August 1st, 2011 / 12:22 pm
Behind the Scenes

HTMLGiant Reviews Section

Today is the launch day for our newly formatted reviews section at HTMLGiant, which you can see kicked off below with Maxi Kim’s review of Stewart Home & Matthew Timmons.

Every Monday and Friday of each week we’ll host long formal review of this nature, live at noon. This section will be edited by our new Formal Reviews editor, Janice Lee.

Every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of each week we’ll be running a new review feature, with anonymously written, shorter reviews. This section will be edited by Anonymous Reviews editor, Brooks Sterritt.

Anyone interested in submitting reviews to either section is encouraged to do so, particularly the anonymous. Feel free as well to query if you would like to write but don’t yet have a book in mind.

Formal reviews should be 800-1500 words and up, and can be sent to Janice at janice [at] htmlgiant [dot] com.

Anonymous reviews should be 300-500 words, have a rating from 0.0-10.0, and can be sent to Brooks at brooks [at] htmlgiant [dot] com.

Obviously in submission your anonymity won’t be possible, unless you want to send from a strange address, but we promise not to tell. This also should not mean, though, that anonymous reviews are designed solely to tear shit up; we simply hope to bypass some of the insular review practices that happen in a community as frequently incestuous as lit. Review submissions are open as of today.

Presses or authors hoping to be reviewed here can send a query, not to the editors, but to reviews [at] htmlgiant [dot] com. Queries sent elsewhere will not be able to be responded to.

As well, all regular reviews will be archived for easy access here (also clickable at the top of this page). We hope in the midst of this to keep a dependable forum for new and old work alike.

Welcome to Janice and Brooks!


  1. Nathan Huffstutter

      Is the “Anonymous Reviews” section a joke where you see what kind of A-holes bite? My first thought is that if you anonymously hang a 2.7 on someone’s 300 page novel, you should get punched in the face. Hang a 2.7 on it if you think it deserves a 2.7, but have the guts to stick your name to your opinion just like the author had the guts to stick his name on the book. If you as a website want to bypass the insular review practices that are prevalent in the lit community, all you have to do is refuse to publish reviews that are clearly a byproduct of that insularity. We all know them when we see them, and other than friends of the author and the reviewer’s Mom, no one reads those reviews from start to finish anyway.

      Read the book as carefully as you would want someone to read your own work; take notes and think about the work; if you have something to say, say it; establish credibility by writing what you have to say in sentences that aspire to the highest level of quality you’re able to produce; stick your Goddamn name on the review.

  2. Blake Butler

      i honestly don’t think the name of a reviewer is important. we’re not going to publish obviously dickfaced reviews simply because it’s anonymous. the same codes that criticism should be fairly written will be applied.

  3. Frank Tas, the Raptor

      Shit yeah!

  4. lorian long

      this is cool.

  5. KKB

      Kirkus Reviews, one of the longest running and most often bragged about, publishes anonymously, too.

      That way when you’re a fame-y and you don’t like the book, you don’t insult your friends.  Or have them retaliate later.  Or when you aspire to be a fame-y, you don’t do it by ingratiating yourself to the already famous writers you’re reviewing.
      Plus, way better to brag about a great review when you know the reviewer had no reason not to be honest about your book.  Anonymity is part of what kept Kirkus truckin all these years.  Kept them trusted, for sure.

  6. Nathan Huffstutter

      Agreed, for those reading a review, in most cases the name of the reviewer isn’t that important. There are enough names out there and enough early-career writers producing reviews that the byline is frequently irrelevant to the reader. Personally, I don’t think the “codes of fair criticism” apply IF you don’t put your name and reputation (or non-reputation) behind the opinions you offer, but we can respectfully disagree on that – not to mention, it happens to be your website.

      For current, regular readers of the site, I think we do get the idea and we do respect that you’re not going to present a whole section of dickfaced reviews. That’s not what you’re about. This site, however, is also frequently linked to by other literature and culture venues, it is an entry-point for people first trying to get a sense of the contemporary lit scene, and like Charles Barkley, you may not want to be a role model but the fact of the matter is you are. When, in the list of books you’ve read this year you note that several months later certain titles have left no impression on you whatsoever, you may not think it’s anything more than an honest accounting in a personal list, but it’s also a pretty high-profile slap in the face to someone’s work, the takeaway being: “I read this book just a few months ago and already I have no memory of reading it – the book may as well have not existed.” For a lot of readers, your mention of those titles was likely their first exposure to them, just like for many readers, a review in your reviews section may be their first (and only) exposure to a particular author. You don’t have any obligation to be complementary or to blow smoke up anyone’s ass, but I do think there is an obligation to accountability, and anonymity skirts that accountability.I hope you do succeed in providing a venue for oppositional opinions. If someone thinks everything they read is great they can’t possibly be reading very carefully. Well-written, well-considered negative reviews are crucial to the big-picture notion of reaching out to a broader base of interested readers – currently, trying to select small-press books to read is like trying to choose a book at Barnes & Noble based only on the cover blurbs. Everything’s spectacular. Rather than trying to negotiate all that unfamiliar spectacular-that-may-not-in-fact-be-spectacular, readers instead retreat to the familiar. In the interests of sparing one individual author’s feelings, other authors lose potential readers because it’s so difficult to differentiate what’s what.

  7. MFBomb

      Good call on Kirkus Reviews. 

      Why do people always assume, anonymity=bad, non-anonymity=good?

      Or, that one is somehow inherently better than the other? Is it really that simple? I could easily argue that some people who insist that others “show their ID” whenever they express an opinion are just as bad as the people who abuse anonymity. 

  8. Ken Baumann

      Excited. I’m gonna have to get my shit together and talk about some books. Janice & Brooks: WELCOME!

  9. Ilya Zarembsky

      I think you guys should change the feature heading font, Impact is nearly illegible at that point size.

  10. Nathan Huffstutter

      I understand the point you’re making, but an anonymous review on Kirkus is essentially an editorial review. The editors of Kirkus stand behind that review and the implication is that the review speaks for the publication. Readers of Kirkus are interested in the “Kirkus opinion,” not necessarily the opinion of any one individual reviewer, so the individual byline really is unnecessary. This, however, is an extreme outlier, not an example true to most online or print literary outlets.

      If you are fame-y and you’re afraid of stepping on your friends’ toes, don’t review their work. Personally, the people I regard as “friends” are those who would write a well-considered, well-thought, unflinching opinion of my work: positive, negative, or somewhere in between. They don’t have to “like” it – if the writing’s any good, as many people should dislike it as like it. Having a huge group of friends write in unanimous opinion “cool,” “sounds interesting,” “nice job,” that to me is far more insulting than having someone write 1500 words about what didn’t work for them. Bland platitudes are the greatest insult of all, since they indicate you didn’t put any real effort into reading the actual work.

  11. Blake Butler

      You seem to have a lot of opinions. You should start a website.

  12. MFBomb

      You seem to have a lot of faith in people other than the reviewer-writer, people who are often in positions of power.

      I think it’s naive to suggest that even a nuanced and well-thought “negative” review couldn’t harm a writer’s career, which is precisely the point: we are mostly discussing writers doubling as reviewers, not people who are known only as reviewers or critics.

  13. Roxane

      I understand your POV, Nathan and in general, I think it’s important to stand behind your opinions. If you care that much, though, don’t read the anonymous reviews. Both kinds are going to be posted. I will also say, though, that there’s room for anonymous reviews and maybe even a need. You’re speaking to ideals and sometimes ideals clash with reality.

  14. Brooks Sterritt

      Thanks Ken!

  15. Gene Morgan

      Oops! Sometimes I forget that Windows exists (our fonts are disabled on Windows). 

      I’ll work on it.

  16. Janice Lee

      Yes thanks! Glad to be on board.

  17. Gene Morgan

      Changed the header font to Helvetica, just for you, personally.

      Tried using our “fancy” fonts on Windows again, and it still looks like shit. Wish you could feel more special than Helvetica.

  18. Nathan Huffstutter

      Yours is already here and it’s way, way better than anything I could come up with on my own.

  19. Leapsloth14

      Welcome! You’ll love the comments here!

  20. KKB

      True point about Kirkus reviewers representing the whole publication.  I guess I’d just imagined HTMLgiant reviewers would, too.

      And by the way, since we’re talking about names, I can’t help but notice Huffstutter’s got such a great look to it.  If you ever take all your opinions to your own blog, and you call your blog Huffstutter, it will sound like its own new slang term.

      I spent a summer reviewing for Kirkus.  I reviewed exclusively books I hated.  It was the most boring reading summer of my life.  (They told me they needed more female reviewers.  I was like, Hell yeah you do!  But what they meant was . . . chick lit.)  Barf.  I was so glad to do it anonymously, though.  And I tried hard to only give what I thought of as descriptive reviews, since the merits of the book were the point, not the snobby particulars of my taste.  After all, there are all kinds of readers out there.  And I wish I wrote a book.  So props / cool / sounds interesting / nice job to those who have.

  21. KKB

      For sure if someone thinks everything they read is great, then they’re not reading very carefully (or at least not destined to be a very good reviewer) but the funny thing with books is that by the time I’ve got one in my hands it’s passed so many selectivity tests already.  I hear about it on a blog or from a friend, look it up, read an excerpt, and then I’m one of those who visits potential books a couple of times at the bookstore before I go ahead and buy.  And even then, the second it sucks I’m out.  So unless I were compelled to review something – – like out of a job obligation or for school or something – – mainly all the ones I know about are ones I like.

      But you’re saying something really true about treading carefully with a take down, especially someplace as visible & important as here.  Books get so little press, and it’s so easy to make something sound stupid.

      By the way, I heard that the best way to make something sound stupid is to offer it high praise.  And then immediately praise something bad.  

      Like: Nathan Huffstutter is absolutely fantastic!  Also Kenneth Branagh did a great job with Thor.

      This is a great method because it’s very sneaky.

  22. M. Kitchell

      hey gene, helvetica isn’t a default font on windows, without paying for it we don’t get that shit (impact looks fine on my windows system btw)

  23. MFBomb

      I think it would be cool if HTMLGiant also reviewed literary journals, esp. in the anonymous format, because–I’m sorry–the reviews on NewPages are pretty much worthless fluff. 

      Has anyone ever given a literary journal on that site less than the five-star treatment? 

      It’s interesting to me that literary journals are so visible in online lit blogging discussions–except when it comes to reviews.  No one is reviewing literary journals, and the 1-2 places that are reviewing literary journals are more or less working as pro bono publicists. 

      Everyone is apparently scared to death to piss of editors who might reject their work in the future (hence, the need for an anonymous format). 

  24. KKB

      Well there is that old axiom, anonymity plus audience equals asshole.  Doesn’t always have to, but sure does seem to often.

      And yeah, shouting “show your ID” in an online argument basically means you’ve already lost.  In an online argument what you’re supposed to do is prove that you’re smarter, funnier, and better looking though the content of your post.

      Though now that I think about it, a huge appeal of literature for me is the same promise made online: everyone who is pretty on the inside gets to be so.  And so many of us are!  

      I don’t want to know about the author.  I only want to know about the character.

  25. Roxane

      I don’t think it’s fear that keeps people from reviewing journals. Are editors that petty? Perhaps they are. We offered, here, a forum, for people to critique and discuss journals. Anonymity could have been arranged. Few participated. There seems to be very little interest in talking about journals critically or otherwise. It would be great to see journal reviews here more regularly but it’s something some contributors here do once in a while. There’s also a couple sites that only review journals. Are you scared to death? You should write one of these reviews you’d like to see.  

  26. MFBomb

      Aside from major journals, I would never write a negative or even remotely critical review of a literary journal unless I had my name removed from the review. 

      In addition to worrying about getting on the bad side of editors, there is the issue of literary journal sanctimony–this belief that because  “little journals” are barely scrapping by and need our support–they do–they are above thorough and honest critique–they’re not

      You would be the bad guy/gal picking on a literary journal, the grown dude who blocked the shot of a five-year old kid on a Fisher-Price goal.  

      But that’s just my personal opinion.  Perhaps I’m too paranoid and mistrustful at times. 

  27. Roxane

      Some of that sanctimony does exist and journals make missteps all the time but writers have to handle critique all the damn time. Editors of journals, great and small, should be able to withstand it too. They might not like it (criticism is hard, no matter what anyone says), but the good editors will take that criticism and do something with it.

  28. Mashmouth

      HTML Giant is just like a dirty, used-up asshole. So many blunt objects have been stuck up in there nothing comes out anymore but a sad wet farting noise…

  29. MFBomb

      I agree, but I think the writer would stand too much to lose.  I don’t mean to suggest that most editors are petty, either–but a few are, and that’s still enough to be wary. 

      My main point though was that this would be a unique situation wherein the anonymous format would be useful, because the degrees of separation between submitter and lit journal editor are extremely slight–more so than other dynamics. Case in point: you’re an editor, I’m a submitter.  I’m a reader and former managing editor, and you’re a submitter.  We’re both having this conversation. 

  30. Roxane

      We are and the relationships are entangled. I simply don’t think there’s that much at stake if we’re not talking about major journals. There are too many magazines for running into trouble at one or two magazines to matter.

  31. Gene Morgan

      That’s why I stacked a bitch with Arial. Is Arial not working?

  32. deadgod

      Do you think this site should publish reviews of books/etc. written by gutless writers who don’t have the guts to stick their names on their books, like xTx?

  33. deadgod

      I ‘have’ Windows.  The headlines were readable before.  They’re also readable now:  the same purple (I think) letters, but thinner.

      The new reviews thing will, I predict, work pretty well.  Responsibly edited inclusion ‘above the line’:  how not win/win/etc.?

  34. KKB

      Just like me!

  35. deadgod

      The blogicle refers to “a book”, but why not open your space to reviews of anything literary, or any . . . thing.  Regular contributors talk about music, movies/vids, and so on; why not a ~400-word review of, say, a cool skateboard trick?  If the writing were 16-penny-nail-in-two-strikes expert, I mean.  (Or would that openness to brilliant (review) writing mean that a submissions avalanche would become a burial?)

  36. Nathan Huffstutter

      Why, deargod, if I didn’t know any better I might think you were trying to bait me into a hornet’s nest.

  37. deadgod

      disclosure not guidance

  38. Mathew one t

      Mathew not Matthew – one ‘t’ – yeah…
      and the new review section is great!it’s the new review section!The scoop on the new review section.The new Review section is finally up! It is designed to be a state-of-the-art system that lets you know about each aspect of the product …How do you get to the new review section?  TUG.Strengths Weaknesses …This should be much easier to use than what we have currently. The new review section will allow for comments of other product users. … In the new review section …This article appeared on p35 of the The New Review section of the Observer on Sunday 15 May 2011 . It was published on the new review section here:

  39. HTMLGiant Reviews Section | HTMLGIANT » The Literary Underground

      […] HTMLGiant Reviews Section | HTMLGIANT. var addthis_config = {"data_track_clickback":true}; […]