Maximum Sunlight by
“Like most of the people she interviewed for [the book, the author] first visited Tonopah, Nevada, by chance, just passing through on her way to somewhere else…[The book] is a long piece of investigative journalism and a short, intimate work of nonfiction. Day’s writing is observant and respectful, rooted in her personal experience. She moves, sometimes uncomfortably, in the proximity of strangers, revealing her thoughts in the moment and her reflections afterward. She shares doubts about her professionalism, analyzes her prejudices, confesses her fears. She never denies her assumptions, but she also doesn’t trust them. Her book is propelled by curiosity — about herself as much as others." — Olivia Durif, Los Angeles Review of Books
Photography by Hannah Klein. Maximum Sunlight is a timely and incisive portrait of the people, communities, anxieties, and contradictions that make up what many think of--now, more than ever, after the 2016 election--as rural white America. Told through a series of candid interviews and sharp observations of town life in tiny Tonopah, Nevada, journalist Meagan Day and photographer Hannah Klein create a book that is both traditional reportage and searching portrait of this eccentric and yet archetypal desert town. Day, a journalist and editor, writes with Didion's penetrating keenness for detail and Stegner's sense of the beauty and spareness of life in the west--illustrated throughout by Klein's striking color photo-spreads of desolate vistas, dilapidated houses, and cluttered shelves of clown figurines and neo-Nazi paraphernalia. The unexpected brightness and shocking depth of color in the photographs juxtapose the harshness and expanse of Tonopah's exteriors with the sharpness and peculiarity of its interiors. Tonopah is a town of former skinheads, drunks, pawnshop owners, drifters, lifers, day laborers, military contractors, and 4H moms. It is a town of casino bars, a highly classified military base, UFO sightings, ghosts of dead miners, and a massive solar energy plant. It's most notable attraction is a clown-themed motel next to a 19th century miners' graveyard. Written in the years leading up to the 2016 election, the book emerges as a vital and nuanced portrait of white identity and experience in an era in which rural isolationism and white nationalism have been thrust into the national spotlight.
Here are the questions discussed on Wednesday, January 27, 2021:
• Icebreaker: Name a town/city/landscape that you have passed through or briefly visited that you wanted to revisit and why? Did you revisit and did it change your impression and why?
• What do you think of the author’s style/approach to the story and why?
• What is your favorite place in the town and why?
• Who is your favorite character in the book and why?
• What do the photographs do for the story/book and why?
• How did the interview with the other journalist affect the book/story?
• What is the great strength of the book? Flaw? Why?
• What do you think about the “story” of Jeff and its arc through the book? Why?
• If you could change one aspect about this book as a pretend editor what would it be?
• Any ambiguities we need to clear up?
• Any other questions you have for the group?
• Favorite line, image, or passage?