Top Ten Literary Websites of 2006

(and before, to be quite honest)

BEST TEASE: Eyeshot

Love it or hate him, the erratically produced brainchild of writer Lee Klein features fiction and experiments that are brave, electrifying, funny, feral, mischievous, transcendent, and sometimes just plain dirty. His series of “Rejection Letters from the Eyeshot Outbox” have described, in the brackets of implication, his editorial stance as an unabashed sneer. But no expression is static, and what is every bit as important as the way he rejects is the work he affirms. Eyeshot is not just an aesthetic manifesto; it's a great read. Klein built the site by frequently publishing his own work pseudonymically, which, since it’ 's fantastic, succeeded in attracting new talents. The writers most offended by his antics were probably the ones who most needed to question their assumptions: what does an editor owe you as a writer, versus what he owes you as a reader? Don’t you want to know why you missed the mark? No? You don’t think his opinion is very valuable? Then why are you submitting work for his consideration? What does that say?

Eyeshot has gone through long periods of dormancy in accord with the availability of the one-man editorial staff, and appears to be resurging with new work. Keep your fingers crossed that it keeps coming.

BEST LITERARY SITE FEATURING THE NAME OF ITS GEOGRAPHIC LOCATION IN THE TITLE: Mississippi Review

A quick browse through the archives of this quarterly online magazine is staggering: Ben Marcus, Stacey Richter, Rick Bass, Robert Olen Butler, and many more. Published for 12 years out of the graduate Center for Writers in Hattiesburg, MR has maintained the prestige of its printed counterpart while embracing the vivacity and egalitarianism of online writing. Editors rotate from issue to issue — guests of varying profiles and pedigrees seem to switch off with the regular staff — and the result is a sustenance of energy and quality unparalleled in the online literary world.

BEST NEW DISCOVERY OF SOMETHING THAT’S BEEN THERE ALL ALONG: Juked

With a couple of notable exceptions, I’ve always liked my online fiction short. A lot of people say that online publishing should be just like print publishing, because the reader can simply print out what she or he wants to read, and it doesn’t matter that it would take a few hours in front of a squint-inducing computer monitor to read anything longer than 1,000 words. Those people and me usually have polite little arguments about the subject and then drink a beer, because we know we both like to read and there’s something to be said for that. So it warmed my heart to come upon Juked this year, and read wonderful narratives by writers known and unknown to me, and in my warming heart I rejoiced that a whole new wave of youngsters were discovering this amazing, practically free means of artistic dissemination and propagating their efforts thusforth. And then I saw in the archives the note about work dating back to 1999, and I realized I do not know everything after all.

All that is to say: read Juked. It deserves you and you will not be sorry.

BEST SITE EDITED BY A GIANT SQUID: Poor Mojo ’s Almanac(k)

He’s a rather imperious cephalopod, but there’s no disputing his eye and tentacular imagination. And there is much else to recommend Poor Mojo — regular updates of off-track fiction, rants and poetry — any gimmickry or hijinx are incidental to the process of unleashing quality literature upon the world. David Erik Nelson’s document on demand (“DOD”) text-to-Palm converter bespeaks an attention to innovation that is the very best essence of the Internet. As a credit to the giant squid’s leadership, the staff of Poor Mojo continues to amuse and inspire.

BEST ANNUAL BASEBALL ISSUE: Hobart

Hobart will tell you with every issue what it likes and doesn’t like, found on the “ (dis)likes” page of the website. Fair enough, all ye readers and prospective contributors; enjoy and take heed! There is one “like” that does not waver, though it may not be explicitly stated. Hobart likes baseball.

Each April, Hobart publishes a baseball issue, featuring work by regular and new contributors, baseball lovers all. There’s nothing new about literary paeans to the great American pastime (in fact, as it gets cropped a little closer each year by the NFL and its pornographically decadent Superbowl, the quiet American intelligentsia seems to be sounding an alarum for the sport as best as it can muster), but in the context of an online journal that generally favors diffuseness and humility over self-consciousness, it’s refreshing. Batter up!

