Some of My Best Friends is a collection of lucid, accessible essays on the many contexts in which the concept of “lip service”–talk that’s not backed up by action–manifests. The contexts Isen looks at here are wide-ranging, and a lot of them are, to varying to degrees, inspired by her own personal experiences. The first essay, “Hearing Voices,” for example, draws on her time working as a child voice actor in order to explore how recent discourses around race and representation have stymied (or overlooked) the kind of creative potential that voice acting has an art. Another particularly personal essay is “Barely Legal,” where Isen talks about how law school changed her relationship to the written word and the ways in which it could (or was expected to) enact change.
More broadly, Some of My Best Friends explores a lot of topics with clarity and sensitivity. That said, what you get out of these essays is really going to depend on your level of familiarity with their respective topics of focus. As someone who spends a lot of time in bookish circles, for example, I found that the ideas in Isen’s essay on representation in the publishing industry weren’t particularly new to me. The essays that I was more drawn to, then, were the ones that were more unfamiliar to me–namely, “Barely Legal,” which was the one on law school; “Some of My Best Friends,” which is about white feminism (not a topic that’s new to me, necessarily, but which I think Isen really deftly explored); and “This Time It’s Personal,” which looks at the role that the personal essay plays in today’s digital publishing (and political) landscape.
Isen has worn a lot of hats–child voice actor, law school student, author, editor–and I think this is reflected in the kind of flexible, multifaceted approach that she brings to all her topics, regardless of subject matter. Her writing is also more conversational than academic or formal in tone, which makes these essays very digestible and easy to get into. And though I appreciated this, I think I also wanted a bit more from these essays–specifically, more critical analysis. I enjoyed reading these essays, and I found a lot of them really interesting, but on the whole I can’t say that any of them really delivered any insights that I personally found especially memorable or striking. That’s not to say that I am super well-versed in these topics or anything, but more that the nature of Isen’s essays–short, survey chapters that tend to take a broader, more top-down approach to their topics–meant that they couldn’t go into as much detail as I perhaps wanted them to.
That being said, I still think Some of My Best Friends is an engaging and well written collection of essays, great if you’re looking for something that’s quick but still analytical; conversational, but with a critical bent.
Thanks so much to Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with a review copy of this in exchange for an honest review!