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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In the Office of the Secretariat of State that day, Burhans met with two priests. She showed them the prototype map that she had been working on, and explained what she was looking for. “I asked them where their maps were kept,” she said. The priests pointed to the frescoes on the walls. “Then I asked if I could speak to someone in their cartography department.” The priests said they didn’t have one.
Centuries ago, monks were among the world’s most assiduous geographers—hence the frescoes. But, at some point after the publication of “Atlas Hierarchicus,” the Church began to lose track of its own possessions. “Until a few years ago, the Vatican’s Central Office of Church Statistics didn’t even have Wi-Fi,” Burhans said. “They were keeping records in a text file, in Microsoft Word.” In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication of Richard Williamson, a British bishop who had been convicted by a German court of promoting Holocaust denial. When the announcement provoked outrage, Benedict explained that he hadn’t known about Williamson’s past remarks. “People said, ‘Why didn’t you just Google the guy’s name?’ ” Burhans told me. “And they were, like, ‘We don’t have Google.’ ”
Art Director Jenn Boggs
Excerpt from “How a Young Activist Is Helping Pope Francis Battle Climate Change”, by David Owen, in the New Yorker
“Guys,” Kimmy said, “listen. I get it. Obviously, Catherine is not your average school. You’re not going to get carded here. Your parents are a billion miles away. And”—she lifted her chin— “Catherine has always been a house in which discipline and disorder are both valued as part of the learning experience. We want you to work hard, but we also want you to have the best years of your life. So go ahead, drink yourself stupid. But remember—this is not an easy school. If you don’t want to fail out, eventually you’re going to have to do your homework. And you really don’t want to fail out.”
She stared around the room, chin still lifted, as if daring us to say something more. No one did. The room watcher her in anticipation.
“You can pick up bottles during tea service,” she said. “New shipments come in on the truck every week.”
Kimmy rubbed at her neck. She wasn’t looking at us anymore; she was staring up at the parlor chandelier. It hung heavy with glittering crystals and beads.
“You are so lucky,” she said.
Her voice had become distant.
“So lucky,” she said, “to be here—at the beginning.”
Associate Editor Alex Brock
Excerpt from Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas
Our mothers and fathers were werewolves. They lived an outsider’s existence in caves at the edge of the forest, threatened by frost and pitchforks. They had been ostracized by the local farmers for eating their silled fruit pies and terrorizing the heifers. They had ostracized the local wolves by having sometimes-thumbs, and regrets, and human children. (Their condition skips a generation.) Our pack grew up in a green purgatory. We couldn’t keep up with the purebred wolves, but we never stopped crawling. We spoke a slab-tongued pidgin in the cave, inflected with frequent howls. Our parents wanted something better for us; they wanted us to get braces, use towels, be fully bilingual. When the nuns showed up, our parents couldn’t refuse their offer. The nuns, they said, would make us naturalized citizens of human society. We would go to St. Lucy’s to study a better culture. We didn’t know at the time that our parents were sending us away for good. Neither did they.
That first afternoon, the nuns gave us free rein of thee grounds. Everything was new, exciting, and interesting. A low granite wall surrounded St. Lucy’s, the blue woods humming for miles behind it. There was a stone fountain full of delectable birds. There was a statue of St. Lucy. Her marble skin was colder than our mother’s nose, her pupil-less eyes rolled heavenward. Doomed squirrels gamboled around her stony toes.
Assistant Editor Heidi Siegrist
Excerpt from “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves” by Karen Russell