Who among us has not wished for a literary concierge? Someone to tell us, "Read this, skip that"? Fortunately, for those who don't have all day to spend wading through drivel, there's Bookslut. And fortunately for Portland's community of readers, Bookslut Managing Editor Michael Schaub, 32, now calls Stumptown home. There's even talk of a Portland Bookslut Reading Series, leading off with a "dry run" at a local bar in April.
Launched in 2002, Bookslut is the pre-eminent online literary magazine ("litblog" for short). It's a monthly publication that posts fresh and funny book reviews, author Q&A's and unabashed literary gossip. It receives 300,000 independent site visits each month, and it's gotten shout-outs from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Time. Schaub himself, who lives in the Foster-Powell neighborhood, is a frequent freelance contributor to The Washington Post, the Huffington Post and NPR. Recently, WW sat down with Schaub to talk about literary feuds, Amazon Kindle and eating on a blogger's salary.
WW: OK, from one blogger to another…where is the money coming from? Seriously, how do you eat?
Michael Schaub: Umm, just barely? I have a day job. I work in client services for an e-commerce company in Austin. Most of the rest of my money is [from] freelance book reviews, which are nice, because they help me afford something other than Dinty-Moore beef stew for dinner.
What about money from blogging?
[Laughs] Bookslut gets some revenue through advertisers, but not a lot. I make enough to buy whiskey, which is a job necessity anyway.
So what's this I hear about a Portland Bookslut Reading Series?
You heard right: We're bringing the Bookslut reading series to Portland. Right now we're trying to find a bar to host us. It's going to have more of a rock-show vibe than a wine-and-cheese-in-a-college-lecture-hall vibe; just kind of casual and unpretentious and fun. It's in the planning stages....
Let's talk about the online magazine. Why call it Bookslut?
The original concept was someone who would do anything for a good book. I mean, we weren't gonna call it The Great Western Hemispheric Review of World Literature. We wanted to let people know that we were gonna have more fun than that. We worried initially that [the name] would handicap us in terms of being taken seriously. I mean, imagine requesting a review copy from Harvard University Press, and they're like, what's the name of the site? But it caught on really quickly. We're able to have more fun without feeling that we have to be part of some ivory tower, academic conversation. There's a sense of wonder that doesn't necessarily come through when you're writing in AP style.
Whom should Americans read more of?
Stieg Larsson. No, just kidding. It would help if Americans read more authors from other countries. They represent perspectives that Americans often just aren't exposed to... [Read] Jean-Philippe Toussaint. He's a great postmodern writer, really funny.
Have you ever been in a literary feud?
I think the concept of a literary feud is pretty hilarious. It's basically a slap fight between people who were picked on in high school. Come on! We're all total nerds here. We all got dodgeballs thrown at our heads.
OK, yeah. I've gotten some nasty emails from writers whom I've reviewed negatively. There was this guy... Toby Young. He wrote a terrible book called How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, which was then made into a terrible movie. Basically, this guy is just a dick, writing about his experiences being a complete dick. I thought it was charmless and poorly written, and I said as much. It's a real job hazard, having to read crap like that all the way through.
So what did he do?
Toby sent me this email with the subject line "Ignore This Email." Then, there wasn't any text in the main part of the message. I think it was his way of saying, "I don't care what you think." I guess it was pretty clever. Although, if he really didn't care, why send the email?
What are you reading right now?
I'm reading the new novel by Adam Haslett, Union Atlantic. So far I like it. It deals a lot with the financial crisis, but not in an obvious or a preachy way.
What do you think of e-readers like Amazon Kindle?
I haven't tried one. I have zero interest. I just can't buy that reading on a device like that comes close to the experience of reading an actual book. Maybe I'm getting old. You know, I have back pain now. Bad knees.
There are just two rules, Michael Schaub. Say the first thing that comes into your head, and keep it short. —John Minervini
Stephenie Meyer: hot teenagers in trees • Jonathan Safran Foer: veal piccata • Amazon Kindle: very expensive • Ayn Rand: stoner libertarians • Nobel Prize for Literature: it's like soccer—only Europeans get it • Booker Prize: better than the Nobel • National Book Critics Circle Award: that still exists? • Dan Brown: Knights Templar • Oprah's Book Club: increasingly irrelevant • Aleksandar Hemon: talented • Zadie Smith: Vogue magazine • Willamette Week: positive • John Minervini: who? • John Updike: Episcopalians having anal sex • Toni Morrison: smoker. I read that she smokes cigarettes • Roberto Bolaño: I don't get it • Bookslut: meal ticket. No—whiskey ticket • Pat Conroy: incest and cornbread • Ernest Hemingway: shotgun • Thomas Pynchon: The Simpsons. Seriously, I have so much more respect for him since he went on that show.
Read more of Schaub's thoughts and find updated PDX Bookslut Reading Series info at bookslut.com.