Years ago when the Internet had that new car smell, there was a new website called Amazon. They were a bookstore where you could buy books online. I remember seeing it and thinking yeah, good luck with that. They have Barnes and Noble and Borders to compete with. Do I know how to pick them or what? But in the dawn of Amazon, people could now review books online. Hmm, this could be a good thing. You always want to hear what someone else thinks of a book. Enter Harriet Klausner.
Harriet Klausner read (there’s some doubt mixed in with this) several books a day, and reviewed them on Amazon. She reviewed 31,014 books. You read that right. She reviewed over thirty thousand books. Mind you, she wasn’t Michiko Kakutani. Every book she reviewed got four or five stars.The format of her reviews usually went like this:
A brief summary of the book
A plot development
A nice little paragraph summing up the book and giving it praise.
That was it. That was her formula for twenty years of book reviewing. It wasn’t in-depth, but she wrote so many that for years, she was the number one reviewer on Amazon. Writers and book bloggers claimed that she didn’t read the books, just skimmed them and put up a skimpy review. I have no idea if she did or not. What I do know was this: She showed book critics there was a new lady in town.
As mentioned above, book reviews were usually incredibly detailed and very high brow. We had Kakutani ripping apart Jay McInerney’s books (And he got even by criticizing her reviews in an issue of Esquire Magazine) Jonathan Yardley, who could be blunt about books he didn’t like (He called Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying “lousy” and had an odd hatred for Joyce Maynard’s At Home in the World) Klausner wasn’t like that. With her ratings of four and five stars on every review, she wasn’t a hater. She was a reader. To be honest, I didn’t know much about Klausner. I knew what her bio said: she was a retired librarian who lived in Atlanta. Many people took issue with this-she’s been reviewing so long? How could she be retired? Klausner stated she was suffering from ailments and insomnia. The ailments kept her homebound. The insomnia kept her reading all night, reviewing in the day. She told Wall Street Journal she loved “fantasy, chick-lit romance..horror and science fiction.” She tried to review lesser known authors because she knew they didn’t have a big PR firm working for them.
I used to write book reviews for Epinions fifteen years ago. I labored over my reviews, usually taking a whole afternoon to write them. I wanted to make sure they were perfect. For models, I read two reviewers: David Abrams (whose Epinions name was Grouch) wrote elegant love letters about the books he loved. Harriet? Well, see above. Summary, plot development, let’s tie it up. I sometimes wonder how does she get more hits than me? Why didn’t I have insomnia so I could read all night?
In later years, Klausner’s manic reading habits came under fire. People kept on saying there was no way she read all those books. People complained that they would buy a book under her recommendation, and would later regret it. Since she mostly reviewed romances and mysteries, I thought man, didn’t you know her taste? Eventually, her number one ranking at Amazon fell down (Although she was in the Reviewing Hall of Fame) But Klausner didn’t care. She told the New York Times she knew what she liked, and if she could get past the first fifty pages, she was in. I can appreciate this rule; it’s the same one I have while reading. She also had this to say about her haters: “Get a life. Read a book.”’
When I heard Klausner died on October 15th at age 63, I thought wow. No more reviews from Harriet (her last ones came on October 12th, three days before she died) Like her or hate her, she changed the world of book reviewing. One has to give her credit for trying to get attention for books that might not ever see the pages of the New York Times Book Review. Did she read all those books? We might never really know. I like to think she did. Maybe her review wasn’t my cup of tea, but there was no denying she loved books. And maybe her epitaph: Book lover.