It was an incorrect idea when first posited and looks absurd in this moment, given the events of this year: we were never living in a post-racial America. The entire concept was meant as misdirection, put forth by those in this country who would choose to halt progress by announcing that there was no more inequity to address. “We’ve conceded enough privilege,” was the actual message lying beneath “post-racial,” and as we’ve seen in this election, that message has morphed from subtext to a full-throated proclamation.
We are headed for a strange time, one in which writing will be crucial, even beyond all the journalistic handwringing about a free press in peril. We need other writers—novelists, poets, essayists, the kinds making literature—to confront this era head on. And we need this literature to reach the places it hasn’t reached in a very long time; the hardest conversations people in this country must have are with other people we don’t ordinarily converse with. Literature, as has always been the case, must be at the forefront of bridging that divide.
Some Rain Taxi’s reviews related to race:
Review by Spencer Dew of Big Enough to be Inconsistent by George Fredrickson (Summer 2008, Online)
Review by Scott F. Parker of From Jim Crow to Jay-Z by Miles White (Spring 2012, Online)
Review by Edward A. Dougherty of Admit One by Martha Collins (Fall 2016, Online)
Not a single book market has had as much success while also having to justify its own existence as frequently as Young Adult literature. The questions, even and perhaps especially in the face of commercial hits, go as follows: why write books for a specifically teenage group? Their English classes feature “adult” books; it’s not like they can’t read literature meant for older people. Plus, aren’t adults the ones buying these books anyway? It’s the sort of worrying that was bound to crop up in an age full of silly hand-wringing about coddling young people.
It’s also a worry that ignores a lot of the actual value of Young Adult literature. Apart from featuring some of the most memorable stories readers of any age have ever encountered, YA also serves as a leading light in publishing issues of representation, inclusion, and diversity. It’s been the YA authors and publishers who are trying hardest to tell stories about people from a variety of backgrounds and circumstance. And when these decidedly less whitewashed books connect with younger readers still forming their worldviews, the results can only be positive.
Frankly, one doesn’t need to make an argument about the progressive spirit of YA in order to showcase it. The stories, which remain as entertaining and innovative as any being written for so-called adults, are doing that just fine on their own.
Rain Taxi’s best YA-themed reviews:
Review by Jay Besemer of Weird Girl and What’s His Name by Meagan Brothers (Winter 2015/2016, Online)
My Year Zero: An Interview With Rachel Gold by Stephen Burt (Summer 2016)
Review by Carrie Mercer of Falling In by Frances O’Roark Dowell (Spring 2011)
There are a lot of countries we’re being asked to think about this summer, countries that become conceptualized in terms of the distilled stances each presidential candidate takes toward them. Thinking of the world map purely in terms of sound bites related to an election is obviously reductive and shallow, but that can be hard to notice, in the moment; a better way to identify the lack of depth to this thinking would be to remember the countries that have faded from our arbitrary spotlight, despite not really straying from whatever it was that grabbed American attention in the first place. And so I want to ask: when was the last time you heard news coverage on China?
For a better part of the last decade, China has been the Great Other in American conversation, the behemoth half a world away becoming formidable enough to challenge all our ideas about America’s place in the world. They hosted the Olympics, and then we wrung our hands about things like trade deficits and human rights and military size—for a while. None of these things have changed or started trending in other directions, and yet conversations have faded. China remains fascinating and worthy of attention, but perhaps it says something about the nature of the attention we selectively disperse that it no longer receives nearly as much. It sounds silly, but: China is still there. No less complex than ever, but far more complex than we ever were willing to consider it, when we were told to pay attention.
Rain Taxi’s best China-themed reviews:
Review by John Bradley of Crossing the Yellow River by Sam Hammill (Fall 2014, online)
Review by Andreas Weiland of Ten Thousand Waves by Wang Ping (Fall 2014, online)
Review by Emily Walz of Coming Home Crazy by Bill Holm (Fall 2011, online)
There was a time when the superhero story felt grandiose: some otherwise-normal human with an extraordinary power we’d never yet imagined, grappling with the implications of this power while also stopping some form of Evil just in the nick of time. This time, I think, has passed. We can imagine all the “powers,” and we’ve heard the stories so many times that they rarely feel new. Somehow, what once existed on the far edges of our entertainment imaginations has come to feel quaint. So what is there still for us to find, in these stories we’ve now heard before?
