book tour
June 5, 2013 6:33 AM   Subscribe

"I wondered why someone who hates words would take the trouble to arrange so many of them in a row." The Millions reviews Tao Lin's new novelty.
posted by four panels (106 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sounds pretty good.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:51 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


You have no idea how good those excerpts make me feel about my own writing. A thousand times thank you. I mean, if *that* guy can get published...
posted by Mooseli at 6:55 AM on June 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


The excerpts were delightful; if I ever need to immediately generate a soul-deep sense of revulsion, I now know where to turn.
posted by elizardbits at 6:56 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


tl;dr: Lydia Kiesling really doesn't like this book, and by extension, Tao Lin.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 6:56 AM on June 5, 2013


I wondered why someone who hates a book so much would take the trouble to finish reading it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:57 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Beat Happening sold a lot of records too. Not every successful artistic endeavor is about showcasing skill.
posted by idiopath at 6:57 AM on June 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


I mean:
Speaking of inane remarks, reading Taipei came as close as anything can come to putting me on mute. I suddenly began hearing my own voice when I spoke within earshot of others, particularly people older than I. On the BART platform, I heard myself say “It was, like, not what I was planning to have happen,” and my voice trailed off as I became conscious of the poverty of my spoken expression, how much I must sometimes sound like the people in Taipei (“‘I feel like I’m unsarcastically viewing this as a major ordeal,’ said Calvin.”) I was born the year after Tao Lin; hearing our shared idiom come out of my own mouth, I realized that some of my loathing for this book is very personal. There is a fearful recognition of those things I want most to cleanse from my self-presentation, and self.
Sounds to me like the novel is pretty affecting. It may not be your thing, but that doesn't make it 'bad.'
posted by shakespeherian at 6:58 AM on June 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


"I wondered why someone who hates a book so much would take the trouble to finish reading it."

It's his job, isn't it?
posted by oddman at 6:59 AM on June 5, 2013 [13 favorites]


This is an interesting review, though I think the reviewer misses repeatedly what Tao Lin's approach to writing nets him. I also think he comes dangerously close to revealing, multiple times, the truth that writing which is disturbing and frustrating and makes you want to hate the author is often the most fascinating kind of writing, but the reviewer keeps shying away from that because he wants to end on a "we're so fucked omg" note rather than a "huh there's something fascinating coming out of a part of American youth culture that is probably not meant for me but which is certainly doing its own thing."

I liked that he mentioned the deadly class of books that make you not want to write anything ever again, because his description reminded me of Samuel Beckett's Three Novels: Molloy, Mallone Dies, and The Unnameable. Three novels in which Beckett attempted to systematically rid himself of any plot, character, or even setting, going to more extreme examples each time, searching for the rhythms of life and the inescapableness of the human condition by attempting to escape it as thoroughly as possible.

Tao Lin seems to be going in the same direction, from what I've read of him (though I don't read much of him): trying to capture the rhythms of flows of "monotonous", self-conscious, computer-driven lives, not in order to make some driving point like the reviewer insipidly desired (drugs as pathology! so fucking insightful!), but to get that blend of humor and sadness that comes out of people living this way, and then nothing changes, they don't hate themselves, simply this is their life, with all the meager joys and petty sadnesses masking deeper humors and more profound sorrows. Again, I don't need a whole lot of that, just as I never need a whole novel of Beckett's, but I've found that when I stop hating Tao for not being the many authors he's not and start going along with his being the one kind of author that he is, his writing tends to be witty, silly, whimsical, and moving in just the right way—he catches me by surprise with it, one sentence sharply cutting away a lot of humor to reveal something aching and beating beneath.

Clearly Tao's still got it because all the passages the reviewer quoted as proof of how bad this book was were instead proof of how good it is. I probably won't read it, but if anybody would like to quote their favorite excerpts from it at me I would much welcome that experience.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:02 AM on June 5, 2013 [10 favorites]


For those not in the know:
"Do not fucking spam our site, Tao Lin."
Did cortex just ban Tao Lin?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:03 AM on June 5, 2013 [15 favorites]


(the reviewer is a woman, presumably, bearing the given name Lydia)
posted by shakespeherian at 7:03 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


It depresses me that the internet's only actual engagement with avant garde lit is when it wants to get its hate on. I haven't really read much of Lin's work, but all of the hate for the guy seems to me to be a form of reactionary conservatism, not really healthy for our culture.
posted by Think_Long at 7:05 AM on June 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oh! I had no idea he had a new book out! I found his last one, Richard Yates, to be tremendously impressive. I'd gone into that book hating Tao Lin based on his non-writing activity on the internet and such, and gone out of it hating him even more.

BUT: he is a really really good writer, deft as hell at capturing himself in prose, which seems worth separating from the process of writing itself.

As a metaphor: picture an amazingly talented portraitist who's also ugly as heck. His drawing ability comes out most amazingly in his self-portraits. The subject is unappealing, but the drawing is phenomenal. That's pretty much how I feel about Tao Lin.
posted by Greg Nog at 7:05 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've read (and own) all of Tao Lin's fiction published to-date with the exception of this new one, so far. Eeeee Eee Eeee is still my favorite, and weirdly I thought his collection of short stories Bed was far harder to get through than any of the novels. I don't want every writer to be Tao Lin but I'm glad we have the one.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:07 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tao Lin is the Kim Kardashian of something.
posted by thinkpiece at 7:11 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Incidentally, the review is almost embarassingly bad:

When the drugs began to flow (MDMA, LSD, mushrooms, heroin, Xanax, Klonopin, cocaine, Oxycodone, Methadone), I thought the novel began to excuse itself for its awfulness, namely because it now had a Problem I could recognize.
...
Throughout this sojourn they display the kind of drug- and pretension-heightened honesty that is not exactly honesty, and that is the very opposite of the generosity and warmth I believe are necessary to sustain human relationships.


I kind of want to tell the reviewer the book isn't about her. How does she approach Crime and Punishment? "Wow, I would NEVER kill a old lady! Who would kill an old lady? Not me, that's for sure. Killing an old lady is pretty fucked up imo"
posted by Greg Nog at 7:13 AM on June 5, 2013 [11 favorites]


(oops)

Okay some things of Tao Lin's that I like:

a poem written by a bear is my "go-to" Tao Lin work and I feel crudely captures the thing that he does in a very short form.

i went fishing with my family when i was five is hilarious and deadpan and silly, the sort of poem that only works because it exists on a computer screen.

