water” by Hanif Abdurraqib in They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us