Interviews, Reader’s Den
What Are You Reading? Sally Kohn Edition
A while back, I checked out Kick Axe, a lumberjack-themed bar in Brooklyn where you can play a modified version of darts—using axes.
Standing in the axe-throwing cage next to mine was Sally Kohn, an author and commentator who has appeared accross the news network spectrum. Her new book, The Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity was on its way (out today), so I thought I'd ask her:
What are you currently reading? What's up next?
I’m reading Nell Scovell’s Just The Funny Parts, which is as hilarious as its author, but also such an insightful look into misogyny in Hollywood and sexism in America in general. And did I mention it’s funny?
When I’m finished, I’m excited to get a copy of Michael Arceneaux’s forthcoming book I Can’t Date Jesus, which I expect will be a brilliant read and just the pointed memoir the world needs now.
Do you listen to audiobooks? If so, do you have a favorite? Any readers you particularly enjoy?
I’m not a huge audiobook reader honestly… is that even the right term, audiobook "reader"? Either way, honestly, my go-to audiobook is Jim Dale reading the Harry Potter series, which is our family favorite for long car trips. We’ll listen over and over again. And it was super intimidating to have Jim Dale as pretty much the only audiobook narrator example in my head when I went to go record my own audiobook. For a second, I tried to do voice impersonations too. Then I stopped. You’re welcome, listeners/audio readers.
Is there a book or other media you return to again and again?
I feel like I read and re-read Angela Davis at least once a year as a political north star, to remind me not only about what it means to be a great political writer but to be a great political leader through the written word. And there are parts of Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly that I read over and over again to keep trying and trying to weed shame out of my own mind and mindset, and the way I relate to others.
Is there a book that your daughter made you read to her so many times that you could basically do it with your eyes closed?
Roly Poly Pangolin immediately comes to mind. But she’s the kind of kid who loves to read the same thing over and over and over and over and over again. Same with movies. I can recite the entirety of Tangled in my sleep. Which hopefully will come in handy someday.
You have written for the Washington Post, USA Today, and Fox News, among others. You also have a book, The Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity, coming out. Can you tell us about your process when it comes to writing? Did it differ greatly when you were writing your book as opposed to writing for the papers?
I’m a creature of habit when it comes to writing. Ideally, I like to be tucked in at the same desk in the Brooklyn Writers Space where I work, listening to the same music on repeat, probably even wearing the same clothes if I could get away with it. But through op-ed writing and columns, I’ve learned to be much more adaptive. If news breaks and I have something I want to say about it, and I have a few spare moments, I’ll pound out an essay wherever I am. Once or twice, when I’ve been away from my laptop, I’ve even kicked a friend off their computer for an hour so I could churn out a quick op-ed.
Book writing has forced me to find the balance in between—it’s just so much volume that I’ve had to learn to write anywhere and everywhere, sometimes in beautiful giant blocks of solitude in the writers’ space, but sometimes in the corners and crevices between speaking gigs or TV segments.
You have written for papers and appeared on networks across the political spectrum, on Fox News, MSNBC and as a regular commentator on CNN. In your first TED Talk (see more of her TED Talks here) you spoke of "emotional correctness," a practice that allows you to engage and even be friends with people whose politics and opinions are polar opposite of your own. The subject is near to my heart, and especially important in my work as the Library is here to serve everyone, regardless of ideology.
What drives you to engage, and was there a moment when you realized how important this type of emotional correctness was or is it something you've always practiced? Do you have tips for people who are interested in how to better interact with those whose ideology does not mesh with their own?
I think the challenge of our time is to connect with others who are different than us—or maybe, more accurately, we’ve been taught by society are different, whether that’s ideology or race or class or religion. I’m not sure if we’re the most divided we’ve ever been as a nation, but I’m sure we’re more divided then we should be—or need to be. And it’s destroying us and our democracy. So I see connection as a moral and practical imperative, our duty as civic-minded people who care about our society and, supposedly, all the people in it. We have to walk that talk.
In terms of how, then, to make those connections… look, the issues and viewpoints that divide us are important, and I’d be the last person to tell anyone to abandon their core beliefs. Can we also, at the same time, recognize that we’re all more than the things we disagree on? And that no matter who you are or what you believe, you deserve to be treated with basic humanity and dignity and respect? And then the challenge isn’t to just say that sort of thing at the abstract principles level—"equality and justice for all" and such—but to actually live those principles, to look at your own life and relationships, who you’re connected to and who you are not connected to, who you treat with dignity and who you don’t, and challenge yourself to deliberately and actively do better.
What celebrities or public figures are you curious about?
Whose book list would you like to read?
Let us know in the comments!