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  • The Big Blog
  • Matthew Vollmer (bio)
HTMLGIANT, Blake Butler, Editor.

HTMLGIANT says on its “About” page that it is a “literature blog that isn’t always about literature.” Closer investigation reveals this to be true. The blog presents reviews about books of poetry and fiction, interviews with writers, video clips (of everything from obscure ’80s rock bands describing their aesthetics to guinea pigs eating watermelon to “Hamlet’s Soliloquy as Taught to a Toddler by Brian Cox”), humorous graphics and charts and graphs, links to writing contests, celebrations and condemnations of literary journals, live blogs of classic films, meditations on beginnings and endings and revisions and everything else related to the writing process, quotes from famous and under-appreciated or relatively unknown writers, and—occasionally—recipes.

As great as that sounds, I know a number of writers who have dismissed HTMLGIANT as a congregation of indie writers showboating for the alt-lit scene. I admit to not having the best working definition of “alt-lit,” but it’s something that gets brought up rather frequently by the site’s many contributors and—as far as I can tell—appears to describe the work of young, contemporary writers (the names that get repeated on the site include Megan Boyle, Tao Lin, Blake Butler, Sam Pink, Noah Cicero, Jordan Castro, and Steve Roggenbuck) who appear to spend a lot of time on the Internet and in front of handheld cameras, maybe taking drugs and writing while intoxicated and arguing about how best to achieve sincerity in art, which—from what I can gather—reflects some of the following characteristics: speaking as directly as possible about one’s thoughts and emotions, replicating exchanges between human beings via modern technology (like the incorporation of Gchat dialogues or Facebook wall posts or text messages), using repetition (often to an unnerving degree), cataloging the mundane actions of contemporary life, and purposefully misspelling words and/or refusing to capitalize letters.

I’m tempted to say here that if you’re the kind of old school grouch who’s prone to thinking things like “I’ll poke my eyes out if I have to read pretentious young punks pontificating about what it means to be ‘experimental,’” or “Spare me from another argument about whether a young writer who pens stark confessionals that include photos of her with jizz on her face constitutes art,” or “I refuse to be moved by a video of a deadpan Asian dude reading a story that includes the repetition of the same phrase a hundred times,” or “I don’t have the time or energy to read a syllabus for experimental literature written by a Ph.D. candidate, along with the abrasive comments that follow,” or “Please! No more videos of exuberant, hoodie-wearing dudes channeling silly voices while stumbling through a dirty apartment holding iPhones to their faces while music from the band Explosions in the Sky plays in the background,” then, okay, maybe HTMLGIANT is not for you.

Then again, things that appear easy to dismiss can also be the kind of things that deserve to be examined with care. I would submit to anyone who writes or enjoys reading for the sake of language or wishes to expand their literary horizons that—assuming you have the patience to wade through a few steaming piles of you-know-what—you will discover more than a few treasures here. Blake Butler’s links to weird book trailers or inexplicable YouTube videos, Lily Hoang’s fan mail to beloved writers, Roxane Gay’s thoughtful musings on craft and the life of a writer and editor, and Christopher Higgs’s defenses of theory are but a few examples of what I’m talking about. No doubt you will have the chance to discover books that you would’ve never heard of before, like, for instance, Rachel B. Glaser’s masterful Pee on Water (2010), a book whose title struck me as so utterly ridiculous that I had to see what was inside, then subsequently fell in love with the first story, whose narrator (spoiler alert!) claims at the end (and after a series of moves that one can only describe as...


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