Not exactly a household name, she attracted fans and detractors.
Harriet Klausner is not exactly a household name. But in the weird subculture of Amazon reviewers, she was either a legend or a legendarily bad shill. Klausner amassed more than 31,000 reviews of books under one username, seeming to sell just as many on Half.com after she finished them. Now Klausner, a former librarian and self-proclaimed speedreader, is reportedly dead at age 63.Entire blogs were kept for her alleged reading, tabulating her “fake reviews.” Few, if any, of the reviews were negative. Her bio claimed she read two books a day, and said, “I was an acquisitions librarian in Pennsylvania and wrote a monthy (sic) review column of recommended reads. I found I liked reviewing went on to freelance after my son was born.”
The three paragraph reviews often introduced a plot summary (often inaccurately) for the first two paragraphs before a brief summary of praise, and a four or five star review. Many of the reviews were of mass market romance books and other pulp genres. Many reviews cropped up on the day the book was released, with many of the books showing up on her son’s Half.com account before the actual release date, according to a blog post of the cheekily named Harriet Klausner Appreciation Society (which was anything but.) This led to allegations that the reviews were planted and paid for.
A posting in Time magazine from 2006.
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 user—12,896, 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.” All TIME 100 Best Novels
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 books—50 a week—in 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 goals—as yet unfulfilled—is 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.