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TANGENT She's nothing but a 'bookslut'

By Robert K. Elder

Chicago Tribune

Jessa Crispin has a promiscuous love of literature.

The objects of her desire -- softcover and hardback books -- fill every available space in the modest one-bedroom apartment she shares with her boyfriend, Kenan Hebert, and cranky cat, Acker (named after author Kathy Acker). Books lounge in chairs, hide in corners and lurk under boxes, in grocery sacks and under desks.

"The best part is the free books and the worst part is the free books," says Crispin, 26, editor and founder of the online literary magazine Bookslut.com.

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Bookslut, recognized by Time magazine and The New York Times as a premiere Web destination for book lovers, celebrates a double anniversary this winter -- its third birthday and the first anniversary of its move to Chicago from Austin, Texas.

In a sea of competing Internet voices, Bookslut.com has distinguished itself through snarky, literate book reviews, thoughtful author interviews and a trend-tracking blog that attracts between 5,500 and 6,000 visitors daily.

"Bookslut reaches those people that we were always trying to find," says Russell Perreault, vice president and director of publicity of Random House imprints Vintage and Anchor Books. "It's a younger set who are not necessarily newspaper readers, not reading The New York Times' or USA Today's book reviews."

She's even getting notice from authors.

"I love Jessa's sensibility," says Neil Gaiman, author of the Hugo Award-winning "American Gods." "It's not that it always mirrors mine, but it's passionate, opinionated, informed, smart, and it treats books as if they matter, but not as if they're holy. Also, she's funny."

Example: When writing about critic and novelist Dale Peck, Crispin called his work, "Not even bad enough to be trashy. I tried to read 'The Law of Enclosures' until I noticed I was using the cover to try to saw through my wrist."

In response, during an interview with Gawker.com, Peck called Crispin "ditch-dirty stupid" -- a sign that Peck, notorious for writing savage book reviews, was either fading or that Crispin had arrived, pre-emptively beating a grandmaster of insults at his own game.

People still ask her about the origin of the Web site's name. "I should really make up a story, because I don't really have one," Crispin says. "I was in a book group, and we called ourselves 'book sluts.' I just took the name from that."

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She continues: "My parents are afraid to say it in public. They call it 'the site.'"

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