Contemporary lit fans find a home online and around town

Laura Mayer

Chicagoan Jessa Crispin is the founder, editor in chief and one-woman engine behind Bookslut.com. Managing regular reviews along with a stable of columnists, Crispin has built one of the best known literary blogs on the Web. And in an environment where live readings are growing increasingly rare, she forges on with her own Bookslut reading series.

According to Brian Bouldrey, senior lecturer at Northwestern, Crispin’s “real, true enthusiasm” sets her apart. Bouldrey read from his 2007 book Honorable Bandit: A Walk Across Corsica on Jan. 22 at The Hopleaf bar. “(Crispin) does a nice pairing,” Bouldrey says. “There’s three of us reading and there’s beer!”

Q: How did Bookslut start?

A: The blog started in February of 2002 and the magazine started in May (2002). When I started to blog it was just me. I was really bored at my day job and thought, “Oh this is really easy.” I asked my friend Michael and sister to contribute stuff. People started sending us e-mails.

Q: How is Bookslut run now? How do you pick your columnists?

A: In the same way as it’s always been – by my whim. We don’t have an editorial board; really there is just me. I tend to collect writers I trust. I let the columnists that I have do what they want. We create certain boundaries and whatever fits into those boundaries they can do.

Q: What blogs do you read?

A: I don’t read blogs. I guess that’s a strange thing to say for someone who writes a blog.

Q: If you’re not in to blogs, where do you get your inspiration?

A: I find food very inspirational. When everything is going crazy, I usually retreat into the kitchen and try to find out what else I can do with quail eggs. Lately, fashion. I had always thought of clothes as being frivolous, but then I met a woman in Chicago who owns a boutique and we’ve been working on a few projects together that I’m excited about. When my stress levels go up too far, it’s usually time to pack all of my belongings and head off to another country for a while. I’ve been doing that since I dropped out of college at 19. Talking to people, seeing a whole new city, and developing very temporary rituals is maybe the most inspirational thing I can do. And then there’s my Sunday morning ritual which I find very important to maintain a week’s worth of sanity: homemade brown bread, a cup of tea, and reading the London Review of Books spread out on the couch.

Q: What publishing trends have you noticed in the past five years since Bookslut’s inception?

A: Major publishers don’t give new writers a shot. They give them huge advances they can’t possibly make back. Then (the publishers) dock and bury them.

Q: What’s the best way, as you see it, to get people excited about reading?

A: It’s important to not treat books like they’re rarified objects, which is how a lot of critics and authors behave. Obviously books are very important, but treating them like they’re medicine is not going to increase book sales. The best way to get people to read is to find books worth reading. I think a lot of books in the mainstream media are not worth reading. A lot of the hyped Brooklyn authors don’t do a thing for me. And I bet they don’t do a thing for a lot of people. Bookslut calls attention to books that are overlooked. A lot of the (overlooked) books are way more exciting than what Random House puts out.