Is it possible that Donald Trump was right when he said there are many fine people among white supremacists? Can deplorable beliefs be separated from the people who believe them? Can people change? What is worth risking to find out?
“Let me tell you a story,” Daryl Davis says at the beginning of “Accidental Courtesy,” and he proceeds to tell a story–one of many–about how he befriended some members of the Ku Klux Klan.
Davis is a black man in his late fifties, a Grammy Award winning musician who has played with the likes of Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King, and Chuck Berry. He is also an actor, and the author of a book called “Klan-destine Relationships: A Black Man’s Odyssey in the Ku Klux Klan.”
Since 1983, Davis has made it his mission to sit down with Klan members and talk with them about their beliefs. His original goal was to find the answer to a question that has plagued him since childhood: How can someone hate him when they know nothing about him?
What he has found, he says, is that hate is rooted in fear, and fear can be overcome. As evidence of this, Davis displays a collection of high level Klan garments–robes and hoods belonging to Imperial Wizards and Grand Dragons and whatnot–that were given to him by Klan members who ultimately left the Klan because their association with Davis changed their beliefs. Says Davis:
“The most important thing I learned is that when you are actively learning about someone else you are passively teaching them about yourself. So if you have an adversary with an opposing point of view, give that person a platform. Allow them to air that point of view, regardless of how extreme it may be…
[C]hallenge them…politely and intelligently. And when you do things that way chances are they will reciprocate and give you a platform. So he [Roger Kelly, former Grand Dragon] and I would sit down and listen to one another over a period of time. And the cement that held his ideas together began to get cracks in it. And then it began to crumble. And then it fell apart.”
Davis and Kelly are now friends, and Davis is godfather to Kelly’s daughter.
We often say that Americans need to have a conversation about race, but with whom should we have it, and of what should it consist? As Davis points out, if a group of people who all agree that racism is bad get together and talk about how bad racism is, what is being accomplished?
Certainly Davis’s approach is not for everyone, and the movie documents some of his conversations with people from the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Black Lives Matter movement, who clearly take a different view of how to deal with hate groups. Which is not to say that one approach is right and another is wrong; the Southern Poverty Law Center has shut down entire chapters of the Klan, while Davis has converted perhaps two or three dozen people, not by setting out to convert, but by making genuine human connections, with humor and compassion. By listening, and trying to understand.
This film, directed by Matthew Ornstein, has won numerous international awards and special prizes, including Special Jury Recognition for a Portrait Documentary at the SXSW Film Festival, the Jury’s Recognition for a Film that Provokes Continued Conversation at the Athens International Film and Video Festival, and the Nashville Public Television Human Spirit Award.
Ornstein opens the film with a quote from Robert F. Kennedy, one that is worth repeating here:
“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of [each] generation.”
Our August staff picks focus on a few of our favorite reads (and a little music) from over the summer. We’re so glad it isn’t over yet.
Savor this book. Garvey’s Choice, by Nikki Grimes, is a novel in verse, using five-line tanka poems, that will inspire you to find your passion. Disappointment, despair, friendship, hope, books and music. What more could you ask from a sweet little book to cherish this summer? For me this book was a stand out in a summer full of wonderful reads. Enjoy!
Where would the city of Boston—the buildings, the churches, the library, the bridges—go on vacation? Like so many others…the city of Boston decides to head up to Maine to visit the city of Portland in this beautifully illustrated book from Robert Priest. The buildings of Boston visit companionably with the buildings of Portland—from the Longfellow House to the library—all smiling and swapping art and books. A fun New England children’s classic.
I was glad there was a “graphic novel” category on this year’s Adult Summer Reading list. I have two school-aged children, and while I often take home graphic novels from PPL for them to try, I had never read one myself. I asked my youngest what she was reading, and she handed me Nightlights. This was one of my favorite books of the summer, and since both my children also read it, we had an impromptu discussion group one morning in the car. The central character is Sandy, a young girl who captures light at night and transforms it into wonderful drawings (which are not always appreciated by the nuns at her convent school). Sandy is excited to meet a new classmate who loves her pictures, but when this classmate appears at night – in different form and literally hungry for drawings – Sandy will need to be just as creative with a plan as she is on paper. The author is from Colombia, and the illustrations and the way they helped build the story gave this book the feeling of magical realism that I love from the works of García Márquez. This book is definitely on my “read again” list.
