This is a picture of Tao Lin:
This is his new book, his fifth, Shoplifting From American Apparel:
This is a picture of his new book, Shoplifting From American Apparel, which is a novella, being sold at an Urban Outfitters:
from here, here, and also here.
And this, that which you’re about to read, is my review of Shoplifting From American Apparel, a review I am calling: “Oscar Wilde said a genius is a spectator to their own life, to the point that the real genius is uninteresting.” Please enjoy.
Before I begin, you can click here is an excerpt from the novella.
Or, you can click here for another excerpt.
Or, you can click here for yet another excerpt.
And click here for an interesting interview with Tao Lin over at The Rumpus.
The plot of the largely autobiographical Shoplifting From American Apparel, which was originally a short story in Vice, is a simple one: Two years in the life of Sam, a New York writer with a cult-like following, as he moves through life, dealing with “two parts shoplifting arrests, five parts vague relationship issues,” hanging out with friends, talking on gmail chat (from here on referred to simply as “g-chat” or just “g chat”), “feeling” and discovering “things” all from a surface perspective. It is a story that is described by it’s author as “a shoplifting book about vague relationships,” or more accurately, “an ultimately life-affirming book about how the unidirectional nature of time renders everything beautiful and sad.”
One review has compared the author and his new novella to this piece of internet art…
…and it’s an interesting comparison, and a somewhat accurate one, for sure. That particular piece of art, like I said, is one that I’ve seen online many a place (especially in the world of tumblr) and likewise, Tao Lin is an author that I could only discover online. Tao Lin is a creature that could only be nurtured and pushed forward by the internet, whether it be his interesting “PR stunts,” constant self promotion, or his sponsorship team up with Hipster Runoff’s Carles (and I’m still not convinced that they’re not one and the same), and likewise, the main character of his novella, Sam, of whom the essential DNA is supplied by Tao Lin himself, is a character who is constantly talking to friends through via g-chat, hanging out with people he’s met through the internet, or living the life of a young man “caught in the soft blue light of Internet Explorer.”
Speaking of the internet and Tao Lin’s “PR stunts,” I should mention that in the spirit of full disclosure that a few weeks ago Tao Lin offered a free copy of his book to anyone who agreed to review it online. Now, I consider myself a “fan” of the author, but free? The price was certainly right. This is a recession after all. Review? Gladly. And a previous “PR stunt” by the author was to offer a free copy of his book to anyone who blogged 1500 words about him (or posted at least a 500 line g-chat about him online), something that Peanut St. Cosmo and myself were very seriously planning on doing (but were collectively too lazy to finish).
Speaking of which, here is a picture of the lovely and amazing Peanut St. Cosmo reading Tao Lin’s first novel, Eeeee Eee Eeee:
The simple gist of any review about Shoplifting From American Apparel from yours truly: I enjoyed it quite a bit, with some reservations. Then, as I pondered it over the course of an afternoon, then an evening, then a week that followed, I realized that I enjoyed it quite a bit. As a character within the novella would say, I liked how it made me feel. It’s not a book for everyone, nor is Tao Lin an author for everyone, but as I said, it all goes back to the internet. Those who would seek out such a book and author will be happily rewarded. Tao Lin, though a bit “twee” of course, is a brave step forward, both a lover of literature and someone who seems to want to live in literature, immersed in it’s warmth, and to help further fan it’s flames. If you have a problem with that, you should probably stick with your fucking James Patterson books.
Even more simply put, Tao Lin is not my favorite author. Not even close, I’m afraid. But he is the living author that I most want to succeed. The next time he goes to check his Amazon rankings, I hope he’ll find that they’ll have risen exponentially and that he will feel “happy.”
I mention the author quite a bit because it seems that you can’t talk about his books without doing so. Sure, his writing is minimalist, and yeah, it dabbles in “K-mart realism” at times, but it’s also aggressively one of a kind. It saddens me that 9 out of 10 articles/reviews/write ups about him just have to mention (including this write up to now, it would seem) that his blog, once upon a time, was called “READER OF DEPRESSING BOOKS.” Then, as a joke, he changed it’s title to “SERIOUS LITERATURE.”
And now, appropriately, it’s simply called “heheheheheheheeheheheehehe.”
An early review of Shoplifting From American Apparel compared it to a hipster version of My Dinner With André. I like that. I mean, I like Louis Malle’s My Dinner With André, quite a bit in fact, but maybe I don’t like hipsters so much. I consider myself quite the opposite of a hipster, though I do like a lot of the same things they do. So, at the point I read that review, I was all jazzed for a novel that was nothing but a transcript of a g-chat between two people. I can live with that, I figured, if I could enjoy two men talking about life and themselves and exploring the existential dread and ennui all around them in My Dinner With André, or if I could enjoy two people talking about sex in Nicholson Baker’s Vox. And I could.
