I have a dream. It's the idea that once each quarter, all of America's major metropolitan newspapers should publish & distribute, as a Sunday supplement, a genuinely good book review. I'm not thinking of the jokes that are the book review sections of papers like the San Francisco Chronicle or Washington Post, or even the dowdy advertisers' shill that is the New York Times Book Review, but one that genuinely explores the whole range of published work in the United States, and perhaps even beyond. I'm thinking of Rain Taxi.
Rain Taxi has been publishing for the past eight years from the improbable city of Minneapolis—improbable because reviews such as this depend so directly on advertising from publishers & the New York trades think of Minneapolis as being Garrison Keillor maybe with a hint of Prince & Kirby Puckett. Or maybe just as the place where the L.A. Lakers used to play.
Rain Taxi just plugs away, providing a genuinely eclectic & democratic view of publishing in America. The current issue, which I picked up at Kelly's Writers House in Philadelphia—you can almost always find the current issue by the table at the foot of the stairs—reviews 17 non-fiction volumes, 22 books of fiction, 16 more of poetry & drama & 5 graphic novels. Some of the writers & /or producers of these books include the great photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard, intrepid world traveler Robin Magowan, Ishmael Reed, Kim Stafford, Wislawa Szymborska, Lynne Tillman, Lisa Gornick, Stephen-Paul Martin, Theodore Roszak, Octavio & Marie José Paz, John Latta, Jordon Davis, Jack Collom, David Bromige, Lytle Shaw, Susie Cataldo, Gabriel Gudding, Tsering Wangmo Dhompa, Edwin Torres, Muriel Rukeyser & Howard Zinn. On top of which, the issue contains interviews with Andrew Vachss, Meg Randall & Lord Nose himself, Jonathan Williams, plus essays on the poetics of exile, the music of Henry Cowell & the memoir of an Alcatraz "screw." On further top of which, Rain Taxi has so much good stuff on hand that the interview with Jonathan Williams, for example, which is a hoot & a half, appears in much fuller format on the magazine's website. Plus there is an essay on the website on Bei Dao, a lengthy interview with poet, artist & gender activist kari edwards & reviews of still more books by the likes of Joanne Kyger, Arielle Greenberg, William Gibson, Gore Vidal, Edmund White & more. It's such a rich, well-considered gathering that Rain Taxi just stuns you when you first see a copy. This is what a book review really could be like if only editors dared to be great. If only! I don't agree with every review & some of the writing certainly is pedestrian enough—but there is more in the way of good material in a single issue of Rain Taxi than you will find in a year's worth of the NYT Book Review.
I'm looking at the current issue & thinking of the drivel that is Parade, which passes for "the Sunday magazine" in maybe half the newspapers in America, & of the ridiculous chain store catalogs that are the Christmas-time book catalogs of papers like the New York Times, thinking to myself that if only Rain Taxi could get itself into the daily papers, perhaps with advertising (and even sponsorship) of local independent bookstores—the stores that are most apt to carry the small press titles that Rain Taxi actually understands are the core & soul of American publishing—it would be an instant, nation-wide success.
—Ron Silliman, June 21, 2003