With growing mainstream acceptance -- and, more important, better writing -- online literature has started to come into its own. Yet how does a curious reader make sense of it? Nathan Leslie had an idea. He's the series editor of "Best of the Web 2008" (Dzanc Books: 340 pp., $18 paper); Steve Almond is this year's guest editor.
Culled from online magazines published between January and October 2007, the selections here represent three distinct categories: fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction. This mingling and occasional blurring of genres distinguishes "Best of the Web" from any other print collections showcasing online literature.
The anthology offers a "collective" of voices rarely found together: international literary lights Juan José Millás and Okey Ndibe; cultural critic-poet Edward Hirsch and poet David Bottoms; netizens Seth Harwood and Garth Risk Hallberg; and a wide array of other writers, including Myfanwy Collins, Elizabeth Crane and Christina Kallery.
This multiplicity of perspectives -- in terms of race and gender, as well as location and experience -- may be organic to the Web. Let's not overlook the good work of the editors, though. The pieces were chosen by "decision of committee"; as a result, the book is largely free of "aesthetic fetishism." The one unifying thread has to do with format: The selections are generally on the short side, with longer texts divided into sections, for easier screen reading.
"Best of the Web" isn't perfect; the editors include several seemingly random author interviews that come across as awkward and self-congratulatory. For the most part, though, the book is heartily significant, featuring work that is sometimes surprising, sometimes frustrating and sometimes exhilarating -- not unlike the Web itself.