Sunday, August 4, 2013

Farewell

I started this blog in the last month of 2009. I was a junior in high school at the time. Nearly four years have passed since then. I am now a junior in college. Between 2009 and 2012, I read three hundred and eighty-one books. I reviewed one hundred and eighty. As the shortest reviews were around a thousand words and the longest several times that, it seems fair to say that I have written many hundreds of thousands of words on this blog, the contents of multiple novels.

The purpose for this spate of numbers is not to try and get in one last horn-tooting but rather to attempt to convey the sheer scale of the undertaking that running the Hat Rack has been for me. I don’t mean that in a negative way. This blog changed my life. 68,500 people have stooped by since 2009. That’s not a huge number of people by the scales of some of the blogosphere’s giants, but knowing that those eyes were on my work, and knowing that some of them found that work worthy enough to not only read but to come back, to comment, to engage with my words—that’s changed me.

I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that the Hat Rack changed my life. I found all sorts of other fantastic blogs and reviewers, listed to this page’s right. I read more books for this blog than I would have otherwise. I read different books. I got to interview one of my favorite authors, Thomas Ligotti. The act of reviewing changed the way that I interact with books. Because of those one hundred and eighty essays, I find myself engaging with what I read in a way incomparably deeper than I could ever have dreamed before. The effect goes beyond reading. The very way that I think has been changed.

But, no matter how much a part of me reviewing has come to feel, it is not something I can continue.

It’s tempting for me to cite practical reasons and leave it at that. I read one hundred and thirty-eight books in 2012, fifty-three of which were read during the summer. More than enough material to get a review a week out of. In the seven months of 2013 that have passed, I have read only fifty-three in total; the summer, which is nearing its close, has seen only fifteen. Many of those were histories or other books that cannot really be reviewed on a blog of this sort. Clearly, then, there are far fewer books that I can get reviews from, perhaps no longer enough to sustain weekly postings, and that’s not even taking into account my ever-decreasing well of free time.

But that would be an excuse, for the sharp drop in the number of books that I have read is really just a symptom of the real issue: my interests have shifted. History consumes more and more of my passion, and, perhaps more importantly, I have lost much of my faith in fiction. The idea of finding some sort of Truth between the pages of a fantasy has been receding farther and farther from my reach.

For months, perhaps even longer, I have been trying to ignore this, assuming that my old love would snap back into place if I just kept trudging on. Instead, the act of reviewing has grown to seem like a chore, and perpetually forcing myself to analyze what I read in the hope that profundity will be reborn has just strangled the enjoyment I used to get from stories. Some of my recent reviews felt entirely like form without substance, like I was distantly ascertaining how enjoyable a tale would or would not be without feeling a shred of that pleasure myself.

Obviously, this state of affairs can not continue. It’s not pleasurable for me, and it would soon turn into the reviewing equivalent of a television show meandering on for ever-declining season after season after their writers lose all inspiration. Accordingly, for the next few months at a bare minimum, I plan to try and read without the pressure, to rediscover what it means to read for the pure joy of the tale and the prose.

Writing fiction is another consideration. In the past two years, I have written a bare handful of stories. That's not because I have been blogging, and it's true that I used to review frequently during my most productive writing periods. Still, that was when I had far more free time. Nowadays, with the need to keep a steady stream of reviews, I wonder if I would have time to write a story or novel even if the idea did strike me. So while I am not ending the blog in favor of creative writing (the burnout has hit that at least as hard), I do wonder if this might eventually improve my productivity there.

This may not be a permanent departure. When my story in Space and Time Magazine surfaces in 2015, I will post about it here, and, should I get a new burst of creativity and publish more stories, I will keep the fiction bibliography up to date. If a book strikes me strongly enough, I may still do a review. Perhaps someday I will even return to reviewing as I once did. But I can’t promise any of that. For the moment, I think it’s best to say farewell, dear readers. Knowing that you were there meant a great deal to me. I hope that some of my work did live up to the silly tagline at the top of this page, that some of it was indeed in-depth and insightful, that it was worth your time.

If anyone would like to stay in touch with me, or to have me notify you in the event of a return to blogging someday in the future, feel free to send me an email at nskteh[at]gmail[dot]com.

22 comments:

  1. Take care. I enjoyed your reviews.

    Also, I wouldn't mind you switching to descriptions of the history books you've read. That's something that interests me as well.