“Ennui,” is another thing that people harp on about Tao Lin’s work and his persona. Not inaccurately, I don’t think, but just too much. Much like you could say that the works/persona of Tao Lin are about ennui and drenched in ennui and doing somersault-ish backflips for show into the great lakes of ennui, as much as you could say that, and be right, a reviewer will probably say it a hundred million more times.
But that’s not all there is to a Tao Lin book, especially not Shoplifting From American Apparel. There’s ennui, and there’s more. There’s the slow realization that the characters in the novella live in a world without any meaning, at least not a readily apparent one. Friends come and go, narratives change every twenty pages, and your ex-girlfriends end up in mental hospitals. You touch things and you don’t know what they are, but you touch them all the same. You give them new names. Everything around you is merely a surface detail, and it’s up to us to supply the meaning. Your generation may be “fucked.” Time passes. It always passes. One moment you’re having a stare off with Moby, the next you’re looking at youtube videos of child prodigies with a girl you’re in an uncertain and vague “relationship” with, and the next thing you know you’re going to a Ghost Mice show and sleeping in an empty bus, just like Christopher McCandless, only in Florida. And then you play some music on your macbook, you shoplift some headphones, and you lust after a Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich.
Oh, in a quick glance, I noticed I was wrong about that review calling Shoplifting From American Apparel a version of My Dinner With André for hipsters. Actually it is “like a version of Malle’s My Dinner with André written especially for glue-huffers and self-loathing masturbation addicts.” Eh, maybe. But that’s a far more noble goal than just being a thing for hipsters, right?
That said, in case, you were wondering, my favorite bit from the book was:
“Don’t steal shit for a while,” said Luis. “And try to make yourself happy in some way.”
“Okay,” said Sam. “I’ll buy a new emo CD.”
You have to feel bad for people/characters named Sam. It’s such an unfortunate name.
A possible sequel?
That same review I just mentioned also says “Tao Lin writes in impotent, staccato sentences, like Hemingway after a lobotomy and a sloppy castration.” Parts of that sentence are true and parts are unnecessarily cruel, I think. Also, Tao Lin clearly likes authors such as Lorrie Moore, Richard Yates, Raymond Carver, and Ann Beattie, but who knows how he feels about Ernest Hemingway.
You could just about the meanest, harshest criticism of Tao Lin and you know what’s most interesting about it? It’s probably true. It’s hard to argue with some of his flaws because he is an imperfect novelist. But he’s good at it. If you dislike his works or if you dislike his online persona, you can’t argue that he is a serious writer. Always pushing himself forward, working on something, constantly writing in an age where everyone else bitches about writer’s block. And regardless if you like or don’t like a writer’s style, I think an admiration for having a style has to be cultivated.
I think the brilliant and adorable Peanut St Cosmo agrees with me. I think.
Again, Tao Lin’s website can be found here.
His tumblr presence can be found here.
His art can be found here.
And the original short version of the story, from Vice, can be found here.
My second favorite line from the book is: “When I’m talking to someone I think ‘can I use this dialogue in a book,'” said Luis. “If the answer is no I try talking to someone else.”
According to two of Tao Lin’s former roommates, the events of the book are more or less true. But they do suggest that you don’t discount the mischievous trickster aspect of the real Tao Lin. Here are some examples.
And if you click here, you can read Tao Lin’s review of Thomas Bernhard’s Woodcutters, or Cutting Timber, depending on the translation. I read this review quite some time ago and the next day, I bought Bernhard’s novel on ebay for all the “shit talking.”
My third favorite line from Shoplifting From American Apparel is: A few minutes later Sam walked out of American Apparel holding an American Apparel shirt. Why? It’s the titular moment of the story and to me, there’s something genius in the fact that you don’t even realize that this is theft until a plain clothes security guard says something.
This is a video of Tao Lin reading his poem, “I went fishing with my family when I was five,” and at first you’ll think it’s brilliant, then it’ll annoy you, and then it’ll annoy the shit out of you. See here:
…but afterward, it may just brilliant the shit out of you.
Speaking of the “shit talking” up above, if you click here, you can read Tao Lin talking about “K-mart realism” at This Recording. It’s a good post, but I especially mention it because if you scroll down to the comments, you can find one commenter who does some “shit talking” and says that he doesn’t get the appeal of Tao Lin. So Tao Lin tells him to drop him an email and he’ll send him a copy of his book. I like that. I think that’s cool. It can only happen on the internet, of course. Then again…
I received this for for free, but you can buy it here.
This is artist Jeffrey Brown illustrating a line from the novella: