- Provacative Pages
In an age where critics often lament an impoverished culture of criticism, there are certain review outlets that serve as a reminder that a vibrant culture of criticism is alive and well, if you just know where to look.
Bookslut, a popular literary criticism website, was founded by Jessa Crispin in 2002. In a 2008 interview with Publisher’s Weekly, Crispin said she founded the site because, “We’re making book reviews more accessible without dumbing it down. That’s what was missing in the national discussion of books.”
For the past decade, Bookslut has done exactly that—publishing reviews, interviews, columns, and feature essays on a monthly basis. Crispin also maintains a blog with daily posts about literary news, provocative quotations from writers, and, occasionally, social commentary.
Interviews with writers are one of the site’s strongest features. Because Bookslut publishes only online, there are no word count limitations, and interviews are often languorous, thoughtful, and deeply engaging. There are few questions about process or recommended reading you find in typical author interviews. Instead, interviewers ask probing, lengthy questions that encourage writers to really discuss their work, motivations, aesthetic, and more.
In a December 2009 interview between Elizabeth Hildreth and Kathleen Rooney, discussing Rooney’s book Live Nude Girl: My Life As An Object, topics covered include the female body and its display, nude modeling, memoir, beauty, self-esteem, sex, and photography. Lena Dunham, the creator of HBO’s Girls, interviewed Douglas A. Martin in February 2008 about his latest collection, In the Time of Assignments. Dunham was, at the time, a student and budding filmmaker at Oberlin College. Her questions were pointed and intelligent, including an interesting question about the concept of the confessional in contemporary poetry.
Bookslut also features long form essays. One of the strongest pieces on the site is Elizabeth Ellen’s June 2010 essay, “Stalking Dave Eggers,” a stark but poignant meditation on how, as her marriage unraveled, Ellen thought she was having an online affair with Dave Eggers via an Internet forum where many writers communicated. She talks about how participating in this forum was where she learned a great deal about writing. Ellen writes,
And though I didn’t realize it at the time, we shared educations. Or, more to the point, I stole theirs. Unlike the majority of writers I know, I never got an MFA. I never even completed my undergrad. I dropped out of college my sophomore year due to an onslaught of panic attacks and agoraphobia and never went back. When I came to the thread, I’d never heard of the vast majority of contemporary writers. I started reading George Saunders and Lorrie Moore and A. M. Homes and Donald Barthelme and Aimee Bender and Lydia Davis and Denis Johnson because these were the writers my friends on the thread were reading.
By the end of her story, Ellen realizes that the man she had been corresponding with wasn’t Dave Eggers and is unflinching in recounting the humiliation of running into Eggers at a party, assuming they had been communicating, and the aftermath of that encounter, and how she moved on from it. “Stalking Dave Eggers,” like many of the essays in Bookslut, is the kind of work not traditionally found in critical publications, but it also feels like a necessary part of the literary conversation, looking not only at writing but how writers interact in the modern age and how sometimes, the lines between rising and famous writers are incredibly blurred.
Other equally compelling work includes Michael Schaub’s December 2002 essay about the Texas Book Festival, Liz Miller’s August 2003 essay about attending ComicCon told as an accounting of her time each day, a November 2006 essay by Heather Smith about gender and book covers, and an examination of the lifespan of literary magazines in February 2011 by Daniel Nester and Steve Black.
Reviews each month cover poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, as well as works in translation. Both mainstream and small press writing are reviewed, and Bookslut makes a point of reviewing work that might not receive critical consideration in...