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Shoplifting from American Apparel (The Contemporary Art of the Novella) Paperback – September 15, 2009

3.5 out of 5 stars 50 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The Internet has spawned a generation exceedingly more awkward, apathetic and lost than any that has come before—at least, this seems to be the message and intention of Lin's underwhelming novella (after Eeeee Eee Eeee and Bed). Sam, a young writer with good rankings on Amazon, works at an organic vegan restaurant and spends much of his time checking e-mails and instant messaging with his equally detached friends while wandering downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn. There is, indeed, the shoplifting of a T-shirt (and, later, earphones), the acts—both of which end in Sam's arrest—motivated by a need for variety. Though Lin strives to paint a portrait of a generation of disaffected youth caught in the soft blue light of Internet Explorer, this offers little more than lackadaisical pop culture reportage that reads mostly like a diary rendered in third person. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Praise for Tao Lin's Shoplifting From American Apparel

"Tao Lin writes from moods that less radical writers would let pass—from laziness, from vacancy, from boredom. And it turns out that his report from these places is moving and necessary, not to mention frequently hilarious."
—Miranda July, author of No One Belongs Here More Than You

“A humorous reflection on the instantaneity of Internet-era life and relationships…. The writing stays fresh, thanks to occasional oddball dialogue about everything from Oscar Wilde to what exactly constitutes a fight with a girlfriend. And for all his meandering prose, there’s something charming about Lin’s directness. Writing about being an artist makes most contemporary artists self-conscious, squeamish and arch. Lin, however, appears to be comfortable, even earnest, when his characters try to describe their aspirations (or their shortcomings)…. Purposefully raw.”
Time Out New York

“Lin’s candid exploration of Sam’s Web existence (and by extension, his own) is full of melancholy, tension, and hilarity… Lin is a master of pinpointing the ways in which the Internet and text messages can quell loneliness, while acknowledging that these faceless forms of communication probably created that loneliness to begin with.”
The Boston Phoenix

“Somehow both stilted and confessional…. often funny…. Lin is doing his best to capture a mid-twenties malaise, a droning urban existence that—in the hands of a mildly depressed narrator—never peaks nor pitches enough to warrant drama. In a way, it makes more sense to think of Tao Lin as a painter or performance artist; his work attempts to evoke through persistent, dull-edged provocation.”
Time Out Chicago

"Uniquely sad, funny, and understated in all the right ways. In his most autobiographical work yet, Tao Lin has once again created a book that will polarize ctitics, but reward his fans."
largehearted boy

"A revolutionary."
The Stranger (Seattle)

"Prodigal, unpredictable."
Paste Magazine

"Trancelike and often hilarious… Lin's writing is reminiscent of early Douglas Coupland, or early Bret Easton Ellis, but there is also something going on here that is more profoundly peculiar, even Beckettian…deliciously odd.”
The Guardian

"You don't think, 'I like this guy,' or 'I really dislike this guy.' You think, 'huh.' [...] Camus' The Stranger or 'sociopath?'"
Los Angeles Times

“Tao Lin's sly, forlorn, deadpan humor jumps off the page. […] will delight fans of everyone from Mark Twain to Michelle Tea.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“Scathingly funny for being so spare […] just might be the future of literature.”
Austin Chronicle

"Somehow both the funniest and the saddest book I've read in a long time."
—Michael Schaub, Bookslut

"The purest example so far of the minimalist aesthetic as it used to be enunciated."
—Michael Silverblatt, KCRW's Bookworm

“A fragile, elusive little book.”
Village Voice

Very funny."
USA Today

"Loved it. [...] Shoplifting From American Apparel stands out. And maybe it’s similar, if stylistically opposite, from We Did Porn in this way. Both books are necessary, written for people who don’ t have many books to choose from. They’re not competing with the rest of the books on the shelf. They’re on a different shelf where there aren’t too many books.On that same shelf you’ll find Ask The Dust, Frisk, The Fuck Up, The Basketball Diaries, Jesus Son, several books by Michelle Tea, Last Exit to Brooklyn, and Chelsea Girls. It’s a good shelf to be on, I think. Young, urban, self-sure, engaged. The audience is small but they’ll take you in; they’re looking to connect."
—Stephen Elliott, author of Happy Baby and The Adderall Diaries