The Levels of Greatness a Fiction Writer Can Achieve in America is a brilliant [indictment? parody? satire?] of literary writing and prestige, and his classification of writers like Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace as "USED HONDA CIVIC IN "GREAT" CONDITION" cracks me up.

But my favorite Tao Lin thing to actually read, and it's very self-critical in a way, is his parody of Time Magazine's cover story on Jonathan Franzen. You have to read the original article first, because Tao's response is a parody in which Tao writes his own cover story by parroting the first story line by line. Completely takes the wind out of the sails of the first (ridiculously overblown) story, while simultaneously self-aggrandizing and poking fun at himself. It's great.

I wanted to link to his short story about a family that gets kidnapped but he seems to have taken it offline and I forget its name. I found his fiction really enjoyable in short bursts though.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:14 AM on June 5, 2013 [9 favorites]


I don't get it. It doesn't seem like a thing I might actually enjoy reading, but those excerpts are really excellent examples of a certain, completely valid, kind of novel. Maybe it's Bret Easton Ellis distilled, without so much purple.

This review is sort of "lousy."
posted by uncleozzy at 7:15 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like the review in the same way I like the excerpts, but more specifically because it's so reflective of the strong emotions generated by the book itself.
posted by elizardbits at 7:16 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wondered why someone who hates a book so much would take the trouble to finish reading it.

Reading terrible shit (or stuff that you perceive as terrible) in its entirety in order to more fully immerse yourself in its terribility and share that terribility with others is a wonderful thing.
posted by elizardbits at 7:18 AM on June 5, 2013


I like takedowns, but this takedown just seems kinda off. It's like a brutal diss of Girls that includes lots of excoriations of the character's morals by a Victorian moralist.

"The chubby one shows her privates to a near STRANGER this show is garbage that must needs be thrown in the GUTTER!"
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:21 AM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


also also also: the review does the thing I hate the most about many reviews of Tao Lin:

Only a real codger would say this, but if this is the output we can expect from one of our bright young things, we’re fucked.

Lin is frequently feted and derided in the exact same way: as a Powerful Voice That Lets The Establishment Know What's Happening. This is a big dumb misreading of Lin, I think; I do not think he's emblematic of my whole generation, or the best of us, or the worst of us. He's one idiosyncratic guy doing his best to get his consciousness down on paper. I don't why national magazines are so obsessive when it comes to creating caricatures of age-ranges, but heavens, I wish they'd stop.

(see also Lena Dunham, who actively lampshades this with her obviously-hollow proclamation: "I THINK I'M THE VOICE OF MY GENERATION" only to quickly stutter that okay, maybe just A voice of A generation)
posted by Greg Nog at 7:21 AM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


jinx Potomac Avenue we both brought up the inevitable Lena Dunham comparison at the exact same time, you owe me a coke
posted by Greg Nog at 7:22 AM on June 5, 2013


HAHAHA I SAID GIRLS FIRST I WIN
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:22 AM on June 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


If anybody is looking for a young writer to fill them with hope for this generation, my old high school friend Lily Yu's short story The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula last year, and her style is pretty much as anti-Tao Lin as you can possibly get. And she's even younger than Tao! Hope abides!
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:24 AM on June 5, 2013 [8 favorites]


Well Tao Lin is in my Gchat box right now because I gchat interviewed him once, and his status is always AFK. So there slightly but not at all.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:31 AM on June 5, 2013


Read this review and tell me you don't want to read that book.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:35 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah I totally forgot that me and Tao are Facebook friends, what now.

Gchat Is a Noble Pursuit: Tao Lin’s Modernist Masterpiece (which Tao linked to on Facebook) suggests that Tao's writing style has evolved considerably, and cites passages that are entirely the opposite of the ones Lydia cherrypicked above:
About those long sentences. I cheerfully wrote “Proust” in the margin early on—because the hero, a young writer named Paul, takes such a meta attitude toward his own memories. He can step back and watch thoughts blossom. At the beginning of Chapter 2 he wakes up and—because of “something staticky and paranormally ventilated about the air”—decides he is still a young child, waking up to winter break in Florida. Then he remembers he left Florida and went to school at NYU. And then:
After a deadpan pause, during which the new information was accepted by default as recent, he casually believed it was autumn and he was in college, and as he felt that period’s particular gloominess he sensed a concurrent assembling, at a specific distance inside himself, of dozens of once-intimate images, people, places, situations. With a sensation of easily and entirely abandoning a prior context, of having no memory, he focused, as an intrigued observer, on this assembling and was surprised by an urge, which he immediately knew he hadn’t felt in months, or maybe years—to physically involve himself—by going outside and living each day patiently—in the ongoing, concrete occurrence of what he was passively, slowly remembering. [. . . until] he realized, with some confusion and an oddly instinctual reluctance, blinking and discerning his new room, which after two months could still seem unfamiliar, that he was somewhere else, as a different person, in a much later year.
These sentences are not euphonious. They have a staccato honesty, an almost ironic slavishness to spontaneous thought. They don’t do the syntactic flexion of a David Foster Wallace sentence, but they charm on a similar basis, disarming us in their helpless verbose breach of style as they race after articulations. Mr. Lin avoids Wallace’s frequent demonstrations of good faith. He’s more self-centered. He gropes—that “staticky” and “ventilated” air—after the right word, often an adverb, and the more awkward the better. Having steeled himself in flip minimalism, Mr. Lin becomes the most unapologetic maximalist.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:37 AM on June 5, 2013


Frankly I really like Tao's writing. He's definitely sort of Trolling with his constant references and his affected style, but so was Ezra Pound, and both use that self-consciousness to reflect a fucked-up inner life. A lot of his imitators (I count much of the Illhuemenati twitter poets and many Alt.lit folks as his imitators) are not good writers at all, but that of course isn't his fault. He is a thoughtful experimental author. In person, he's a total nervous oddball, which actually makes me like him even more obviously. If you don't like him, that's fine, but make sure you are not just knee-jerking at something different than you're used to, like this review seems to be. You can't say that you'd rather read another MFA thesis rip-off of Araby or some Tuscany bullshit, right?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:42 AM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


I worked for 5 years in a used bookshop in a very hipster part of town. We couldn't keep Lin's books on the shelves.

