One moreÂ book to readÂ and rereadÂ — A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, who diedÂ last week. Watch this inspiring interview on Bill Moyers. Zinn is an inspiration himself, of course, but he oftenÂ celebrates ordinary people, in this case, a woman named Genora Dollinger, who helped organize workers in the 1930s.
HowÂ touching it is when a man (in that much maligned category White Male, at that)Â appreciatesÂ the contribution women have made to so many important movements. Seeing Zinn get choked up while talking about Dollinger and his own daughter’s reaction to her is very affecting. (Thanks to Marianne for the link.)
I’ll always remember the beginning of A People’s History — a quote fromÂ Columbus’s journalÂ describingÂ the hospitableÂ and gentle ArawaksÂ comingÂ out to meet his ships.Â The journal entryÂ ends, “With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”Â The chill I felt reading these words has never left me; this passage changedÂ my view of American history.
In a much different way, I’ll always remember my first reading of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I was a KSU grad student and had never seenÂ the Charles Laughton movieÂ or read a synopsis of the novel. As the young Esmeralda is about to be hanged and Quasimodo leaps over the rooftops to her rescue, I tapped both feet frantically on the floor as I huddled in the library carrel. When I finished, I set the book down for a minute, grinning and catching my breath.
In light of all the memorable and generousÂ responses to my “rereading” question, it would be interesting to hear if anyone else remembers passages like that,Â scenes or language that knocked your socks off, changed your life, or made you feel physically as if the top of your head was taken off, to quote (sort of) Emily Dickinson’s definition of poetry.