I didn’t think to look to the Internet for a sense of community when it came to writing and reading until two years ago. I spent those days writing, and at night, I would meet my MFA classmates to discuss books until last call. It was the only community I needed. But like so many MFA grads, I found myself cast adrift after graduation. I’d gotten used to discussing prose and narrative a few times a week, and without that outlet, I did what so many of us do when seeking out a community of likeminded people: I ventured online.
Along with The Rumpus and HTMLGIANT, The Millions was one of the first sites I found devoted to discussing literature from a variety of viewpoints. What I immediately liked about The Millions was that it took itself seriously without ever coming across as pretentious. If the Internet lit scene was a high school, The Rumpus would be the cool punk kid, HTMLGIANT would be the moody artsy teen, and The Millions would be the friendly go-getter, the kids in Gap polos and khakis who run for school treasurer and declare early decision in their senior years. The Millions avoids the trap so many lit sites fall into: It’s not all inside baseball. It appeals to writers AND readers alike. You’re just as likely to find Edra Ziesk’s essay “Outside the Box: From Teaching to Tea Parties”—a tale familiar to many writers about the unsustainable nature of working as an adjunct instructor in our nation’s colleges—on any given day as you are to stumble across a fun summer reading list aimed at teens. What I’ve always perceived as one of the main goals of The Millions is to provide content that’s interesting to not just writers but readers as well. For the most part, they succeed.
The Millions is broken up into a few major sections. First is “Features & Columns,” which focuses on interviews, event wrap ups, and essays like the Ziesk piece above. Then there’s the “Curiosities” section, an RSS feed on the bottom left of the main page that updates every hour or so with some oddity or news related to the lit world. Sometimes they post weird YouTube clips of George Plimpton peddling Intellivision video game systems in the early eighties. Sometimes they link to National Geographic articles about “the world’s many dying languages.” The Millions also features a dense “Books & Review” section that differentiates itself from other similar lit blog features by focusing on new and old releases. There’s also a “Book Lists” section with entries like “Ten Books to Read When Mad Men is Over”—which curiously skips over Richard Yates and John Cheever after a cursory mention in the first paragraph—and “The Millions’s Top 10” and “Hall of Fame,” which give the site a unique sense of community occasionally missing in other lit blogs.
“The Millions’s Top 10” is a list of books generated by The Millions’s user community. According to their website, “By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months.” This attempt to bring readers into the discussion in a way other than a comments section is very much appreciated. Too often, lit blogs can devolve into platforms for the egos of the staff writers. This form of inclusion is uniquely interesting and not a bad idea to find new books. Plus, when something stays on the list for over six months, it goes onto the ever-growing “Hall of Fame,” a cacophony of colorful book covers at the bottom of The Millions’s homepage. However, for a site that so often champions the work of indie lit, you might wonder why Amazon is the only barometer for what readers are reading. The politics and business practices of Amazon have been questioned by many, and...