BEST SITE REQUIRING EXPLANATIONS TO PROSPECTIVE EMPLOYERS WHEN IT SHOWS UP IN YOUR GOOGLE: Opium

Still bearing the header “Literary Humor for the Deliriously Captivated, ” Opium magazine continues to be about what it wants to be, while doffing its cap to what was. About a year ago Opium added long-dormant peer Sweet Fancy Moses to its increasing portfolio of brands (as it were), and while it remains unclear how that relationship is going to play out, it was an elegant gesture to all the writers who first learned through SFM what it was like to make other people laugh. (Strangers, even!) Founding editor Todd Zuniga is ambitious in the very best way — Opium wants fame, yep, sure. Opium wants recognition, which it well deserves for continuing to attract talented writers as they emerge. But at the heart of it, Opium wants to have a giant party for everyone who loves fiction, breathes fiction, can’t be without it, and the invitations come pre-printed with a fill-in-your-own-blank name.

BEST SITE I’M PROBABLY NOT SUPPOSED TO MENTION: Pindeldyboz

Dear My High Hat Editors: I don’t mean to be unappreciative for the tube socks you’ll be sending me as payment for this piece (last issue’s cardboard box looks great in my dining room corner, thanks!) but I’m going to insist on including Pindeldyboz, even if you think that might “compromise” “me” as a “critic.” It has been a stalwart publisher of an almost impossible volume of fiction over the years, and its dependability has earned it some spectacular contributions.

I edited the site for a little over a year. Executive editor Whitney Pastorek’s one instruction to me was thus: when rejecting a story, say something about what you liked, and something about why you’re saying no. It’s deceptive in its simplicity. There are no shortcuts as an editor when you’ve got to account to every writer, respectfully, why you’re declining. It forces careful consideration, reflection on your own preferences, and often reconsideration of work that’s rough, but somehow worthwhile. At Whitney’s insistence, every editor cares to the point of exhaustion, bless her heart.

BEST PUNKET ROCKET: The 2nd Hand

Oi! Oi! Oi! It didn’t take long for people to realize that not only is it impossible to avoid the DIY ethos online, it’s a core competency. A few years ago, writers I knew started saying that online journals were passé, and that the real action was in blogging. They were right. Sort of. Blogging is its own thing, and as a form of expression and journalism, so specific and natural to the online medium that it easily surpasses more static publications in terms of comparative sizes of audience. But who said the only goal of publishing is to get a giant audience? Who said it has to be a goal at all?

Segments of the literary world tend to themselves by what they are not — not poetry magazines. Not academic. Not amateurish. And so on and so forth. The 2nd Hand, instead, suggests what literature can be, and joins the ever-unquantifiable world of punk rock 'zine publishing to the more measured and supervised field of literary journalism. Close collaborators include literary punk rock entities like Gorsky Press and author Joe Meno, and the enthusiasm of that world reverbs in the content of the site.

BEST SITE HIDING IN THE CORNER: Elimae

Don’t call it a comeback! Well, I suppose it is. Elimae was at the forefront of avant-garde online publishing in the ’90’s and early aughts, publishing work by well-regarded contemporary fiction writers like Norman Lock, Brian Evenson, and Terese Svoboda, and then, for a while, it was gone. A couple of years ago, Elimae returned, and today publishes on a regular monthly cycle searingly good short fiction alongside poetry and the occasional interview. The website continues to be spare, with only brief notes about the history of the site and submissions tucked away on a page titled “information. ” The tenacious digger will find a recommendations page in the archive and compendium of “the elimae question” that plumb the erudition and intellectual integrity of the regular contributors. It’s anything but stuffy, though, so put back those mothballs and take a gander.

BEST SITE THAT SOUNDS LIKE A MEMO FROM THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Unpleasant Event Schedule

Also known for the Karaoke + Poetry = Fun! event series, UES updates weekly with a pairing of one vignette or poem plus one original photograph or illustration. Contributions tend to the self-explanatory in their titles: “Fifteen Poems That End With ’Good Luck’” by Aaron Belz; “Dear, Like, Van Halen” by Stephanie Gray; and any number of “Two Poems, ” “Three Poems, ” or, you guessed it, “Four Poems” entries. But they’re great. They’re poems about what you might be doing today, with an odd, quiet little twist to bring that image into the realm of the hyperreal, as George Saunders calls the skirmish between the sacred and profane. The prose is only prose in that it goes all the way to the end of the line; UES doesn’t let any language off the philosophical hook just because there might be a “once upon a time” implied or embedded within. All of it comes to you brief and easy enough to provide a quick dip in and out of whatever is shivering around you as sit at your computer. Divert your mind for one moment, one five-minute period during which all is held harmless. Return and be new.