My favorite summer read was the Rainbow Boys trilogy by Alex Sanchez. The first two books, Rainbow Boys and Rainbow High, chronicle the senior year of three high school students: Jason, a football player who is terrified of people finding out he is gay, Kyle, a brilliant student who has been in love with Jason for years, and Nelson, an openly gay student who is often targeted by bullies. The books follow their ups and down as they navigate love, dating, homophobia, college applications, prom dates, and many other high school adventures. In the final book, Rainbow Road, they take a road trip across the country after graduation, meet many other LGBT people along the way, and arrive at their final destination, a new high school for LGBT students where Jason is giving a keynote address. I loved the characters in this book, each one unique and seeming so real. I highly recommend reading this trilogy for your final days of summer, especially the audiobook versions, which can be downloaded from Hoopla. They’ll be a great addition to your next road trip!
Some older books, like 1984 by George Orwell, have recently received new attention. I’d like to add another old book to the list: Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. This is a beautiful story about a 12-year old boy in a small town somewhere in America. Each chapter is like a story in itself, but they all are connected. This book is filled with stories touching most aspects of life. It’s about taking a stand and following your inner compass, without being overly sweet. The characters are people you would like to meet. And there are some wonderful insights to what really matters in life.
The book is an easy read, full of comfort and wisdom, and it takes you back to summers past.
My favorite read this summer was Exit West by Mohsin Hamid:
“We are all migrants through time.”
Urgent, beautiful, and incredibly topical, I consider Exit West required reading, as the novel depicts the world we are or will soon be living in. This is a literary and economical text that can leave you devastated by suffering and hate, but rays of hope filter through via the many manifestations of love and the trembling strength of the human spirit.
Elnathan Jonathan’s debut novel, Born on a Tuesday, is set in northeast Nigeria’s Borno and Sokoto state and follows the life of Dantala from 2012-2014. Dantala begins the story as a member of a group of homeless youths in the city of Madaiguri, but is quickly forced to flee the area during election-related violence. He finds his way to a mosque in the city of Sokoto, where he is taken in by a Sheik whose prominence and political ambitions grow alongside the responsibilities given to Dantala over the following year and a half. When one of the Sheik’s older students (who also happens to be the older brother of Dantala’s best friend) starts a breakaway faction intent on waging a war against the Nigerian government, Dantala’s previously calm and routine-filled life is thrown into turmoil.
Dantala’s first-person perception of the activity he experiences around him propels the story forward, and his growth as an individual is revealed as his thought processes and interactions evolve throughout the book. This novel is also noteworthy in its ability to shed light on life in an area of the world depicted mostly as a place of conflict. Though there are instances of violence, the story is mostly developed through the growth of friendship and love between characters, as well as the examination of the complexity of family dynamics. This diversity of experience is reason enough to pick up Born on a Tuesday.
Reminding me of Lonesome Dove, Jiles’ recent novel is a western that transcends the genre. It’s moving historical fiction set in 1870 Texas, with strong writing and memorable characters: pick up this National Book Award finalist today.
As part of the PPL Adult Summer Reading program I read Rachel Kushner’s first novel, Telex from Cuba. I read it while vacationing on a lake here in Maine and absolutely devoured it. It has many story lines, but it primarily tells the story of the American expatriates who ran the giant Cuban sugar operation for United Fruit Company during the 1950’s. The story is told from the viewpoints of two adolescent children in two different American families living there. You are transported back to a different world, where the brutality of the sugar cane plantations and the insensitivity of the expatriate Americans toward other cultures is truly shocking. At the same time, Fidel Castro is leading an impassioned fight for freedom and the Americans are blind to their approaching demise. Kushner’s ability to take you into this world and let you feel it and smell it, as well as conveying moments of great beauty and subtlety, is absolutely delicious.