I am so annoyed his name is all over the place right now. Especially since I no longer work at the bookshop.
posted by bibliogrrl at 7:46 AM on June 5, 2013


I worked for 5 years in a used bookshop in a very hipster part of town.

But you showed me the Codex Seraphinianus so everything worked out in the end.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:49 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Potomac Avenue: "Frankly I really like Tao's writing. He's definitely sort of Trolling with his constant references and his affected style..."

Funny. That's precisely why his writing bores me to tears. I always come away with the feeling he's trying way too hard and is too impressed with himself. It feels immature.
posted by zarq at 7:51 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Shakespherian - Pretty much the one thing I really miss is that giant case of rare and weird books. That was awesome.

We at one point had a bunch of 'signed' Tao Lin. I say 'signed' because he drew little pictures insteald of his name and we had no way to know it was his signature. We sold all of em for $25 or so. We were glad to be rid of them.
posted by bibliogrrl at 7:52 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


"When I began to read Taipei on my morning commute, I wondered if I had been lobotomized in the night."

Y'know, I had to quit being a media critic for a lot of reasons, chief among them the fact that I can't really write for shit, but something I will forever mourn is that I could never nail the opening line of a review about something I loathed so effectively. Lobotomized in the night! YES.

Read this review and tell me you don't want to read that book.

OK, well. I have no idea what this sentence could possibly mean, except that I am not educated enough to understand it: "You never feel abandoned by Tao's fiction-logic. You feel perhaps like you're watching a Luis Buñuel film with someone you like sitting beside you holding your hand with candy in their pocket." Also: "Sometimes the novel is like a Woody Allen movie, if Woody Allen had watched more cartoons and stayed in his early 20s longer and been from Florida." What?

I read the book and found it wrenchingly insipid -- not that I think all great books need to be Very Serious And Exciting, but I thought it was just straight-up boring. Wow, the narrator is an anthropomorphic bear. Wow, there's some anthropomorphic dolphins, too. Here are some interminably banal descriptions of precisely how unhappy and lonely everyone is, man. Some characters are celebrities or at least named after celebrities. More anthropomorphic animals, eternal ennui, New York. Am I missing something? (Cue Dude, you're missing EVERYTHING.)

I'm all for florid language and the overuse of adverbs and languidly narrating not-particularly-veiled versions of your boring life in a painstakingly affected way because you think it's really important and you're certain that you must seem very self-aware and clever, but I always come away from Tao Lin's writing feeling sure that it is something a person needs to have gone to college and/or lived in Manhattan in order to even tangentially "get." Good on him for taking it all the way to the bank, I guess.
posted by divined by radio at 7:57 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I believe it was in the New Yorker that I read a piece saying that contemporary American fiction wasn't getting much respect worldwide because it was far too full of hyper-local navel-gazing, devoid of larger issues, and choking on ineffectual wankery (I paraphrase).

If Tao Lin is what's selling, I see that article was correct, and my head poke outside the genre & non-fiction stacks is done.

Beyond the edge of that map, there be dragons hipsters.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:59 AM on June 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


The New York Times was generally really positive:

Mr. Lin’s new novel, “Taipei,” has his plainest title but is his strongest book. At its best, it has distant echoes of early Hemingway, as filtered through Twitter and Klonopin: it’s terse, neutral, composed of small and often intricate gestures. At its lesser moments, it’s hapless, like a poorly lighted mumblecore movie.
posted by blahblahblah at 8:01 AM on June 5, 2013


This review made me more open to Lin, not less.

Huh.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 8:07 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have a book that collects the major contemporary reviews of Walt Whitman's various editions of Leaves of Grass. It is very fun to read the various ways that these condescending, forgotten reviewers express that they can scarcely believe they have sullied themselves by reading this awful book.

I'm not comparing Tao Lin to Whitman, really, but this review of Tao Lin is exactly the kind of review (reactionary I guess?) that was typical of the contemporary response to Leaves of Grass.

And I think Tao Lin is consistently and aggressively new and fresh in the way rare, vital writing is. I'm not a huge fan of his work but I can see him assuming, in the near future, a similar importance that David Foster Wallace has. Lin feels fresh and interesting in the same way Wallace did when he first appeared.

Johnson said something to the effect that "the worst sin a writer can commit is to be boring." Even if writers like Lin are not your cup of tea, it may be that the degree to which they are different and fresh makes us slow to enjoy them, but we know they are worthy of close attention because they are never boring. It's almost as if a talent for not being boring is an early sign of potential greatness that the prevailing taste has not caught up with yet.

We can forgive Whitman's (and Lin's) contemporaries for thinking his work is strange and not enjoying it, but their unwillingness to admit that his work is interesting in a potentially important way is harder to excuse.
posted by Unified Theory at 8:15 AM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have a book that collects the major contemporary reviews of Walt Whitman's various editions of Leaves of Grass.

I'd fucking love to read these, are they anywhere online? I'd also like to see the TimeCube-esque teasing of Blake's weirdo picture poems if possible. TIA
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:17 AM on June 5, 2013


I'm not comparing Tao Lin to Whitman, really, but this review of Tao Lin is exactly the kind of review (reactionary I guess?) that was typical of the contemporary response to Leaves of Grass.

Right, but most of Whitman's bad reviews were spurred by homophobia and a generalized disgust of open and frank sexuality/sensuality. I don't think the negative reviews of Tao Lin are coming from such a hateful perspective.
posted by elizardbits at 8:24 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Found some [PDF]

10
Like as Mr. Webster said to the dandy who asked him if he never danced, “I never had intellect enough to learn,” so I say—and I say it with grateful humility—“I haven’t poetry enough to understand Walt’s Yawp.” More than that, I don’t want to.

My private opinion expressed to you confidentially is, that Whitman found a lot of dictionary-pi going off at auction, bought it for a song, employed a Chinese type-setter from the Bible House to set it up in lines of unequal length, and then sold it to you as an original Poem.

posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:25 AM on June 5, 2013


I'd fucking love to read these, are they anywhere online?

