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Their show isn't a conventional cooking show. It's a video podcast called Crash Test Kitchen, and it's their sheer fallibility, their humanity, that makes the thing work. Waz and Lenny don't have the wizardly air of a Mario Batali or a Martha Stewart. "We have always tried to steer clear of the temptation to make it a Web version of a TV cooking show, with the old here's-one-we-prepared-earlier fakery and everything always turning out right," Waz says. Lenny says, "We try to be honest in our portrayal of cooking, so ordinary people feel brave enough to have a go at it." The sponge-cake episode is "probably the unintentionally funniest episode we've ever done," Waz says. "The thing was like trying to eat a sofa cushion." The episode ends with Waz furtively eating the ruined cake out of the trash. Even culinary daredevil Anthony Bourdain might have been scared to try that.
They don't sugarcoat the stresses of the marital kitchen, either. "The bickering and disputes between Lenny and me seem to be part of the appeal," Waz says, "so we mostly leave that stuff in." The Web is a two-way medium, and their fans offer both culinary advice and unsolicited marriage counseling. One viewer called Lenny a "nagging housewife." ("I took it waaaay too seriously and was really cut up," she says.) Some viewers are even more assertive. "There have been some not-so-subtle come-ons towards Lenny," Waz says, "and we've been asked whether we will be filming future episodes in the nude."
The Constant Critic
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."
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."