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.
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.
Book publishers love Bookslut because of its unique Web presence and audience access.
"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."
Julia Bannon, online marketing manager for Harper Collins, lists Bookslut among sites such as Beatrice.com, Chicklit.com, Bookreporter.com and Curledup.com as top literary Web sites.
"She (Crispin) will review books or talk about books that maybe aren’t the biggest best sellers out there, but she loves them," Bannon says. "It goes right back to Jessa and the personality she injects into it. It’s attractive to both users and industry folks alike. The combination of the reviews and the blog is very powerful."
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.
Still, Bookslut contains more raves then pans. It also exists to discover, extol and lavish superlatives on Crispin’s favorite, often unsung books and graphic novels.
Crispin, a desert-dry wit housed in a thin physical frame, started Bookslut partly for the love of reading, partly for the review copies and partly because her job as a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood in Austin didn’t fill an eight-hour day. Previously, she attempted an English degree at Baker University in her native Kansas, but dropped out after being forced to read Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in three separate classes in the same academic year.
"I hate that book," Crispin says. "I’m sure it’s wonderful, but by that time, I had already read it in high school, and (Baker’s) English department was so messed up."
So, providing inspiration for English majors and English major dropouts alike, Crispin started her own literary magazine. It allows her to publish reviews, commentary and chats with her favorite authors – although she hasn’t quite overcome the anxiety of meeting them.
At the Chicago Humanities Festival last year, Crispin introduced Gaiman at an event at DePaul University. After the event, Crispin met Gaiman, but she doesn’t remember many details.
"I was gone. I was staring at the carpet, evidently purple. And nodding. He looked at me like I was a freak," Crispin says. "One day I might get over the crippling shyness."
With interviews over the phone, she’s more composed, though essentially, Crispin says, she is a fan with better access, a book lover turned insider.
Other than writing the occasional book review for The Washington Post, Crispin operates Bookslut.com full time, sustaining herself through Web advertising and relying on 30-some unpaid freelancers and co-blogger Michael Schaub for copy.
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."
She continues: "My parents are afraid to say it in public. They call it ‘the site.’"
In publishing circles, the term "book slut" has circulated for years, says Perreault. It is used interchangeably with the expression "book whore," meaning "one who covets or hordes books," he says, but there’s a subtle difference.
"A book whore wants something in return," Perreault says. "A book slut just loves books."
© 2005, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.