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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Walk a mile in a Brooklynite’s shoes, whether on brownstone-lined blocks or the streets filled with vinyl-sided houses, and you’re bound to notice address plates crowded with fractions. On Norman Avenue in Greenpoint, you’ll find three in one short stretch: 68½, 72½ and 78½. When hailing an Uber, repeating street names might give you pause: Are you going to Washington Street in Dumbo or Washington Avenue in Clinton Hill?
Today’s Brooklyn map is a relic of a massive 19th-century project to renumber every building and rename dozens of streets — an example of how decisions made by bureaucrats can leave an imprint on urban life for decades or even centuries.
Brooklyn experienced unprecedented growth in the mid-1800s, years before Brooklyn became a borough of New York City, much of it driven by immigration: Irish fleeing famine; Germans fleeing political chaos. And when the City of Brooklyn annexed Williamsburg, Bushwick and Greenpoint — dubbed the “Eastern District” — in 1855, it became the third-largest city in the country.
That growth, paired with a city government that wasn’t adept at urban planning, led to incoherent street numbering schemes, and repeated names and numbers across Kings County. South Fourth Street had three buildings numbered 42, while Furman Street reportedly had no fewer than four No. 1s. Commuters would find one block called a street and the next an avenue for no discernible reason. Five presidents — Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe — saw double duty.
Business Manager Diane John
“Brooklyn’s Big Street Address Mess: A Wild Tale of Total Civic Dysfunction”, by Jeremy Lechtzin, in the New York Times
Louise’s many friends often relied on the language of myth and folklore to describe her. She was a sprite, a fairy, a tomboy. She was like Tom Thumb, Peter Pan, or a Victorian boy, and when she was older, a little man, or a little elf.
She was tiny—even her teeth were tiny. With such petite stature came a certain swagger. She was deeply sensitive and hated to be underestimated. She was impatient, often quarrelsome, mischievous, and intolerant of stupidity at home and in the world. She could tell a heartrending, spellbinding tale. She welcomed a battle: she had a trial lawyer’s perspicacity and wore out several sparring partners on the subjects of politics and literature. She defended weaker friends but could be a bully to snobs. Sometimes she’d assume a sort of Baby Snooks–style speech and vocabulary, catching friends off guard by the “bizarre” infantile voice she’d adopt out of nowhere. She sang beautifully, played multiple instruments, and spoke excellent French. Nobody ever called Louise sunny, but she was certainly funny and gifted and good company. Asked to characterize the woman she’d lived with for five years—and who had left her a fortune—Louise’s last girlfriend, Lois Morehead, said Louise was “intense.” Her moods could swing in a matter of seconds from cheerfulness to anger. When she was angry, she could be vicious, and when she was good, she was passionate. She believed in love, hard as it might be to preserve, and was always falling in and out of love with women and men, with cars and musical instruments, with dogs and cats.
Reader Jacqui Shine
Excerpt from Sometimes You Have to Lie: The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy, by Leslie Brody
In the weeks and months since that moment, I’ve looked at the photo again, and the sidewalk scene has returned to me, overpowering me with reproach. I initially thought I’d snapped the picture to record the incident—to document the harassment as something real, and not my paranoid overreaction to an encounter—but now I can’t help but think that I was also determined to capture something else: the split second in which a smidgen of sexual interest transmutes into racist scorn. I want to locate that moment, rewind the clock and preëmpt its poison. I think about how I might have been able to appease the man in some way—to deflect or to sidestep him more expertly—so that his advance did not have a chance to turn malignant. But the exercise is a useless one. Misogyny and racism have never lived neatly in their separate categories; they ravage by mutually reinforcing a narrative of a dehumanized “other.”
Editorial Intern Melissa Zhu
“The Atlanta Shooting and the Dehumanizing of Asian Women”, by Jiayang Fan, in the New Yorker