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Week 5/3/21

PUBLISHED: May 6, 2021

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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Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.’ This popular quip, often misattributed to Oscar Wilde, appears without any apparent irony in self-help books and blog posts celebrating authenticity. Understandably, they take the dictum to ‘be oneself’ as a worthy, nearly unassailable goal. Our culture is saturated with authenticity: we’re forever ‘finding ourselves’, ‘self-actualising’, ‘doing you’, ‘being real’, ‘going off the beaten path’, ‘breaking free of the crowd’. We spend our youth trying to figure out who we are; our later years trying to stay true to ourselves; and the time in-between in crisis about whether we are who we thought we were.

But ‘Wilde’s’ quote, inauthentic though it might be, suggests something foolish at the heart of authenticity. All this introspection can seem gratuitous. Why expend so much effort trying to be something we can’t help but be? ‘In the end,’ as the author David Foster Wallace put it, ‘you end up becoming yourself.’

And there’s a deeper absurdity to authenticity, too. Everyone else might be taken, but the effort to be ourselves is the surest path to being just like everyone else, especially in the context of a highly commodified and surveilled culture where we always seem to be on stage.

Associate Editor Alex Brock
“Authenticity is a sham,” by Alexander Stern, in Aeon


The biographer’s sins are not those of his subject….Was Roth a misogynist? I have always found that label too neat and summarily dismissive for a novelist as capacious, inventive, and playful as Roth. But maybe I avoid it because it hurts me, too, to use it. When you read a novelist seriously, with absorption and commitment, you find yourself bound to him, pressed together in a mental dance. You have the right to argue with the work, to praise it, to love it, and also to criticize, even revile it; the seriousness of the engagement is a mark of respect, one that you imagine the novelist returning. That respect is the unspoken contract that binds writer to reader, and when it is suddenly taken away, it is a slap, a brutal shock. That is the contract that Bailey’s alleged criminal behavior has ruptured with his own readers, though readers are hardly the true victims of this awful affair.…It’s tempting to imagine what Roth, in his metafictional mode, would have made of the writer who is exposed after insinuating himself into his subject’s story. But this is real life, not fiction, and the facts can’t be redeemed by art.

Editorial Intern Ana Garcia
“Blake Bailey, Philip Roth, and the Biography That Blew Up,” by Alexandra Schwartz, in the New Yorker


Students are joining remote classes from outside the country. In one New Jersey school district, computers were traced to 24 countries on a day last month.

Faiqa Naqvi, a 15-year-old freshman at a New Jersey public high school, logs in to her all-remote classes each night from Pakistan in a time zone nine hours ahead.

Max Rodriguez, who also attends school in New Jersey, joined his Advanced Placement history class for about two months from Guayaquil, Ecuador, a port city on the coast of South America.

Max’s schoolmate, Naobe Maradiaga, 16, participated in classes from northern Honduras.

In the midst of the pandemic, in a year when almost nothing about school has been normal, administrators and teachers are grappling with a fresh layer of complexity: students accessing virtual classes from outside the United States.

Faced with pandemic-related financial strain at home or the health needs of relatives abroad, some students in immigrant communities are logging in to school from thousands of miles away.

It is unclear how widespread the practice is. But out-of-country logins have become increasingly common since late fall, as comfort levels with air travel grew and holidays popular for overseas visits approached, according to educators in New York and New Jersey and as far away as Florida and California.

Business Manager Diane John
“Why Students are Logging In to Class from 7,000 Miles Away,” by Tracey Tully, in the New York Times


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