You're in luck ... Looks like all the reviews are online.
posted by Unified Theory at 8:27 AM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


most of Whitman's bad reviews were spurred by homophobia and a generalized disgust of open and frank sexuality/sensuality

Some of them were, but more of them were because of his lack of verse. Every single review I've read so far mentions that (or smirks about it). None of them mention his gayness, which I presume a lot of folks couldn't even imagine he was saying even though he was saying it.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:31 AM on June 5, 2013


Right, but most of Whitman's bad reviews were spurred by homophobia and a generalized disgust of open and frank sexuality/sensuality.

I don't think I agree with this. I think just as objectionable, for the contemporary reviewers, was the style (or perceived lack of style).
posted by Unified Theory at 8:31 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


yeah, there should've been a ", right?" on the end of that sentence, which i missed when adding the "/sensuality".
posted by elizardbits at 8:33 AM on June 5, 2013


People hate changes in style almost as much as they hate sex. Those things are probably related.

"You can't handle my Bloggy Style." - Tao Lin
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:36 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


@FakeTaoLinQuotes go
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:36 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is a very good review. A lot of you are fixating on the fact that it is negative at the bottom line, and labeling it as bad because you want it to be positive. But it is good.
posted by grobstein at 8:38 AM on June 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


"Critics and lovers and readers of poetry as hitherto written, may well be excused the chilly and unpleasant shudders which will assuredly run through them, to their very blood and bones, when they first read Walt Whitman's poems. If this is poetry, where must its foregoers stand? And what is at once to become of the ranks of rhymesters, melancholy and swallow-tailed, and of all the confectioners and upholsterers of verse, if the tan-faced man here advancing and claiming to speak for America and the nineteenth hundred of the Christian list of years, typifies indeed the natural and proper bard?"
...
"He is to prove either the most lamentable of failures or the most glorious of triumphs, in the known history of literature. And after all we have written we confess our brain-felt and heart-felt inability to decide which we think it is likely to be."


And that's one of the good reviews! Man literature used to be awesome.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:38 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I believe it was in the New Yorker that I read a piece saying that contemporary American fiction wasn't getting much respect worldwide because it was far too full of hyper-local navel-gazing, devoid of larger issues, and choking on ineffectual wankery (I paraphrase).

If Tao Lin is what's selling, I see that article was correct, and my head poke outside the genre & non-fiction stacks is done.


I've said it before and I'll say it again: anyone who dismisses all contemporary literature because they found a single book wankerish [or a fortiori a single author whose books they haven't even read] should probably study up on elementary logic before tackling any more novels.

Also, I liked Richard Yates a lot, I look forward to reading Taipei, and this review is dumb as shit. It displays the tyranny of Lit-101 categories of evaluation in all their awful boringness. "Where are the themes, man? Where's the social critique? Where's the evocative language?" Yawn. And when she writes
I say this novelist hates words, because the novel reads as though it were the result of strict parameters imposed by a perverse contest, or the edict of some nihilist philosophy, to use as few interesting words as possible. Tao Lin seems to an aspire to a prose I can only describe as “affectless.”
I can't tell if she's being "ironic" or if she just doesn't know that she is describing a very familiar and indeed traditional kind of experimental writing (eg).
posted by DaDaDaDave at 8:40 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yet again somebody hating Tao Lin makes me feel bad for not liking his writing because the reviewer comes off as the exact kind of reviewer I hate.

Potomac Avenue: "And that's one of the good reviews! Man literature used to be awesome."

Literature is still awesome. It's only the reviewers who got small. Or something. Just imagine I said what I said as Gloria Swanson.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:41 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


With a bejeweled turban and cigarette holder?
posted by elizardbits at 8:43 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Draw me like one of your French Fries.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:54 AM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


The novel opens and we follow a writer named Paul as he drifts around Brooklyn waiting for his book tour to start.

I don't even need to read more to know this will be a tiresome book. I'm sick to death of writers writing books about writers who are writing books. "Write what you know," sure, but if the only thing you know is writing, maybe go learn something else first. Get out of your own navel. You'll probably write better, and you'll almost certainly be happier.
posted by echo target at 8:54 AM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


"WE had ceased, we imagined, to be surprised at anything that America could produce. We had become stoically indifferent to her Woolly Horses, her Mermaids, her Sea Serpents, her Barnums,1 and her Fanny Ferns;2 but the last monstrous importation from Brooklyn, New York, has scattered our indifference to the winds. Here is a thin quarto volume without an author's name on the title-page; but to atone for which we have a portrait engraved on steel of the notorious individual who is the poet presumptive. This portrait expresses all the features of the hard democrat, and none of the flexile delicacy of the civilised poet. The damaged hat, the rough beard, the naked throat, the shirt exposed to the waist, are each and all presented to show that the man to whom those articles belong scorns the delicate arts of civilisation. The man is the true impersonation of his book—rough, uncouth, vulgar."
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:57 AM on June 5, 2013


Now I really wish I could find that New Yorker piece. The accusation wasn't that all contemporary literature was wankery, but was pointed at American writers. That it was a trend across multiple writers and multiple books. Which was why American novels weren't getting much respect worldwide or winning book prizes like they used to.

The issue is not any particular wanker, but rather the existence of the ongoing Circle Jerk.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:00 AM on June 5, 2013


Lily Yu's short story The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees

This is so awesome that it made me dance like a bee.

posted by elizardbits at 9:03 AM on June 5, 2013


I can't tell if she's being "ironic" or if she just doesn't know that she is describing a very familiar and indeed traditional kind of experimental writing

So..what you're saying is that there has been experimental writing that has intentionally attempted to use uninteresting words and come off as affectless, and therefore thinking Lin's book uses uninteresting words and that it comes off as affectless is "not getting it." It's all a clever experiment!
posted by Hoopo at 9:05 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I believe it was in the New Yorker that I read a piece saying that contemporary American fiction wasn't getting much respect worldwide because it was far too full of hyper-local navel-gazing, devoid of larger issues, and choking on ineffectual wankery (I paraphrase).