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  2. Thank you, Megazer. I am glad that you enjoyed them. As to reviewing history, it's something that I have thought about. But I've been held back by the thought that there might be something absurd (and arrogant) in a history student critiquing the work of professional historians. The knowledge gulf there is just huge. Perhaps in a few years when my own historical knowledge has expanded sufficiently?

    Also, something that just occurred to me (and which I'll add to the original post), if you'd like me to let you know if I return to blogging someday, I would be glad to send you an email.

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  3. Farewell and thanks for the reviews, always interesting stuff. Look forward to hearing about your writing, and perhaps a history book review or two. What era of history is your area of expertise?

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  4. Primarily Roman and Medieval. In the next year or two, I will have to narrow it down to one of those, but, for now, I am enjoying exploring the pair of them.

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    1. My area of interest as well, though not expertise by a long shot. Would love to hear your opinion of Matt Dennison's 'The Twelve Caesars' sometime.

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    2. I haven't read it, actually. I just added it to my amazon list. I can't claim expertise yet either by a long shot, though I do aspire to it here (and in due time).

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  5. Sorry to hear you go. Even when I didn't comment, I was usually reading the reviews.

    my interests have shifted. History consumes more and more of my passion, and, perhaps more importantly, I have lost much of my faith in fiction. The idea of finding some sort of Truth between the pages of a fantasy has been receding farther and farther from my reach.

    I know you're worried about the presumption of a history student critiquing professional historians, but there's a real need out there for more history bloggers who can write about this stuff well - and it's always interesting to have discussions about this stuff as we learn it (many of the most fascinating discussion I've had on web forums and blogs were when we were discussing bits and pieces of history). But ultimately it's up to you, of course. I love that stuff, as someone with an interest in economy history.

    In any case, I understand the sentiment. There have been long stretches of time where I read little to no fiction in favor of tons of non-fiction books, although I usually consumed fiction in other formats during that period (like with television and film). It comes and goes as an interest.



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  6. The amount of interest in a more historically themed blog is a bit surprising. I may consider doing something like that. Perhaps a mixture of fiction and history would help prevent burnout in one of the areas. In any case, that would have to be a plan for another day.

    It coming and going makes sense, though this is the first time that my interest in fiction as a whole seemed to recede; previously, I had always just switched to a different genre. I have had some success in reading for pleasure in the last week or two—there is something delightfully decadent about identifying the thematic crux of the story and then just reading on without marking or analyzing it in any way—so I do think that the burnout won't be permanent.

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  7. Best of luck NK! Been a pleasure reading your highly insightful and entertaining reviews. I'm sure I'll run across you again in the future.

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  8. It's sad to see the Hat Rack shutter its windows. I always considered it my sister blog; The Weaving Knigt and The Hat Rack were founded close to one another with similar interests (at first). That said, and we've discussed this at length, I understand and whole-heatedly encourage you to dive into your studies. If reviewing has dried up your passion for reading fiction, find it elsewhere.

    That said, I'd be mighty curious to keep up with some of the other books you're reading for your program. Maybe you'll have the chance to do book "reflections," a technique I learned in one of my literacy textbooks. Especially about roman warfare... As another commenter said, there aren't enou GOOD historian bloggers with the knack for writing; that extends to all fields of academic inquiry!

    I will not choose to say "good bye" to The Hat Rack; instead, I say "Salve" to a new chapter of your professional development.

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  9. Anton Gully: I think we shall, and I look forward to it. Thank you for reading and your frequent commenting.

    Travis: I know what you mean with the idea of a sister blog. We managed to have quite a good run in parallel, I think, even if it's going to change course now. The idea of a "reflection" is an interesting one; I could see that being a way to talk about historical works without being quite presumptive enough to formally review them. Finally, gratias tibi ago.

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    1. I think a blog of reflections and snipets of what you're reading in history would be a wonderful idea, Nat, and a grand way of keeping tabs on your favorite bits of history. I know some of the best laughs we've had have been at the oddities of history, the king who died in an oven for instance.

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  10. Your blog was among the first ones I stumbled upon when I started reading Thomas Ligotti, Robert Aickman and others. I'm sorry I never thought of saying it before, but your reviews were super helpful. Thanks for all the great stuff you helped to discover!

    Mary from Donetsk

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  11. Thank you, Mary! It's great to hear that I helped you find some wonderful writers.

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  12. Nathaniel,

    I'm sad to hear you won't be reviewing anymore, but I understand your reasons. I've always enjoyed reading your blog, and you were very helpful to me when I started mine, and for that I am forever grateful. I look forward to reading your fiction, and I wish you the best of luck in that department.

    Best,
    Justin Steele

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