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Product Details

  • Series: The Contemporary Art of the Novella
  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Melville House (September 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933633786
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933633787
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.2 x 7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #411,705 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tao Lin (b. 1983) is the author of three novels--Taipei (2013), Richard Yates (2010), and Eeeee Eee Eeee (2007)--a novella, Shoplifting from American Apparel (2009), a story collection, Bed (2007), and two poetry collections: cognitive-behavioral therapy (2008), you are a little bit happier than i am (2006). His writing has been published by Granta, New York Times, New York Times Book Review, New York Observer, Poetry Foundation, Vice, Noon, Mississippi Review, and other venues. He edits Muumuu House, a literary publisher, and has taught a class called The Contemporary Short Story in Sarah Lawrence College's MFA program. (Photo by Noah Kalina.)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
i read shoplifting twice. i liked it the first time, and liked it more the second time. it's about a young writer living in new york, and his life. there were a lot of funny parts. the funniest part, to me, is when the main character is in jail and lying on a cot and thinking about "raweos." a lot of reviews i've read talk about how it's about "nothing." but that is impossible. shoplifting made me think about how much time passes when you're younger, and a lot of that time is spent as if watching it pass. the ending is really good. i recommend this book for people who want to read a well-written, calm account of life in america for a young writer.
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If you are especially young, or particularly old, then perhaps you will view this novel as some sort of quirky kitsch- a charming addition to your literary collection. However, if you are between the ages of 20 and 30, and you've ever spent a drunk night waxing philosophical with your college drop-out poet friends, then you will recognize Tao Lin for the lazy, exploitation-artist that he is.
Reading this novel was physically painful for me. I kept glancing at all of my unfinished novels on my desktop and thinking "holy f***, and here I've been, thinking I'm not good enough..."
Maybe that's the admirable quality, to take from Tao Lin, father of our generation's progressive alt lit movement- every half-assed thought you think is worthy of publication. I guess that sort of confidence is worth something.
And I can appreciate that. Honestly. The writing community is full of self-deprecating bums, such as myself,so cheers to him for looking at a word document and saying to himself "this is enough."
The thing I have a problem with, is the constant references to the main character's iced coffee and vegan diet and what have you. We get it. A bit heavy handed with the character development, don't you think, Tao Lin? Sam is a "cool hipster." Gotcha. Once is enough.
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Format: Paperback
Shoplifting From American Apparel centers on the life of a young writer living in New York looking at the aimlessness and detachment in his life. The story doesn't flow from event to event in a clear progression but rather wanders from seemingly random point to random point.

Tao Lin's poetry and fiction has earned him a reputation as a clever, innovative young writer, but this novella feels at times like an experiment that got away from its author. The banal conversations, shallow cultural ephemera, and the detachment of the characters from the reality in front of them serves the work by emphasizing the alienation and purposelessness the main character feels. However, the plotlessness and lack of meaningful relationships or articulated desires left me cold as a reader. With the exception of smart dialogue, there is little in the writing style to make up for the lack of excitement in the storyline or characters. I had difficulty engaging with the book either intellectually or emotionally because of its simple, unadorned style and its lack of story.

In terms of the restless desires of youth and the frustrations of artists to make something of their lives, Lin crafts near-perfect dialogue between Sam, the emerging author, and his friends. Their exchanges are at once hilarious and painful both in their dry wit and the distance between what they might want for themselves and what they actually have. I just wish the rest of the novella, was as good as some of these brief passages from gmail chat and isolated conversation. I think other books have been more successful at capturing this sense, and certainly more engaging than Shoplifting from American Apparel (for instance Kunkel's Indecision or Bolano's Savage Detectives). Tao Lin may have some exciting books yet to write, but I would not recommend this one.
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unlike many of the other reviews ive seen of tao's books, i acknowledge what the book is without thinking of those characteristics as faults. that being said though, this book kinda just slid by for me. thats probably what he wanted to make as a book though, so thats cool. im glad this book exists because sometimes people who havent read in a while (cuz they cant find books they like) need a book like this. its simple and easy to read and (for me and others of my generation b. 1987) it depicts life in a similar way to how i experience it.

and that serves an important function. discovering tao and the other alt lit stuff is for writers like what discovering punk rock is for musicians: it shows you that to do what comes naturally is ok, that what other people think of as good is actually irrelevant and that you should just do what you want. its liberating. its liberating because you read it and see that the writing is simple and autobiographical and that hey "i can do this too!"

the reason i give it 3 stars is because thats what i think it deserves, but i dont mean it as an insult or anything. the world needs 3 stared books. they serve a purpose, and serving purposes is something tao is great at and its something that is missing from most people who do things in the world
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I love novellas, and the author's style lends itself well to this form. But even while the book is compulsively readable, in the end, it's garbage. I'm reading Richard Yates now, and I'm pretty sure I'm not going to finish it. It's written in the same style with the same bored, one-dimensional characters.
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