I'd have to see the thing in the New Yorker, but one of the great things about literature is that hyper-local navel-gazing becomes universalized. I don't need to have lived in Victorian England and gotten locked in a Red Room with a (possible?) ghost as a young girl in order to get anything out of Jane Eyre.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:07 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


What this world needs is more white people writing about their experiences traveling in India! ("This is the best bag on the mountain!")
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:09 AM on June 5, 2013


No, what this world needs is more traditional kinds of experimental writing! No need for new kinds, the old, familiar kinds of experimental writing are the best.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:17 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


So..what you're saying is that there has been experimental writing that has intentionally attempted to use uninteresting words and come off as affectless, and therefore thinking Lin's book uses uninteresting words and that it comes off as affectless is "not getting it." It's all a clever experiment!

No, I'm saying that book reviewers should know their literary history. Kiesling spends quite a bit of time in this review trying to figure out why Tao Lin writes the way he does. "Is he trying to document his experiences no matter how boring or insignificant? Is he trying to critique the vapidness of contemporary life? Is he trying to say that Drugs Are Bad? Does he hate words?" When in fact (or rather IMO) Tao Lin's style has pretty clear affinities to a lot of 20th-century experimental writing that has been intentionally flat and low-affect, that has tried to avoid the significance-filtering effect of traditional story, etc. I don't think you can really understand what a writer is doing unless you understand the tradition they're working in, whether that tradition is "literary fiction" or science fiction or whatever.

I mean, imagine if someone were reviewing a poetry book and they were like "A lot of these poems are 14 lines long and have complicated rhyme schemes and the first 8 lines set up a situation and the last 6 lines develop that situation in a new way or present it from a different perspective. This is one of the strangest poetic forms I've seen in some time; I have no idea how this poet got his ideas wedged into this over-complex structure, or why." A poetry reviewer who can't recognize a sonnet is incompetent, and a novel reviewer who can't recognize what is really a pretty standard experimental-fiction technique is not so hot either.
posted by DaDaDaDave at 9:25 AM on June 5, 2013 [6 favorites]


One of my favorite bits in Robbe-Grillet's For a New Novel makes fun of a straw critic who praises an author thus: "He has something to say, and he says it well." In praise of Raymond Roussel, Robbe-Grillet says Roussel had nothing to say and said it poorly.

The Millions has found Robbe-Grillet's straw critic.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:33 AM on June 5, 2013


Lots of experimental, cutting edge, avant garde stuff is simultaneously crap.

Just because the proles don't get it doesn't automatically make something worthwhile.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:51 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Then it's a good thing Tao Lin's not crap, isn't it?
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:53 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


a novel reviewer who can't recognize what is really a pretty standard experimental-fiction technique is not so hot either.

Sometimes experiments produce shit results. It's entirely fine to call out those shit results for being shit. I'm not even sure there is necessarily value added by it having taken "a pretty standard experimental fiction technique," or if the appreciation of the "pretty standard experimental technique" is the only way to evaluate the work. Also, the line of hers you quoted doesn't even suggest to me she is unaware of the existence of these "experimental fiction techniques".
posted by Hoopo at 9:54 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't even need to read more to know this will be a tiresome book.

Dang, you must have some good-ass taste to be able to get the gist of an entire book from a one-sentence summary. That's pretty impressive.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:01 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


"the truth is, that after every five or six pages of matter such as we have quoted, Mr. Whitman suddenly becomes exceedingly intelligible, but exceedingly obscene. If the Leaves of Grass should come into anybody's possession, our advice is to throw them instantly behind the fire." -- The Saturday Review
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:04 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Man these reviewers of Leaves of Grass CANNOT stop talking about the single picture anyone had of him. "In a crush hat and red shirt open at the neck, without waistcoat or jacket, one hand on his hip and the other thrust into his pocket," and presumably the other hand giving a peace sign?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:07 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I guess what I'm saying is, one time in high school I bought this album by DJ Spooky. This guy wrote essays that demonstrated a great deal of familiarity and knowledge of the type of "experimental" music he claimed to be doing, and he latched on to the cool subgenre of the moment in a timely way, and the music hit all the right techniques and tropes and hallmarks, but...the album sucked. It came off as pretentious and empty, basically retreading a lot of ground without adding much new or interesting to redeem it or to give any reason to listen to it again. And this was my opinion, despite being exactly the sort of listener this kind of album was meant to appeal to. These sorts of "experiments" can be boring or lack substance or merit even if they fall into a mold you're familiar with and even normally enjoy.
posted by Hoopo at 10:33 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


I haven't really read much of Lin's work, but all of the hate for the guy seems to me to be a form of reactionary conservatism, not really healthy for our culture.

I’m not sure I’ve heard of him before, but my reaction from the excerpts was laughing out loud. That stuff was possibly the worst writing I’ve ever read. It made me look at Dan Brown in a slightly more forgiving light.

Johnson said something to the effect that "the worst sin a writer can commit is to be boring." Even if writers like Lin are not your cup of tea, it may be that the degree to which they are different and fresh makes us slow to enjoy them, but we know they are worthy of close attention because they are never boring.

That’s weird, it seemed really boring from the review and excerpts. The whole thing seemed unimaginable dull.

Is this actually experimental and fresh? It just sort of seemed like teenage angst diary fanfic. Funny review though.
posted by bongo_x at 10:36 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


You're right I actually keep reading his books because they're so boring.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:40 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Lots of experimental, cutting edge, avant garde stuff is simultaneously crap.

Just because the proles don't get it doesn't automatically make something worthwhile.


Definitely true. But I guess it comes down to what you think a book review is for. To me, the reviewer's final verdict should be the least emphasized part of a review, as it's usually the least interesting. At the end of the day, what do I care if Lydia Kiesling liked Taipei or hated it? The purpose of a review is to provide an analysis that will help you decide whether this book would be worthwhile for you to read, whether or not your tastes align with the reviewer's. From that perspective, "this book sucks" is not very helpful. "This book sucks because XYZ" (which is what this review does) is a little better. "This book's notable qualities include ABC, it recalls other books or literary trends DEF with respect to GHI, and by the way I think it sucks because JKL" is more like it.

I'm not even sure there is necessarily value added by it having taken "a pretty standard experimental fiction technique," or if the appreciation of the "pretty standard experimental technique" is the only way to evaluate the work.

