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Literary Collections Essays

Some of My Best Friends

Essays on Lip Service

by (author) Tajja Isen

Doubleday Canada
Initial publish date
May 2022
Essays, Essays, African American
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    May 2022
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2024
    List Price

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A fearless and darkly comic essay collection about race, justice and the limits of good intentions from the editor in chief of Catapult.

In this stunning debut collection, award-winning voice actor and cultural critic 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 subjects including the cartoon industry’s pivot away from color-blindcasting, the pursuit of diverse representation in the literary world, the law’s refusal to see inequality, and the cozy fictions of nationalism. Throughout, Isen deftly examines the quick, cosmetic fixes society makes to address systemic problems and reveals the unexpected ways they can misfire.

In the spirit of Zadie Smith, Cathy Park Hong and Jia Tolentino, 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, and what we value and what we demand.

About the author

Contributor Notes

TAJJA ISEN is a writer, editor and voice actor. Her essays and criticism have appeared in dozens of outlets across the US and Canada. She is the editor in chief of Catapult magazine, the former digital editor of The Walrus and has also edited for Electric Literature. She is the coeditor of the essay anthology The World As We Knew It: Dispatches from a Changing Climate. A voice actor for more than two decades, Isen can be heard on such animated shows as Atomic Betty, The Berenstain Bears, Super Why!, Go, Dog. Go!, Jane and the Dragon, and many others.

Editorial Reviews

Named one of the best books of 2022 by The Globe & Mail • CBC Books Daily Hive
"A collection of personal essays brilliantly weaving through the author's life while offering pointed cultural criticism, Some of My Best Friends is . . . a perceptive analysis on how Black expression has been stifled across industries." —The Globe and Mail

"The often hilarious, always thought-provoking essay collection examines issues that have long preoccupied Isen, like questions about race and equity and how they intersect with culture." ELLE Canada

"[A] useful and entertaining tome. . . . Singular in its erudition, wit, humanity and power. The talent perhaps most identified with Isen is her voiceover work, much of it in cartoons. Now, in prose, she channels her inside voice to magic effect. . . . Every essay is a small refracting jewel. . . . This is a superb book." —Winnipeg Free Press

"Funny, poignant and super-smart in all the ways." —Ms. Magazine
"Tajja Isen isn't looking for easy answers. She unpacks hypocrisy wherever she sees it. . . . Sharp and meticulously researched, [Some of My Best Friends] will make you laugh, think and probably question at least one thing you thought you knew." Maisonneuve

"Expansive, deeply researched. . . . Some of My Best Friends considers the fault-lines of language, action and power, which are also the fault-lines of our world." —Electric Literature

"A sardonic, hilarious and indicting call-in of how words mean nothing without action, and lacklustre attempts at addressing racism are sometimes more harmful than helpful. . . . Isen's forte in Some of My Best Friends is taking these first-hand experiences and following them with sharp, clear-eyed, often funny analysis. Her writing makes you take stock—almost with a breath of relief—of not just the harm of racism, but its awkwardness, its absurdity, its ludicrousness." —The Tyee

"Although [Some of My Best Friends] is deeply concerned with the ethics of intention, there is no tone of moral purity here. Isen is playful with language, deploying a pithiness that is biting and humorous and that continuously probes meaning. . . . [At] moments, it almost feels like she is winking at readers." —Literary Review of Canada
"Fresh and intelligent critiques of popular North American ideas about race and gender. . . . [A] steller debut. . . . This book shows a bracing willingness to tackle sensitive issues that others often sweep under a rug." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"In these incisive essays, actor, editor, and cultural critic Tajja Isen confronts the gulf between the huge popularity of good intentions and the urgent need for real change in the world today." —Quill & Quire

"Isen scrutinizes society's attempts to bandage over such issues as race and gender inequality in her powerful debut. . . . 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." —Publishers Weekly

"Beautifully written and so intelligent." —Heather O'Neill, author of When We Lost Our Heads
"Isen understands that our shared future demands we expose and call out wasted time, hollow gestures and empty words. Some of My Best Friends is an inspiring, determined work of personal narrative and cultural criticism." —Saeed Jones, author of How We Fight for Our Lives
"Some of My Best Friends is the rare essay collection that feels both modern and timeless. Hilarious and fresh, it’s the type of analysis that feels vital and made me go, 'Finally!' What a joy to read." —Sarah Hagi, culture writer and critic
"Beautifully written, wildly funny and whip smart, the essays in Some of My Best Friends are among the best I've ever read. Tajja Isen is unafraid to ask deep questions and embrace their messy answers. She's one hell of a writer." —Kristen Arnett, New York Times bestselling author of Mostly Dead Things and With Teeth

"The essays in this book dazzle stylistically, thrill intellectually and flip the finger to the many ways North America pretends to talk about racial experiences. Isen is a provocateur of the first order. Her wit and wisdom capture the current moment and soar above it." —Kamal Al-Solaylee, author of Return and Brown
"Sure-footed and illuminating, Some of My Best Friends brilliantly lays bare the lies that accompany some of the most insidious aspects of racism—lip service, pandering and plausible deniability—and offers a bracing inoculation." —Jess Zimmerman, author of Women and Other Monsters
"Every essay in this collection reminded me of what makes Tajja Isen a must-read writer: her thoughtfulness, her incisive humor and her deadeye aim. Some of My Best Friends is a genuine pleasure to read and the best kind of intellectual conversation." —Nicole Chung, author of All You Can Ever Know

Other titles by Tajja Isen