Normally I spend a little time in the first paragraph or two building up to the arguments I’m going to make in this pieces, but here the title’s already given away my core point so I’ll just get to the meat of things. It’s an announcement I have a hard time putting into words, but one that’s been coming for a while and I feel needs to get out there before I find an excuse not to make it.
As of today, The Lesser of Two Equals will be taking an indefinite hiatus. This does not mean that the blog will be shutting down operations – the archive remains completely intact to all visitors – but it does mean that for the foreseeable future I do not plan to write new content. This is also not meant to imply that there will never be any new content for the site, as my contributors do still have some things in the pipeline, but that I am no longer able to say when my next bit of content will show its face.
Some (or hopefully most of you) are asking why I’d take such a drastic step after over two years of operation and 165 posts, especially when there are so many varied topics to cover in the realm of literature and its varied adaptations. Well, this isn’t a decision I’ve made lightly – I’ve been considering this for a few weeks now, and while I don’t know how many of you are out there who have this blog in your regular or semi-regular rotation, I felt I owed it to you to take a few paragraphs and explain why I’m shelving TLOTE operations for the time being.
The first, and most obvious one to me, is simple burnout. Since it’s a book review blog run without ads and on a standard WordPress design, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone that I don’t make my living off this site. I have a rather engaging day job to pay my bills in addition to writing this, and as a consequence the majority of my writing time tends to be on nights and weekends. And as much as I enjoy what I do here, sometimes after a particularly long day one would rather slump down in front of last night’s “Boardwalk Empire” rather than dissect the latest memoir. With responsibilities piling up at work, paired with a recent move to a larger apartment and an inexplicably full social life, those nights are becoming more and more frequent and it’s been harder and harder to make writing a review feel like something that isn’t invasive surgery.
I’m hoping that a little time away from the writing desk, rather than hitting my keyboard until the fingers start to bleed a bit one or two nights a week, will help me recapture a bit of the zest I feel for writing about writing. If I ever want to get this site up to my original ambitions of at least one review a week with regular columns, Text-to-Screen analyses and a thriving contributor base, I need to be in a mindset where I’m not simply content to average a month between reviews with other coverage that gets done when it’s done. Originally I thought I could just push myself to complete them on time, but I’ve got to be realistic: there’s only so much processing power inside my head, and it’s outside my abilities right now to get the site moving at the pace I seek.
In doing so, I’m also hopeful that I’ll be able to take what writing energies I can muster and spend a little more time using that ability to write outside literary criticism, applying myself to some of the journals and other projects friends of mine are getting together. This might not seem as much of a gripe to people who have championed my efforts on this blog since its inception, but other than this blog I haven’t written anything for publication in over a year, and to someone with eventual aspirations of making a living at this such a statistic is completely unacceptable. As Hemingway put it, I hate the feeling that the instrument I write with is “bright and shining with nothing to say, or smooth and well-oiled in the closet, but unused.”
The second major reason for hiatus is a little more complicated, and it’s a little harder to state without sounding like a massive egotist, but it has to do with the site’s readership. I certainly don’t expect my site to command the readership of sites such as The NYT Book Review or The A.V. Club, but other than a few pieces that keep my stats in at least tolerable range there’s a lot I’ve written that I don’t think gets the attention it deserves. Many pieces, such as my centennial review of “The Abyss of Human Illusion,” apparently go unread if the stats are to be believed, and it’s a bit of a shiv in the side when those are the pieces I’ve lavished the most attention on. I know there’s at least a small audience for the content I write – an audience for which I’m profoundly grateful – but the increased effort I’ve had to put forth to get articles written recently hasn’t felt like it’s worth the effort.
But don’t think this means that I want to stop taking the effort – rather, for the time being I think it would be better for those efforts to go towards a little more networking. There is a vast community of book reviewers who work specifically online – unsurprising given the fact that most print publications would rather add an extra sudoku puzzle than a dedicated critic – and it’s a community that TLOTE has only put minimal effort into engaging. I’m going to be doing a lot of gliding through that community over the next few weeks, seeing just what everyone else is doing and getting into those blog’s discussions to a depth that I hope will expand both my readership and horizons, and that’s a project I’d rather undertake without trying to generate new content at the same time. (Though this could itself lead to future posts for the blog as I share my favorites with you, so there’s some hope for you.)
And in doing this, I’m likely to get some of my passion back for reading – which really gets to the main reason why I’m taking this time off. Over the last few months, I’ve been reading far less than I have in the past, spending more time with television shows and video games – both mediums that are growing as storytelling mediums by leaps and bounds, so I can defend my interest in both easily. However, this means that my bookshelves are starting to gather dust, currently stacked high with titles I haven’t had a chance to read yet, reminding me more of a collection of mint action figures than a toy box full of beloved and slightly battered favorites. I can’t be the critic I want to be when all the books I have are being back-burnered, considered for articles rather than actually digested.
So a large part of this sabbatical will be devoted to clearing off the majority of the shelf. To name only what I see when I turn my head to the left, two Neal Stephenson books haven’t even been opened, I’m only halfway through “Blood Meridian,” one book of five through “2666” and classics like “One Hundred Years of Solitude” are gathering dust on my end table. I think that if I take a bit of time to read for reading’s sake, it’s going to remind me why I started doing this so many years ago and why for all the marginalization of the medium I still think that what I do is worth doing.
I know there are some of you who want me to keep doing this regularly, and of course I welcome all your comments and feedback below or through my other means of contact. Just know this is something I think I have to do, if I ever want the site and my skills to move past where they are now.
However, maintain some hope: the amount of reading I plan to do in the near future, paired with my often mercurial temperament, may well mean that I’ll be struck by inspiration in the next few weeks and some new content will spill out of me, rendering the above paragraphs moot. As the site’s founder and editor, I reserve the right to be inconsistent in everything but my quality.
Thanks so much for reading. I’ll see you when I see you.
Les “Is More” Chappell