Another Loss

Howard Zinn

One more book to read and reread — A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, who died last week. Watch this inspiring interview on Bill Moyers. Zinn is an inspiration himself, of course, but he often celebrates ordinary people, in this case, a woman named Genora Dollinger, who helped organize workers in the 1930s.

How touching it is when a man (in that much maligned category White Male, at that) appreciates 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 from Columbus’s journal describing the hospitable and gentle Arawaks coming out to meet his ships. The journal entry ends, “With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” The chill I felt reading these words has never left me; this passage changed 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 seen the Charles Laughton movie 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 generous responses to my “rereading” question, it would be interesting to hear if anyone else remembers passages like that, 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.

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