Perhaps it’s that very familiarity that’s become the asset with superhero stories. Our lives are filled with complexity, very little of which is solvable in a sweeping gesture. We do not get to put on capes and fly ourselves to safety. But there’s something about seeing it, even when we know the endings—some surreal embodiment of our most valued human traits, swooping in at the exact moment we know is coming—that feels bolstering. It’s hope rewarded, every time. The superhero will never get old, because we’ll never stop needing “saving” from the grind of our lives, even for just a few hours at a movie or in the pages of a book.
Rain Taxi’s best superhero-themed reviews:
Review by Isaac Butler of Super Black by Adilifu Nama (Fall 2012, online)
Hero Epics Then and Now by Eric Lorberer (Fall 2007, online)
Review by Tosh Berman of Astro Boy: Volumes One through Six by Osamu Tezuka (Winter 2002/2003, online)
There is not a single person who thinks this is working—“this” being the whole experiment, the American Concept, the abstract set of ideals that when put into practice end up looking far different than anyone imagined. When it comes the United States, who’s happy, right now? The answer is close to no one, and the rub of it is that the various reasons why this is true either contradict themselves or feel so impossibly entrenched one cannot imagine them being solved.
It has been a hot fever dream of a summer in this country, for reasons so glaring they certainly don’t need listing here. It is thing after thing, event after event, and eventually it all blurs together in such a way that rather than pondering isolated moments, we’re left to wonder at the whole dream itself. This feeling does not have an artificial endpoint; it’s not going to fade away after November, and it’s not going to disappear when we distract ourselves in all the ways we typically try to. A period of national self-examination is coming, because it has to. The only questions are whether we’ll look honestly, and what we’ll do with the things we see. “See” is the right word; we all too often talk about America as a vision. A vision that feels vastly different from what actually is.
Rain Taxi’s best reviews on “visions” of America:
Review by Christopher Luna of A People’s History of American Empire by Howard Zinn, Mike Konopacki, and Paul Buhle (Summer 2008, Online)
Review by Robert J. Nebel of Bait and Switch by Barbara Ehrenreich (Spring 2006, Online)
Review by Kelly Everding of Unwind by Neal Shusterman (Winter 2007/2008, Online)
You are being watched. As recently as a few years ago, sentiment like this would sound like the cliché of someone suffering from paranoia. As of now, though, it’s frankly reasonable to point out that unless you really are hiding in isolation, someone is “looking” at you.
Now that nearly all facets of our lives are online, our current concept of privacy is in flux. Which parts of our digital behavior trail can be tracked, sold, acted upon, or even exploited? It obviously happens all the time: advertising begins to cater to our prior consumer preferences, and various forms of media and content start appearing in such specificity to our tastes and history that it’s very clearly being manipulated. “Cybersecurity” is a term we all know and yet know nothing about; our engagement in online systems has far surpassed our understanding of them. Considering the stakes, this knowledge gap seems highly problematic and strangely left alone in modern discourse. Whether it’s the media we consume, the conversations we’re having, or the information we are entering into various spaces on our screens, it’s time to start asking: who’s watching, and what can they see?
Rain Taxi’s reviews related to online media, surveillance, and the Internet:
Review by Jim Feast of The Soft Cage by Christian Parenti (Spring 2004, Online)
Review by Nicole Duclos of Neurosphere by Donald P. Dulchinos (Spring 2006, Online)
Review by Weston Cutter of Mediated by Thomas de Zengotita (Summer 2005, Online)
Islam is a religion of peace. You’ve heard this idea before, and you’ve probably heard it said exactly like that. The reason these words are so familiar in the cultural conversation is because they so often need repeating in the face of bigotry; too often, Islam finds itself in the crosshairs of xenophobic scapegoating. More than any other group in 21st-century America, ordinary Muslim Americans get characterized by the terrible acts of extremists who inhabit their ideology.
It feels strange that Americans in this day and age could still be struggling with the idea that their neighbor might have different beliefs than they do. Perhaps it’s the logical outcome of the exploitative fear-mongering that some politicians use to gain political capital; what does it say when certain figures are at their most influential when the public is at its most irrationally afraid? Muslims work in our communities, and they take part in the cooperative American Dream, and it bears reminding (because some of us seem only to listen when conflict is brought up) that Muslims serve in our military—right alongside whoever else you’re picturing as the quintessential American Soldier.
There should be a clear division in our mind’s eye between extremists and the peaceful majority of any group of people. Muslims, especially in a civilization that portends to be as progressive as ours, should at least be extended this basic courtesy.