It's absolutely not the only way to evaluate the work, but I think an account of a book's relationship to other books in its technique, style etc (the book's genre, more or less) provides an important part of the context that will help you, reading the review, decide whether to read the book. Not so much "appreciating" a technique as recognizing it and describing what the author is doing with it.

A parallel: in some of the less SF-savvy reviews of China Mieville's Embassytown, the reviewers praised Mieville for doing things that are absolutely standard in far-future SF, e.g. using in-world terms without explaining what they mean so that the reader has to decipher them from context. One of the cool things about Embassytown is the way Mieville uses this totally familiar trope in interesting ways that relate to the novel's general interest in language and meaning. But that dimension of the novel is totally lost if you don't know that some of what Mieville is doing is interesting because it's original and some of what he's doing is interesting because it's not original, it's a deliberate use of a familiar convention.
posted by DaDaDaDave at 10:42 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hoopo, I get what you're saying, and sometimes a great Emperor Has No Clothes type leg-snap from a reviewer can be a great revelation. There was one super-dorky conservative anti-literary-fiction facepunch from 10 years or so ago that brutalized Cormac McCarthy, who I've always felt uncomfortable reading, like there was something I was supposed to be swooning over but just couldn't. It took a bunch of his passages and did close readings on them to show that a lot of his "vivid imagery" is nonsense and compared them unfavorably to great genre writing that was largely marginalized at the time. I enjoyed that immensely. It had a thesis other than "Lol this sucks Lol." Tao Lin might suck, I could be wrong. But this review needs some authority and fire if it's going to expose the bones on this new book at all. It's like she went to see the Avengers and complained that everyone kept fighting all the time. If you don't know what you are looking at, ask someone before you tell everyone you don't like it, otherwise you are Andy Rooney.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:47 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


But this review needs some authority and fire if it's going to expose the bones on this new book at all

Maybe it doesn't have bones, but rather the salad-y remains of a burrito
posted by Hoopo at 10:50 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


For the sum of 75 cents any reader may accompany Whitman through a poetic chaos—bright, dark, splendid, common, ridiculous and sublime—in which are floating the nebulae and germs of matter for a starry universe of organized and harmonious systems that may yet revolve, in all the magnificence of artistic order, through the highest heaven of fame!

Tbh if I read this review of Leaves of Grass I'd probably want to kick the author in the beard. Is Tao Lin Ruined By His Fans?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:50 AM on June 5, 2013


Maybe it doesn't have bones, but rather the salad-y remains of a burrito

See now that's funny. I'd read your review with some interest.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:51 AM on June 5, 2013


Was it A Reader's Manifesto, Potomac? McCarthy was one of its bugbears. I last read it when I was in high school, when I was much more impressed with it and much less literate.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:51 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah that's the one. A lot of the other targets were somewhat unfairly maligned and many of his premises were oversimplifications (Small words good! Big words bad!), but in general I still agree with his analysis of McCarthy and DeLillo. Literary fiction needs a swift whack in the self-congratulations every ten years or so.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:58 AM on June 5, 2013


It's kind of funny that even art (well, "even art") can provoke bitterly or passionately partisan responses in which people are emphatically against not just the thing itself, whether a book or painting or whatever, but are against it with intensity and moral or quasi-moral animation because of the way art is conceived as a fundamentally empty vessel, no matter how brightly or fully constituted it may seem, in which the author or creator and their aesthetic sympathies dwell. The trojan horse theory of art: sure, this may be fun or interesting to read, or merely uninteresting, but more importantly it is SNEAKING MEDIOCRITY INTO THE WATER SUPPLY, or whatever (substitute the respondent's despised thing in there).
posted by clockzero at 11:04 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ugh, A Reader's Manifesto. A hundred pages of saying 'I don't care for this prose style, therefore the author is pretentious and anyone who pretends to like it is a liar.'
posted by shakespeherian at 11:07 AM on June 5, 2013


What kind of half-assed eater leaves salad-y remains when they eat a burrito?
posted by scose at 11:22 AM on June 5, 2013


You're right I actually keep reading his books because they're so boring.

You might be doing that as performance art though.
posted by elizardbits at 11:25 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I also don't like the non-fans of Tao Lin being classified as reactionary or conservative. The reviewer is condemning the book for being boring, not for being experimental. All style and no meat, because that's the point? Boring.
posted by feste at 11:28 AM on June 5, 2013


Sometimes experiments produce shit results. It's entirely fine to call out those shit results for being shit. I'm not even sure there is necessarily value added by it having taken "a pretty standard experimental fiction technique," or if the appreciation of the "pretty standard experimental technique" is the only way to evaluate the work.

Yes, most experiments produce shit. Sorting the good and the shit is kind of what it’s all about. There are people who have the thought "what if I colored OUTSIDE of the lines?" and assume just the fact that they’ve had that thought means the result is brilliant, don’t worry about the execution.

Maybe it’s me, but the "standard experimental technique" is a funny oxymoron. All we trying to cover all bases here? If you don’t like it, well it’s experimental. But really, it’s pretty standard. I mean, I want to do something edgy and different, I just need a roadmap and someone else’s guidelines to follow.
posted by bongo_x at 11:54 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm going to write down all the sentences in tai pei where Paul sees/does/touches with his penis a collection of 4 to 36 chairs/chain restaurants/mind altering psychedelics from anywhere between 2 to 248 hours/minutes/pages. Then I will get high and film myself reciting the poetry to my cat while in a bathtub of pudding blissfully forgetting that getting high and recording things has been old hat since the merry pranksters/magical mystery tour/Internet. I will use the subsequent fame and money from the film to go on a sobriety bender and write a critique on a field manual for field stripping a typewriter at burning man which my old fan base will bemoan as a betrayal of my roots but publishers weekly will hail as "fresh".

There will be no commas but my publisher will let slip one incorrectly used semicolon.
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 12:03 PM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Maybe it’s me, but the "standard experimental technique" is a funny oxymoron. All we trying to cover all bases here? If you don’t like it, well it’s experimental. But really, it’s pretty standard. I mean, I want to do something edgy and different, I just need a roadmap and someone else’s guidelines to follow.

