I have been aware of Tao Lin for approximately four years. The first instance of our relationship began when I left a comment on his blog about an interview he had done for Bookslut. This comment is still on his blog and I look back on it and feel embarrassed since it is one of only 2 comments on a link still prominently displayed.
That post attempted to engage Mr. Lin for our similar educational backgrounds, similar age, and similar vocational practices. I do not think we have much in common otherwise. However, one of my best friends once shared a dorm room with him.
One of my favorite things about Tao is his generosity. After my first abortive attempt at contacting the iconoclast, I applied to MFA programs, became a reject, finished my first novel, moved to L.A., wrote 70% of a second novel, and returned to my home. Boomeranged, broken. I didn’t know what I was going to do anymore. I finished that second novel, and then I started doing NaNoWriMo. Halfway through November, I got a temp job, which was nice. Then, right as I was about to finish NaNoWriMo, call it a case of “chemically-unbalanced-writer’s-excitement/manic part of manic depression,” I decided to ask Tao if I could review his first novel, Eeeee Eee Eeee for my blog, which I had started in L.A. He said yes and sent me the book for free and I read it and asked him if I could interview him and he said yes. I finally wrote that review on Thanksgiving morning, 2008.
Later I would lend it to my friend who is a tough critic. Tao passed that test.
Later I would ask if I could do the same for Shoplifting from American Apparel. This was in August of 2009. Tao agreed again. More generosity.
A few days ago I asked if I could receive a galley copy of Richard Yates. My request was honored. Generosity again. I hope to have that review up in August 2010. And I hope to do a few more interview questions.
I am not a book critic for the Chicago Tribune or New York Times, and while I am sure Tao would love their coverage, I appreciate his ability to make this complicated job called “fiction writer in 21st century” a little more transparent for all of us. I don’t know if I want to be a writer anymore when I read his blog posts about how little money he earns from writing. I keep doing it regardless, and I don’t think clearly about prospects for my future. Perhaps I am missing the point: my blog. Flying Houses is not even HTML Giant or MOBYLIVES, but Tao gave me a chance, and I am happy with having a few more readers that could potentially find something else they like on it.
All my Dad ever talks about is networking. I hate networking. I hate going to cocktail parties, because I get too wasted, and whatever connections I might make, well, people just think I am a drunk, and therefore unstable, and therefore not worth their networking time. That’s in person. Networking on the internet is different. For one, it is scarier. If anyone wants, they can go cycle through all my old posts on this blog, or on the messageboard at pw.org. and find something I said that is terribly stupid and deserving of hardcore condemnation. It happens. Cyberbullies exist. But on the other hand, networking on the internet is so easy. Add a friend on Facebook. Talk to someone about what they tweeted about. It’s all well and good and nice and fun. But what about when you want to “get serious” and meet in person? What do you have to say that is of any import? How do you not come off sounding like a total vulture?
No more ruminations on the internet, though the internet plays a huge role, I would argue, in Tao’s literature. I have not read Richard Yates but I want to because I liked both his first novel and his first novella. I have not read Bed and it would be nice to have a copy.
Here is a short story about what happened to my copies of Eeeee Eee Eeee and Shoplifting from American Apparel: I met a girl through an online dating site and we went out a few times and she seemed like one of the coolest girls I had ever met in my life. We would go out to lunch or dinner, and we would get stoned and listen to indie rock, and we would watch movies, or else walk nearby Barack Obama’s house in Kenwood. In short that is what I like to do with my time. She was cute and I was willing to look past the fact that she was a Starbuck’s barista and generally unreliable when it came to comprehensive assessments of life. As is the case with most of the girls I have dated, she broke up with me in a very passive-aggressive manner. This was not before I had leant her some CDs, and these two books by Tao Lin. She did invite me back once, so she could give me the CDs. But she had not finished both books. She loved them. She wrote on her Facebook wall that they “made her feel schizophrenic” and that she “couldn’t stop reading.” She also wrote that Tao was apparently a “friend of a friend.” Not anymore, because a couple weeks later, she de-friended me. This after I sent her random text messages asking her if she planned to give the books back. She said, in her text message, “I never intended to keep the books.” Well, she still has them. The copy of Eeeee Eee Eeee had a personal inscription from Tao to me that I cherished deeply. And now it sits in whatever sordid living room she inhabits, corrupt, wrong, inappropriate for her to own.
My feelings about this girl are roughly commensurate with my feelings about hipsters in general and Tao’s fans. That is, on the surface, they are fun, they are cool, they are the type of people I want to befriend and hang out with, but underneath, once you get to know them, you realize they are weird and mean and don’t give good reasons for the fucked-up things they do to you. I’m not trying to give them a bad name—I’m just talking from personal experience, and leaving open the opportunity for someone to prove me wrong.
RICHARD YATES, THE NOVEL
Richard Yates, I believe, will be Tao’s best book yet. I don’t want to get too crazy since I haven’t read it yet, and I don’t want to say, “I was wrong!” in my upcoming review. But each of his first two novels showed a progression, and Richard Yates is a more serious title than either of the first two, and Richard Yates was a very good writer (so I’ve been told), and I know Haley Joel Osment and I share at least two things in common and I don’t know why Tao chose to use celebrity names as main character names, but I happened to do the same thing in my third novel (in progress) and I wonder if it has to do with the fact that nobody reads anymore and everybody goes to the movies (or if it is to make casting an adaptation easy).
(By nobody obviously I mean “95% of the American populace does not read, or would not recognize the name Tao Lin” and by everybody I mean “95% of the American populace will not have seen The Runaways but will know who Dakota Fanning is and everybody saw The Sixth Sense, etc.)
I have suggested that Tao visit Quimby’s book shop in Chicago so I could see him on tour. I thought that would be so cool. Then I see he has set a date there. Have fun there, Tao! If you moved from Williamsburg to Wicker Park, you’d be like, the coolest person since Stephanie Kuehnart. But now I will be unable to see that glorious moment, as I will be entrenched within new legal studies. Still, I will be in Brooklyn, and I hope I will meet Tao eventually.
He is like a legend, a ghost. But he exists. Who made that “I am Carles” t-shirt? I don’t know, but I saw one person wearing one at the Pitchfork Festival last weekend. Whatever Tao’s army is, it grows. It grows because literature, as we know it, the ability to make our voices heard, to be paid for our time spent actively opening up our worlds for strangers to inhabit and learn from experience, is dead or dying. I suffer, and wait to kill myself until I am 40 because that’s about the time most people realistically publish their first novel these days. But as I suffer, Tao’s army grows, and I attempt to join it, and do not feel like a full-fledged member, but still feel as if I am “part of something.” Tao’s detractors may say that his work is meaningless or immature or just plain stupid (all critiques are understandable, too), but they are just looking for a way to assert their dominance in literary games. They don’t break the same rules as him. They think the rules he breaks are sacred.
DEATH OF LITERATURE
No rules are sacred when literature is dying. I will persist in saying literature is dying until an agent speaks with me personally about why my work is bad. Tao is not going to save literature. And he may not even have found a way for it to pay his own rent yet, but he updates his blog mercilessly, I know he works very hard, and one day it will have to pay off. It will have to pay off or else you have to start challenging anyone who dreams of being a writer: what do you have to say, why is it so important to say, why are you special, and can you figure out the secret combination to unlock a publishing contract?
I don’t like challenging people on their dreams. Society in general is at fault here, but Tao is doing what he can to make things right, and for that I will always read his books.