Some of Rain Taxi’s best pieces related to Islam:
Review by Spencer Dew of The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris by Leïla Marouane (Winter 2010/2011 Online Edition)
Review by Spencer Dew of Stranger to History by Aatish Taseer (Winter 2012/2013 Online Edition)
The Work of Michael Muhammad Knight, an essay by Spencer Dew (Summer 2012 Online Edition)
Scandinavia isn’t that big. Its defining feature might be that it’s a Separate Entity, in terms of its geography, culture, and presence on the global political stage. They speak their own languages, three of the four countries have their own currency, and they’re not even that popular of tourist destinations, when compared to locales throughout the rest of Europe and the world. But to Americans, particularly the ones making decisions about how the country is run, Scandinavia has a strange theoretical presence as either a utopia or a moral worst-case scenario.
“You’re trying to make us like Sweden!” is an amusing statement to hear both lobbed and received by various people in the American political spectrum. On one end, “like Sweden” flies in the face of American Exceptionalism, a concept to which a large portion of this country holds dear; in this view, being “like” any other country is wrong, especially a place with a government so entangled in its citizens’ affairs. And yet others hear “like Sweden” and think of healthcare, low violence rates, and some amorphous vision of peace. Other countries often represent everything the U.S. could be and all the things we better not become, depending who you ask.
Of course, it’s a shallow comparison either way. Scandinavia isn’t us; it’s just the perfect distance away to fantasize about or be wary of, without really having to look that closely. But if we’re going to look at all, we should look closely—the things we’d see would probably be a surprise.
Rain Taxi’s best Scandinavian-themed reviews:
Review by Poul Houe of The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth (Summer 2015, Online)
Review by Poul Houe of Voices from the North, edited by Vigdis Ofte and Steinar Sivertsen (Spring 2009, Online)
Essay by Emil Siekkinen on Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer (Winter 2011-2012, Online)
There is nothing you know as much about as your own body. To say you “know about it” is actually too much distance between you and it; we are our bodies, no matter how separate or at odds with them we sometimes feel. It’s interesting, then, how the body remains one of the great puzzles in all of human thought and science. Medicine, theology, literature, biology, sociology, even math: there are people in every field who have made a lifetime out of just trying to figure out what in the world we actually are, how we’re put together, and why. Think about it: isn’t this just a complicated version of staring at a mirror?
Tell me about your body. Your answer to that will be entirely unique, even in approach, and it will probably differ from your answer if I asked you tomorrow. Yesterday, I sat outside and thought about where writing comes from, and the point at which our creative “muscles” (a metaphor) connect with our literal ones. Today all I can think about is how my shins hurt. We’re so consumed by bodies that we project this thinking on to all our other fields: body of work, the body politic, a body of water. We are never too far removed from this thinking. And good thing, because we’ve got plenty more to figure out.
Some of Rain Taxi’s best body-themed reviews:
Review by Scott Vickers of Incognito by David Eagleman (Winter 2012/2013, Online)
Review by Sarah Fox of The Body and the Book by Julia Kasdorf (Winter 2001/2002, Online)
Review by Ryder W. Miller of Leonardo’s Foot by Carol Ann Rinzler (Fall 2013, Online)
It is a strange time to be Catholic, like it always is, in that one is both centuries old and modern at once. This feeling seems amplified in light of the current election cycle, in which every value we hold has become something to fight for or lose. Existing in modern America as a Catholic has become somewhat of an ideological circus act. On the one hand, we have a Pope now who calls out incongruences and flaws when he sees them; on the other hand, many of these incongruences and flaws are our own. We are not done excoriating ourselves, neither for our scandals nor our exclusions. This looking in and bearing it outward is an essentially Catholic thing, but so are those impulses for social justice, the compassion for immigrants because we were immigrants, and all the other ideas based on love that suddenly feel at stake in America in 2016.
For guidance in moments like this, Catholics are taught to examine the people in their past. The links below are to book review content surrounding two such figures, Mother Theresa and Thomas Merton, who led such different lives (both from each other and from any of us here now) that it’s a wonder their core beliefs can be grouped together at all. It is hard to imagine these historical figures fitting into the fabric of today, and that is partly the point: this feeling many of us have of not quite belonging, whatever our identifiers might be, is not a reason we should change what we are. We should feel bolstered. The best of my group felt this way, and the best of yours almost certainly did too.
Some of Rain Taxi’s top Catholic-themed reviews:
Review by Chris Beal of An Unquenchable Thirst by Mary Johnson (Fall 2012, Online)
Review by Donald Lemke of Catholic Boys by Philip Cioffari (Winter 07/08, Online)
Review by Joel Weishaus of Merton and Buddhism by Fons Vitae (Winter 07/08, Online)