Eh, sometimes things change and words don't. We still call Pound and Eliot "modernists" even though the 1920s aren't modern any more. Hell, classicists still call Catullus and his contemporaries the "neoteric" (i.e. "newer") poets, even though they're, you know, pretty old. "Experimental fiction" is an ambiguous phrase--it could just mean any fiction that tries new things, of course, but it can also refer to the works of specific groups of innovative writers, basically 20th century avant-garde writers. So I think it makes sense to call, e.g., certain kinds of constraint-based writing "experimental," even "traditionally experimental." It's like the term "avant-garde"--taken in a certain sense, an avant-garde work of art should be so radically innovative and ahead-of-its-time that you've never seen anything like it, and yet we're all familiar with the tropes and conventions of "the avant-garde."

All of this is totally orthogonal to the question of whether a particular book is any good. I think Tao Lin is good because I like his books, not because they're "experimental" in either sense (though I think they are).
posted by DaDaDaDave at 12:09 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


scose: What kind of half-assed eater leaves salad-y remains when they eat a burrito?
Have you eaten at Chipotle? More like Leaves of Ass...
posted by IAmBroom at 12:16 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


-DaDaDaDave

I didn’t realize that "experimental" was being used purely as a label rather than a descriptive term. For some reason I find that a little sad.

Are you saying there are eight sides to this?
posted by bongo_x at 12:39 PM on June 5, 2013


No idea about Tao Lin to be honest, but the excerpts in the review set my teeth on edge. That's not experimental writing or deliberately affected writing, it's bad writing. It reminds me of Jeffrey Archer.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:02 PM on June 5, 2013


I didn’t realize that "experimental" was being used purely as a label rather than a descriptive term. For some reason I find that a little sad.

Sorry, my earlier comment was pretty half-baked (dashed off in haste right before I went out to pick up some lunch meat from my brother-in-law, because that's the kind of exciting life I'm living). The slightly more developed version of the idea would be that experimental fiction is both a genre and an anti-genre. It's an anti-genre in the sense that it's supposed to be all about trying new things, breaking with conventions, inventing new forms, defying readers' expectations. But it's a genre in the sense that there are certain forms, styles, etc that are recognizably "experimental" because they recall previous experiments (while still being far enough out of the mainstream that they register as weird, unlike, say, jump-cuts, which were experimental when Godard used them in Breathless but are now pretty unremarkable).

So, for example, Christian Bok's Eunoia, where each of the chapters uses only one vowel, is experimental because that's weird and people usually don't write like that, but it's also experimental because it has a family resemblance to other weird and unusual things like Perec's La Disparition. Similarly, Tao Lin is experimental because he writes in a weird way and his books seem less like conventional novels with plots and more like, well, experiments ("let's see what happens if I write about incredibly mundane occurrences in the flattest imaginable style"). But they're also experimental because they recall Robbe-Grillet et al.

Maybe it would be better to use Ron Silliman's term "post-avant"--work that's not so much striking out in radical new directions as it's continuing and extending paths marked out by earlier avant-gardes.
posted by DaDaDaDave at 2:15 PM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Gotcha, nicely put. A different term would be in order. Sort of how like Rock radio stations kept calling music from the early 80’s "new music" for 25 years.
posted by bongo_x at 2:19 PM on June 5, 2013


I like these excerpts:

Paul noticed Laura looking at his pile of construction paper and said she could have some if she wanted, and she focused self-consciously on wanting some, saying how she would use it and what colors she liked, seeming appreciative in an affectedly sincere manner — the genuine sincerity of a person who doesn’t trust her natural behavior to appear sincere…Laura exited a few minutes later, meekly holding her tambourine and shaker and some construction paper. “I see you ‘got in on’ the construction paper,” said Paul in the sarcastic, playful voice he used to recommend Funyuns the night they met, but with a serious expression. “Good choices, in terms of colors. Good job.” “You said I could have some,” said Laura hesitantly.

That bit I bolded says so much about contemporary life in one sentence.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:31 PM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


I liked Eeeee Eee Eeee, which I thought was an attempt to classify and personify different forms of clinical depression (review here). Shoplifting From American Apparel and Richard Yates seemed gimmicky and I never tried to read them. This one sounds interesting and I might pick it up. From the excerpts, and the author's review, it sounds like it was written by someone who distrusts - not just words and standard forms of expression - but their own emotional responses.

Tao Lin has a book called "Cognitive Behavioral Therapy" and this seems to be very in line with that - on a scale of 1-10, how are you feeling right now? Now? Now? I'll need you to fill out this worksheet with a short description your activity, location, and mood each hour. Remember, your emotions are not solely - or even mostly - a response to your external reality, and they are not you. Rather, they are imposed on your brain by neurochemical processes not under your complete control, but which you can affect by your thoughts and actions. You need to learn how to separate how you feel from how you think and act.

This book seems like it was written by someone who for whatever reason has learned to distrust strong positive emotions (joy, love, exuberance) every bit as much as they distrust strong negative emotions (emptiness, pointlessness, despair). That may be why everything seems like it was written from the perspective of someone observing his own life and why nothing connects in a visceral way.

Also, though, Tao Lin has been (locally) famous for a while and I'm kind of curious about how being (locally) famous might have changed him as a person. Possibly he's turned into kind of a dick? Or more of a dick than he already was? Plus, if the characters are doing drugs and getting married in Vegas, then no matter what the prose says, things are happening in the story.
posted by subdee at 6:33 PM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've read a bit of Tao Lin, and I find some merit to his work (or the idea behind it), but for me it ultimately fails in that it feels so much like TAO LIN PERFORMANCE ART. One of the best things about a book is when the author goes invisible and allows the work to carry itself out. With Tao's books, it feels like every page, nearly every sentence, is such a tortured stylistic TAO LIN exaggeration that I might as well just stare at his face for a while. There's no disappearing into the book for me--it's so intentionally stultifying that I almost feel like I want to defend myself from the ever-presence of TAO LIN.

