Tagged with howard zinn

My favorite reads of 2021

I’m going to do something a bit different this year. Much less on the numbers other than the top line of 85¹ books read this year with 50.1% by women and 38.6% by non-white authors.

 I’ve been a bit better about finding time to read without my commute by “L” to give me the time with my books. Even so, I 85 is less than my goal of 100.

I started the year with a few books by women, with Siân Griffith’s The Heart Keeps Faulty Time being the first book that really blew me away. It’s a slender book, but I can remember being torn between savoring it and tearing through it as I read.

Charles Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe came close on the heals of reading Griffiths. Everyone else was reading his latest book, Interior Chinatown, but this popped up higher on my to-read list and it was an amazing book and made me eager to read more of Yu’s writing.

As part of my Dewey Decimal Project, I read Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire trilogy² and was absolutely blown away by it. It feels in many ways what Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States should have been. This is the book that I keep bringing to other people’s attention.

I only read one book in Spanish this year, and it was the slender La Historia de mis Dientes by Valeria Luiselli. I read Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive last year and wasn’t that impressed by it. My sense, coming at this book, is that Luiselli is a more compelling writer when she writes in her native Spanish than when she writes in English which seems to make her more conventional in her voice.

Kristen Radtke’s Seek You: A Journey through American Loneliness was a revelatory read. Radtke managed an amazing mixture of words and pictures for her illustrated essay that allowed the text to have even greater strength than it would have on its own.

  1. Assuming that I do indeed finish the two books I expect to finish by Friday.
  2. Strictly speaking, I only read the first volume as part of my Dewey Decimal Project but I was so taken by it that I made a point of reading the other two volumes at the first opportunity.
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Dewey Decimal Project: 973 ZIN A people’s history of the United States

For the last two decades, I’ve Cover of A People's History of the United Sttesheard many people waxing rhapsodic about Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, so when I got to the 970s—History of North America—I decided that this was my chance to finally read it.

What I found was not the life-changing book that many people consider it to be. I imagine a big part of that is that I’ve become familiar with so much of what seemed revolutionary about the book’s retelling of the country’s history. And because I’ve also found myself reading some deeper dives into some of these topics, like Kerry Greenidge’s Black Radical about Charles Monroe Trotter, or Nelson Peery’s memoir about his life during the depression and his time in the army during World War II, at times some of this felt a bit thin. Perhaps if I had little more than the standard-fare American History curriculum, I might have been more impressed.

And then there’s the problem that I often find with thinkers on the left who often get into a self-defeating obsession over ideological purity. The lesson I took from the 2000 election was clear: as uninspiring as the Democratic candidate might be to me, it’s far better to have even the most centrist Democrats in office than the vast majority of what the Republican party has to offer. And yet, I know people who have lived through 2000 and 2016 and yet still seem to think that if only enough of us clap our hands and believe that Ralph Nader or Bernie Sanders will come to save us. And then we get President Trump.

In this book, I was willing to accept Zinn’s critique of Roosevelt. There was a lot he could have done that he didn’t (although at the same time, his remaking of American society and government was absolutely miraculous and it’s unlikely the socialist movements of the first half of the twentieth century could have gotten there even without their vigorous suppression). But Jimmy Carter? I’m sorry, but his critiques of Carter ring hollow to me and strike me as the sort of idealism of the left that leads to its downfall.