I strolled into the International Center to witness a librarian-like female host in a pants suit, stutter over Tao Lin’s bio. “Tao Lin is the author of, um, Eee-eee-eee-ee,” she said, confused by the words she was reading. “You can read his blog at www. heh-heh…heh-I, um, think there are thirteen hehs-dot blogspot dot com.”
Tao’s excerpt from his new book Stealing From American Apparel, was intensely amusing, but not very impressive. It read as unedited documentation of conversations between friends, who I assumed to be the group of plaid-clad 20-somethings surrounding me in the audience, since they were laughing especially hard at every quotation.
“’I’m glad fast food exists,’ Robert said. ‘Just the idea of it makes me happy.’”
Tao read in a repressed monotone—cutting off his own syllables—but there were moments that struck me as modern poetry: “As I basked in the blue glow of Internet Explorer”….”Mike sat on his mattress with his Macbook, staring at the ceiling.”
Ever since I discovered his poetry, Tao Lin has become the object of my fascination. This does not mean I think he’s a skilled writer. In fact, I would intentionally refrain from making such a statement, despite the fact I enjoy the idea of someone including Gmail chats, text messages, Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwiches and twitter updates in a novel.
His use of language is limited. He rarely uses any variation of the word “said.” Some sentences could use editorial guidance. His less than perfect writing speaks to reclusive post-college students in New York, and he self-promotes to the point of absurdity.
After the reading, librarian lady got back on stage. “Any questions?” she asked. The response was awkward silence, followed by awkward laughter from Tao’s friends, who comprised about a quarter of the 30 people in the audience.
Referring to a book Lin has advertised—but not yet written—librarian lady took it upon herself to pose a question. “Tao, your upcoming novel, why is it called Richard Yeats?” she asked. “It’s because I like Richard Yeats, only,” Tao said, “He’s not like a theme in the book or anything. And also, because it would be funny.”
That sentiment ended the Q&A and began the wine drinking. After a few glasses, I approached Tao to chat.
I told him that he was on my professor’s syllabus in a literature class. As a 20-something writer myself, I would be pretty enthused to hear this news.
Tao Lin stared blankly at me for a moment, then said "that's cool." He gave me a free book, and drew a cat holding another cat, or something, on the inside cover.