As mentioned, I kind of get what he's trying to do, or what I think he's trying to do. And I might be able to respect it if it weren't mixed with some of the very worst elements of uber-Brooklynish hipsterism: all-encompassing narcissism, ironic (or sincere? sincerely ironic? without any notion of whether it's ironic or sincere?) banality, hyper-local navel-gazing. If he's trying to comment on these things, the only thing I'm able to get out of it, due to its inescapability in his books and the deep-seated nature of my loathing, is BAD BAD BAD DO NOT WANT. (And I could have figured that out for myself.)
posted by aintthattheway at 8:05 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Charlemagne In Sweatpants, that quote jumped out at me as well. I go through that so often and finally somebody nailed it in a way that took my breath away. It made me think that either Tao Lin can't be all bad or else the reviewer was not very good a picking the right quotes to support her opinion.
posted by blue shadows at 10:49 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


DRUG-RELATED PHOTOSHOP ART - 2,000,000MG XANAX
posted by jcruelty at 12:33 AM on June 6, 2013


Tao Lin @’ing Bret Easton Ellis ideas for a potential future novel featuring Patrick Bateman
posted by jcruelty at 12:38 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


FACEDOWN GENERATION - Tao Lin's iPhone Photos of Taipei
posted by jcruelty at 12:42 AM on June 6, 2013


That's not experimental writing or deliberately affected writing, it's bad writing

It's deliberately bad writing, I think. It seems to be mimicking the way people write on facebook and tumblr. I guess the idea is that mode of detached expression reflects a detached and cynical inner life.
posted by empath at 1:32 AM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Tao Lin
AT 6:58 AM ON JUNE 6, 2013

Hi Lydia. I think you quoted from an unfinished proof, not the book. Probably most or all of the passages you quoted are different in the book.

2 examples:

Your quote:
Paul reached an arm outside his blanket and pulled his MacBook “darkly,” he felt, toward himself. It was 12:52 a.m. almost three hours since leaving Angelica Kitchen.

Book:
He reached outside his blanket and pulled his MacBook “darkly,” he felt, toward himself, like an octopus might. It was 12:52 a.m., almost three hours since leaving Angelica Kitchen.

Your quote:
He imagined his trajectory as a vacuum-sealed tube, into which he’d been placed and through which — traveling alone in the vacuum-sealed tube of his own life — he’d been suctioned and at the end of which he’d exit, as a successful delivery to some unimaginable recipient, or to the other side, where the motivation and mechanisms and reasons, in being located there, could be investigated, or would maybe explain themselves.

Book:
He imagined his trajectory as a vacuum-sealed tube, into which he’d been placed and through which — traveling alone in the vacuum-sealed tube of his own life — he’d be suctioned and from which he’d exit, as a successful delivery to some unimaginable recipient.

Probably reading the book won’t change your opinion much, or at all, but to me the book (on maybe every page) is noticeably different than the unfinished proof. The unfinished proof doesn’t read, to me, as finished. It probably said “DO NOT QUOTE FROM THIS UNFINISHED PROOF” on it somewhere.

It would be sweet if you (or a The Millions intern, or someone) could replace the quotes. Thank you for your time/consideration.

Sincerely,
Tao

P.S. I like that, in this review, you seem for the most part reluctant/unwilling to view your perspective as the only perspective (or the only correct perspective), that for example you didn’t state “This novel is awful…” but “It is my opinion that this novel is awful…”
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:07 AM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is a very good review. A lot of you are fixating on the fact that it is negative at the bottom line, and labeling it as bad because you want it to be positive. But it is good.

It's poorly written and structured and the quotes don't illustrate her points, although I'm not sure what her points actually are because the review primarily consists of "I don't like this and I'll say it in a witty way aren't I clever mememe" and similar pretentious narcissisms.*

When I received this novel in the mail, I did not understand that Tao Lin was a name I had seen before, during a hazy period several Internets ago, when I was learning about Fat Acceptance and Tracey Egan Morrissey was still called Slut Machine. Later, I recognized the name as something observed in unread Gawker headlines (and unread Millions pieces, as it turns out).

1. Who cares.
2. Clunky writing and jesus christ those commas
3. WHO CARES. So much prose wasted on her ridiculous attempts to defend herself and her little pointless snarks. Talk about the fucking book.


* I don't feel bad about presuming to know her thoughts; uncharitable mind-reading is prominent in the review and another reason why it sucks.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:28 AM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Could this review be ironic, or very, very subtle? The reviewer describes herself as being very much affected by - and even challenged by - this supposedly horrible book. I think she doth protest too much. I don't know. I don't read book reviews. Or books.
posted by univac at 8:40 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


This thread has convinced me (or I have convinced myself) that there is something "there" in Tao Lin's work, and suddenly I want to find all of his books and read them.

It seems like much of the resistance to new literature lies in the way the really new stuff doesn't seem like it's "about anything." The acceptance of new writing like Lin's consists in the gradual dawning on people that yes, this subject matter is valid material for literary art.

I don't understand criticisms to the effect that "he hates words" etc. I think his irony, the way he puts words in quotation marks, is a pretty effective and accurate way of describing a particular way of being in the world today. You may not like the type of people whose being that depicts, but he's managed to describe these people very effectively in a way that maybe hasn't been accomplished before. And he succeeds on another metric I think is important in assessing a literary writer -- his style is pretty recognizable and sui generis; he's not bland.

I really, really do not get the "he sounds like Jeffrey Archer" claim somewhere upthread. That doesn't make sense.

I think sometimes people are resentful of writing that depicts the type of people they find annoying. But viewed outside that cultural noise/friction, I bet his writing will hold up pretty well in the long run, after people's annoyance with the modes of being he describes has faded.
posted by Unified Theory at 5:02 PM on June 6, 2013


Maybe it doesn't have bones, but rather the salad-y remains of a burrito

See now that's funny. I'd "read" your review with some interest.
Tao Linned That For You
posted by Sparx at 8:12 PM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I read Tai Pei on vacation and it was really great, but not I think markedly different from other Tao Lin books, just much better paced and with a step up in terms of descriptive language and personal detail that allows you to ride along with the character (who is 99.9% autobiographical as usual) with much more empathy. Everything I liked about Shoplifting is in there, Gchat, characters speaking in scare quotes, emotional paralysis, self-parodying pretentiousness, but with more, let's call it, Tao-lin-ishly, "heart". Basically all of the stuff about technology and self-hatred and drugs and shame and picayune redemptions plus it's a love story, and a heartbreaking one.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:47 AM on June 23, 2013


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