This is the best book I’ve read in a while, so I’m recommending it to anyone who will listen. The Julia Glass of Three Junes is back! The world of children’s writer/illustrator Mort Lear and his lifelong assistant Tommy (Tomasina) is as colorful as the vivid cover. This one has everything: writing so good you may not even notice it; captivating 3D characters you can love and hate, but probably won’t ignore; and a compelling plot without a single murder. I was sorry to see it end, but happy to pass it on to the next lucky reader.
Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire is my pick for one of my (many!) favorite reads this summer. Throughout my life, Antigone of antiquity has been a beloved character in numerous retellings of her story: she’s a wildfire in a nest of conformity, confronting tyranny, exposing hypocrisy, resolutely willing to stake her life on an act of civil disobedience spurred by love and mourning. I don’t see why we would ever stop telling and re-telling her story. My favorite explorations of Antigone (and all the questions one grieving dissenter might spark) have been Jean Anouilh’s play Antigone (produced in occupied Paris in 1942), Ali Smith’s children’s book The Story of Antigone, and Anne Carson’s translation Antigonik illustrated by Bianca Stone. Shamsie joins them with her own new and compelling retelling, partly set in modern-day London, where Antigone becomes Aneeka, and her twin brother Parvaiz is an enemy of the state…
Variously described as gothic rock, ethereal wave, neoclassical, art rock, and darkwave, Dead Can Dance’s self-titled 1984 debut might seem like an odd choice for the easy, breezy days of summer. And it’s true, it would probably sound out of place if played during the volleyball match at a beach reunion. But if at least part of your summer has involved zoning out in front of a fan, appreciating nighttime for the cool it brings, and wishing you could make your home feel a little more like a cave, then I suggest drawing the blinds for an hour while you listen to Dead Can Dance. Also recommended if you are looking for music to accompany the thought “no one can tell that I’m actually a witch” while walking down Congress Street.
Eileen M’s Picks
I know I am not the only voracious re-reader out there. There’s a whole pile of us who know what we want and which books will supply it. When we are feeling quivery or unsure or off kilter, we just want to sit down with old companions, maybe find something new about them to appreciate. My summer has been like that: a few new books, but mostly I reached for my stalwarts, knowing that I could coast, reserving my readerly energies for attending to some new revelations about characters, plots, and authors with whom I already had a relationship. After all, I wasn’t the same person I was when I last cracked them; maybe they had grown along with me.
I chain-read reliable one-offs, as well as familiar series recklessly read out of order. I devoured the dated daffiness of Angela Thirkell’s long parade of British fiction, comfortably quirky Richard Russo novels and Kate Atkinson’s richly populated Jackson Brodie detective stories.
And the winner of my personal “Favorite Book I Read this Summer” award is… well, to be honest, it is none of those aforementioned books or authors, although I regret not one millisecond spent in reunions with these favorites. All of my dabbling with second, third, fourth readings was part of a rebalancing of my inner seesaw, because my seasonal affective disorderly self had delayed reading my winning entry until the days were long and sunny, even though the urge to read it was born in the dark days of winter.
That’s where Stephen Jenkinson’s nonfiction work Die Wise: a Manifesto for Sanity and Soul comes in. I borrowed it via MaineCat, hoping to sate my curiosity and consciously begin to look at life’s flip-side reality as my own dotage comes a-knockin’.
Die Wise is about death in a culture that doesn’t know much about honoring it. The book is thick and can feel intimidating. It is dense and important. It is poetic, written with care and beauty. Anecdotal, philosophical, practical, mystical, illuminating and opinionated, it is eye-opening and soul-nurturing. I cannot recommend it highly enough. But it was hard going. It got under my skin. Its weight stayed with me long after I put it down. I read it too intently, for too long. It was hard to shake off. It was amazing.
