Some of my best friends Essays on lip service

Tajja Isen

Book - 2022

"A fearless and darkly comic essay collection about race, justice, and the limits of good intentions. In this stunning debut collection, Catapult editor-in-chief and award-winning voice actor Tajja Isen explores the absurdity of living in a world that has grown fluent in the language of social justice but doesn't always follow through. These nine daring essays explore the sometimes troubling and often awkward nature of that discord. Some of My Best Friends takes on the cartoon industry's pivot away from colorblind casting, the pursuit of diverse representation in the literary world, the law's refusal to see inequality, and the cozy fictions of nationalism. Isen deftly examines the quick, cosmetic fixes society makes to a...ddress systemic problems, and reveals the unexpected ways they can misfire. ...Isen interlaces cultural criticism with her lived experience to explore the gaps between what we say and what we do, what we do and what we value, what we value and what we demand."--Publisher's website.

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Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor 814.6/Isen Checked In
New York, NY : Atria/One Signal Publishers [2022]
Main Author
Tajja Isen (author)
First One Signal Publishers/Atria Books hardcover edition
Physical Description
xv, 222 pages ; 23 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 215-222).
  • Introduction
  • Hearing Voices
  • Tiny White People
  • Diversity Hire
  • This Time It's Personal
  • Some of My Best Friends
  • Barely Legal
  • What We Want and When We Want It
  • Do You Read Me
  • Dead or Canadian
  • Acknowledgments
  • Bibliography
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Catapult editor-in-chief Isen scrutinizes society's attempts to bandage over such issues as race and gender inequality in her powerful debut. In "Hearing Voices," she recounts her experience as a voice actor and takes a look at animation's "authenticity boom" as white voice actors cease to play characters of color, though she remains skeptical of industry claims that "we must strive for perfect alignment between the body of the voice actor and that of the character." In the title essay, she probes the tensions between the marginalization of white women and the protection of their racial privilege, and examines the ways people navigate these tensions, such as by "claiming softness and vulnerability as a form of power," while simultaneously being able to access power by "disavowing softness altogether." Meanwhile, in "Dead or Canadian," the author puncures the myth that "Canada does not have a racism problem," and "Do You Read Me" is a damning look at the publishing industry's attempts to diversify. Isen's voice is both wry and sensitive as she fearlessly lays out the limits of talk in solving inequality; fans of sharp cultural criticism, take note. Agent: Rayhané Sanders, Massie & McQuilkin Literary. (Apr.)Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly framed the author's perspective in the essay "Hearing Voices."

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Review by Library Journal Review

Writer, editor, and award-winning voice actor Isen's compelling debut essay collection touches on a wide range of topics including race, work, school, feminism, and life. Some of the topics are dense, but Isen has an ability to cut through the chaff and make her case. If we acknowledge structural racism, why are we having such a hard time resolving it, and can we stop assuming every marginalized person is an expert on their collective group trauma? She asks these questions in her own voice and is the perfect narrator of her ideas. In "Diversity Hire" you hear the sarcasm as Isen describes the diversity hire on a popular comedy TV show, meant as a joke, but she finds it all too real. The diversity hire is required to weigh in on all things related to inclusivity; after all, they were hired to prove the organization is inclusive. Isen asks how we can move beyond the lip service and work on action. VERDICT A great addition to any collection where thought-provoking essays are popular.--Christa Van Herreweghe

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

Social justice--or what passes for it--falls under the scrutiny of a Canadian voice actor, cultural critic, and editor-in-chief of Catapult magazine. As a biracial Black performer who has done voice-over work in the U.S. and Canada for two decades, Isen has seen firsthand the many ways in which well-intentioned ideas on race, gender, and culture--whether promoted by liberals or conservatives--can hurt people they aim to help. In the nine essays in this stellar debut collection, the author probes the gap between expectation and reality. Her opening essay, "Hearing Voices," sets the tone with its wry view of "the authenticity boom" that seeks to have Black animated characters voiced only by Black actors. "What Black characters?" Isen asks, adding that in 2018, only 3% of the lead or co-lead roles in animated films were for women of color and that an insistence on perfect "phenotypic match[ing]" between an actor and character "would shut too many of us out until further notice." In "Tiny White People," Isen examines the recent surge in anti-racist books, finding further evidence of Toni Morrison's view that Black authors' work gets read "as sociology, as tolerance, but not as a serious and rigorous art form," and in "Diversity Hire," she faults diversity initiatives that make companies "look progressive" without ending underlying injustices. Such issues are not solely American, she argues: See "Dead or Canadian," which deflates the myth that "Canada does not have a racism problem, or an epidemic of police brutality," or that its "national reverence for diversity is, like the politeness of its citizens, just there, unflappable and eternal." Isen has a penchant for buzzwords that rob her work of some of its potential elegance, but as a whole, this book shows a bracing willingness to tackle sensitive issues that others often sweep under a rug. Fresh and intelligent critiques of popular North American ideas about race and gender. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.