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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His hands terrified me. They were strong and muscular, broad at the fingertips and flecked with coarse black hair. As he played a fantasia—an improvised piece that reflected his mood and imagination—he pummeled the keyboard with a bestial force that made the instrument tremble. Sliding a hand up and down two octaves, he delivered the equivalent of a double slap. My cheeks stung in sympathy. He scowled and grunted, the shadow of a beard eclipsing the lower part of his face. Was the great Ludwig van Beethoven turning into a werewolf?
My mother and I had been waiting for my Hungarian relatives at the Golden Griffin, a modest inn not far from the Kärntnertor Theater. Through charm and sheer persistence, Josephine and Therese had managed to persuade the greatest pianoforte virtuoso in Vienna to give them music lessons during their holiday. Aunt Anna had even rented a Walter pianoforte, which barely fit through the door, receiving numerous scrapes and an ugly abrasion that ran down its leg like a knife wound. I’d been living in Vienna for the past year but had never heard Beethoven perform. With my relatives’ tardiness and Beethoven’s unwillingness to converse, I had asked if he’d play a little something for us.
Business Manager Diane John
Excerpt from The Woman in the Moonlight by Patricia Morrisroe
The fear and exhaustion start at an early age. My maternal grandmother wanted to ensure that I would never be caught unaware, so she had me watch Phil Donahue with her one afternoon when I was in elementary school. The episode featured members of the KKK discussing their “values” and defending their way of life. Even at that tender age, I recognized the importance of being strong, so I didn’t cry or complain. I had nightmares for months, but eventually I found a way to protect myself. I took the smoke detector my father had tucked close to my ceiling in a basket of stuffed animals, and I slept with it. My bedroom faced the backyard, and I figured if the KKK came to get us in the middle of the night, I could push the test button and warn my family. This is what childhood looks like with Black skin.
And when we aren’t worried about our safety, we are still forced to carry the basic burden of being Black in America. The knowledge that even if you are physically safe, you can still be swiftly knocked down by casual racism. That feeling when your spidey sense goes up and you know you’ve walked into a room, or restaurant, or an office where you just aren’t welcome. It is wildly disorienting and induces instant anxiety. We have traded Jim Crow for Karen, a more subtle racism that may not harm us physically but is designed to rob us of our humanity and crush our spirit. Living with this Black skin that I’ve had to learn to love is a burdensome liability in this country.
Art Director Jenn Boggs
Excerpt from “I Have the ‘Right’ Credentials. Being Black in America Is Still Exhausting” in Glamour
Then they’d gotten ugly drunk—drink-spilling, falling-off-barstools, shouting-at-the-TV drunk. Jamie had been there, blessedly, to drive them home, and they’d lain on the hardwood floor of Kim’s apartment, curled up against each other, Kim’s hair in Leslie’s face.
“I really hope I don’t puke in your hair,” Leslie said.
“If there’s any chance of that, you should not stay there,” Kim said.
“I’m sorry your family’s so fucked up,” Leslie said.
“It’s okay. I deserve it.”
“You were bad in a past life.”
“Past, present, future. There is no temporal zone in which I have not been, or will be, a terrible person.”
“What did you ever do to anybody?”
“Nothing,” Kim said. “Not appreciated the gifts God gave me.”
“Well, what are you supposed to do?”
“Help people. Do something besides be selfish and wasteful.”
“You will,” Leslie said. “We’re still just little babies.”
“Drunk-ass babies,” Kim said. “Look out, America: the babies found the liquor cabinet.”
“This week’s episode: Babies get their stomachs pumped. Bad, bad babies.”
And more like that. They’d both thrown up eventually, Leslie in the middle of the night, Kim in the morning, though they’d made it to a trash can and the toilet, respectively. Respectably.
Reader Rob Shapiro
Excerpt from Cool for America, by Andrew Martin