And when I was stunned into foolishness, couldn’t quite regain my bearings, there they were…if not Favorite Book I Read This Summer candidates, then absolutely Lifetime Achievement honorees. They are the books that make it safe for me to step into territory that jolts me well beyond my usual scope. Giving the hard stuff a go was possible because I knew that these well-thumbed bound buddies were waiting to sit with me while I decompressed. I gave them quite a workout and they didn’t fail. Russo’s Sully and company made me laugh and cry, again; Thirkell’s upper crust nonsense allowed me to melt into another time and place, again; Atkinson’s miscreants and troubled souls wound their way through unlikely coincidence, again.
Are you excited about the eclipse? So are we! Here is some information our librarians have put together to answer all of your eclipse-related questions. We hope that your viewing experience is safe and enjoyable!
WHAT IS A SOLAR ECLIPSE?
A solar eclipse is a rare natural event caused when the moon passes between the sun and Earth. The moon temporarily blocks the sun from view either partially or totally, depending on where in the world it is observed. In Portland this summer, we will be able to see approximately a 58% eclipse at the maximum magnitude.
WHEN WILL IT HAPPEN?
The 2017 eclipse will take place on Monday, August 21st. It is estimated to begin in Portland at 1:29pm and last until 3:57pm. The maximum eclipse is expected to occur at 2:45pm.
WHERE WILL IT HAPPEN?
It will be visible in some form throughout much of North and Central America. The total eclipse will follow a narrow path from Oregon to South Carolina.
HOW DO I WATCH IT?
It is never safe to look directly at the sun, even when it is partially eclipsed by the moon. The only safe way to look directly at the sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as “eclipse glasses.” Ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, are not safe for looking at the sun. You must be sure you are looking through authorized eclipse glasses that have been verified to be compliant with the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard. Look for this symbol:
CAN I USE A WELDING MASK TO WATCH THE ECLIPSE? Using a welding mask or welding glasses to view the eclipse is only safe if they darken at shade #13 or above. Auto-darkening masks are not recommended as some older models may not darken as quickly as you need them to. Most welding lenses (masks, helmets, and goggles) start at a shade rating of #8 and can go up to #13 or above. To ensure complete safety, use lenses with a rating of #13 or above, which have been certified by the American National Standards Institute. To read more about these standards, click here.
WHAT DO I DO IF THE LIBRARY IS OUT OF FREE ECLIPSE GLASSES?
If you were not able to get free eclipse glasses before supplies ran out, don’t panic! Here is a list of alternatives to safely viewing the eclipse.
Purchase ISO Certified Eclipse Glasses
You might still be able to find glasses available for purchase. Check this listing of reputable vendors compiled by the American Astronomical Society: https://eclipse.aas.org/resources/solar-filters
WHEN WILL THERE BE A TOTAL ECLIPSE IN MAINE?
On April 8th, 2024, there will be a total solar eclipse visible from northern Maine.
SOLAR ECLIPSE TERMS Total Eclipse & Partial Eclipse
Depending on where you are when an eclipse happens, the moon might block out the entire sun or just part of it.
This is the thin ring of sunlight that remains visible around the moon during a total eclipse.
Umbra & Penumbra
The umbra is the darkest, fullest part of the moon’s shadow, as would be seen during a total eclipse. The penumbra is a partial shadow, as we will see during this year’s solar eclipse in Maine.
THE ECLIPSE IN MYTHOLOGY Norse Mythology
Hati the moon devourer and Skoll the sun devourer are the sons of Fenrir and Gulveig-Hoder. These two sons are actually giant wolves who guard the forest where the sun and moon sleep. Skoll chases the sun across the sky and into the sacred forest. Sometimes he catches it and devours it – temporarily.
Svarbhanu is a demon who hides the sun. His downfall is caused by Indra, the king of heaven, who manages to replace the sun in the sky.
The ancient Chinese banged pots and drums to try and scare away the dragon who was devouring the sun. The ancient Peruvians shot arrows into the sky to fend off the beast which was attacking the sun.
Here are some websites that offer a wealth of reliable, reputable, trustworthy information about the 2017 Solar Eclipse: