Without the web, Harriet Klausner would be just an ordinary human being with an extraordinary talent. Instead she is one of the world’s most prolific and influential book reviewers. At 54, Klausner, a former librarian from Georgia, has posted more book reviews on Amazon.com than any other user12,896, as of this writing, almost twice as many as her nearest competitor. That’s a book a day for 35 years.
Klausner isn’t paid to do this. She’s just, as she puts it, “a freaky kind of speed-reader.” In elementary school, her teacher was shocked when Klausner handed in a 31⁄2-hour reading-comprehension test in less than an hour. Now she goes through four to six books a day. “It’s incomprehensible to me that most people read only one book a week,” she says. “I don’t understand how anyone can read that slow.”
Klausner is part of a quiet revolution in the way American taste gets made. The influence of newspaper and magazine critics is on the wane. People don’t care to be lectured by professionals on what they should read or listen to or see. They’re increasingly likely to pay attention to amateur online reviewers, bloggers and Amazon critics like Klausner. Online critics have a kind of just-plain-folks authenticity that the professionals just can’t match. They’re not fancy. They don’t have an agenda. They just read for fun, the way you do. Publishers treat Klausner as a pro, sending her free books50 a weekin hopes of getting her attention. Like any other good critic, Klausner has her share of enemies. “Harriet, please get a life,” someone begged her on a message board, “and leave us poor Amazon customers alone.”
Klausner is a bookworm, but she’s no snob. She likes genre fiction: romance, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, horror. One of Klausner’s lifetime goalsas yet unfulfilledis to read every vampire book ever published. “I love vampires and werewolves and demons,” she says. “Maybe I like being spooked.” Maybe she’s a little bit superhuman herself.
Reported by Jeremy Caplan and Kathleen Kingsbury/New York, Susan Jakes/Beijing, Jeffrey Ressner/Los Angeles, Grant Rosenberg/Paris and Bryan Walsh/Seoul