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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For years, an aesthetic mode of nothingness has been ascendant — a literally nihilistic attitude visible in all realms of culture, one intent on the destruction of extraneity in all its forms, up to and including noise, decoration, possessions, identities and face-to-face interaction. Over the past decade, American consumers have glamorized the pursuit of expensive nothing in the form of emptied-out spaces like the open-floor plans of start-up offices, austere loft-condo buildings and anonymous Airbnbs. Minimalism from the Marie Kondo school advocated a jettisoning of possessions that left followers with empty white walls. This aspiration toward disappearance made luxury synonymous with seeing, hearing, owning and even feeling less.
Then, in March 2020, much of our lives in the outside world that had been so agitating ground to a halt as the first round of coronavirus lockdown hit the United States. Alongside so much tragedy and despair, mass quarantine has represented a final fulfillment of the pursuit of nothingness, particularly for the privileged classes who could adapt to it in such relative comfort, sunk back into the couch cushions of spare country houses, equipped with grocery deliveries, Netflix shows and livestreaming exercise classes. This interregnum has often felt to me like an all-encompassing, full-time session of sensory deprivation. Quarantine has been widely regarded as a radical break in our daily lives and the ways we interact with the world, but in truth it’s simply an overdose of the indulgences a certain segment of the population was dabbling in already. We’re a little like kids caught with a cigarette, forced to smoke a whole pack at once.
Art Director Jenn Boggs
“How Nothingness Became Everything We Wanted,” by Kyle Chayka, in the New York Times Magazine
Bottles had been the answer.
After she’d cut off her hair and could be taken for a boy (voice kept to a mumble, face turned to her shoes), farmers sometimes hired her as a cheap hand, but picking apples and sawing pumpkin stems brought little income. Shelving books brought less. Her only ideas for making the kind of money she needed (opening up an auto mechanic’s shop, for example) were not the kinds of things a fourteen-year-old girl, no matter how audacious, could do.
Executive Editor Allison Wright
Excerpt from Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead