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Taipei (Vintage Contemporaries Original) Paperback – June 4, 2013

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Amazon.com Review

Guest Review of Taipei, by Tao Lin

By Charles Yu

Charles Yu

Charles Yu is the author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, which was named one of the best books of the year by Time magazine. He received the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Award for his story collection Third Class Superhero, and was a finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award. His work has been published in The New York Times, Playboy, and Slate, among other periodicals. Yu lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Michelle, and their two children.

What does it feel like to be alive? It's an inquiry central to many novels, either explicitly or implicitly, and it has been explored in so many ways, in so many variations and permutations, that it's remarkable when someone finds a new way of asking the question. With Taipei, Tao Lin has managed to do just that. The novel's protagonist, Paul, is a twenty-something writer living in New York City who has at least two extraordinary capabilities: (1) a terrifyingly high tolerance for pharmacological substances, and (2) a prodigious ability to record and recount the moment-to-moment flow of micro-impressions and fleeting sensations of his awareness. While Lin may not be the first writer to combine these two elements in the form of a novel, he is the first one to synthesize them in this particular way, and it is the tension and interaction of these things that make Taipei such a compelling read.

What does it feel like to be alive? Weird. Really weird. That's something very easy to forget - we have an ability to acclimate quickly to our own ambient mental environment. For similar reasons, the fundamental strangeness of being alive is also very hard to articulate. What Tao Lin does is to slow everything down, paying very close attention to everything, registering his findings. The noise and bustle and all-night lights of the big city, first New York City, and then Taipei, the blur of pills and parties and people's faces are presented not as an impressionistic smear, but in careful, deliberate language, prose so precise it cannot be anything but excruciatingly honest. At times, Taipei feels like an experiment, a study on how to use (and abuse) your brain, with Paul communicating in a way that almost feels scientific - he's a scientist studying the strange thing called his self, or an alien who experiences human consciousness as if he were test-driving a brand new technology. It is this detachment which allows Lin to render, in a very pure, very visceral way, what the fringe feels like, a displacement or distance from the center, from your own heart, the psychological impossibility of going to some real or imagined home. Taipei renders all of this with a brute and direct force, and I admit at times that force caused me to flinch. This kind of experience is why I read, though - to be challenged, to be confronted, to experience something completely familiar that has been made entirely new.

From Booklist

This novel follows Paul, a young, Brooklyn-based author, as his drug addiction spirals out of control. Though he experiments at first in the name of artistic expression, Paul becomes consumed by apathy, tripping during interviews and drifting out of touch with old friends. He meets and marries Erin, a fellow artist drug user, and they move to Taipei, Taiwan, where they become performance artists, videotaping themselves while on drugs in public. As their relationship breaks down, Paul nearly overdoses and is finally thankful to be alive. The characters are visibly suffering from loneliness, desperately wounded self-esteem, and an aimlessness that leads them to wander from poetry reading to movie theater to party to party, making the briefest and shallowest of encounters with those around them. Tao Lin’s writing style is definitively unique and mirrors the shifting reality his drugged characters perceive when submerged in their daze. At times, however, it is a haze too thick for the unencumbered reader to peer through. --Sarah Grant
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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries Original
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; First Edition edition (June 4, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307950174
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307950178
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #71,523 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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Sean Rueter VINE VOICE on November 21, 2014
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It's a pretty accurate to statement to say that I was an overly introspective and depressed twenty-something who "partied" too much. Taipei makes me glad that I wasn't doing it in the late aughts through the present day, or in Brooklyn. Because Tao Lin's characters take navel-gazing and selfish behavior to another level.

There's a great deal of craft on display, and I did find myself sucked into the downward spiral of Paul's life. If the goal was to make me care as little about his life, or to loathe the way he and his "friends" act, as he seems to, it's a success. I admire the honesty with which the protagonist's inner monologue is presented - I think most men will relate to the way Paul observes and categorizes his female acquaintenances. Taipei left me hoping that, even as a priviledged young adult of the late 90s / early aughts, that I wasn't this inwardly focused and oblivious to the suffering of the world around me. And praying that if this is an accurate representation of today's 20-somethings, that their journey takes them to a place of gratitude and maybe even a higher purpose like it seems Paul reaches at the novel's conclusion.

This is why I was torn while reading Lin's book, and remain so after finishing. I found it be a profoundly unsettling experience that I wouldn't describe as enjoyable. But that's one of the goals of art. Right?
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70 of 94 people found the following review helpful By Peter Mathews on June 21, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Tao Lin is hot property in the world of contemporary literature, with Taipei, his third novel, being hailed as his breakthrough work. Part of his appeal lies, no doubt, in his capacity to divide: whether as a person and a writer, he tends either to inspire adoration as the voice of his generation or hatred for being a shallow impostor. Lin also complicates matters further by blurring the lines between fiction and autobiography in making Paul, the protagonist of Taipei, into a rather transparent stand-in for his own self. Paul essentially shares every aspect of Tao Lin's history, from his Taiwanese background to his rampant drug use.

One of Lin's champions is Bret Easton Ellis, and it is perhaps no surprise that Taipei is being compared to Ellis's debut novel Less Than Zero (1985). In terms of personality, though, these two writers could not be more different. Unlike the self-promoting, egoistic Ellis, Lin, to coin a term, is a "black hole" provocateur. In the interviews I have read, he comes across as curiously passive and non-committal, much like the protagonist of Taipei, in a way that initially makes me want to punch him in the face for his apparent pretentiousness but, after further consideration, makes me also admire his ability to provoke such a reaction in spite of his utterly flavorless personality (nonetheless, I still want to punch him in the face).

Taipei had a similar effect on me as I was reading it.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By M. Gutierrez on November 16, 2014
Format: Paperback
I really wanted to love this book. There are some beautifully constructed sentences (this man can properly punctuate the hell out of a paragraph~page long sentence) and some hilarious sentences that would seem contrite outside of whatever blurry, boring context is often given. Mostly, though, this book documents self-pitying mumbling addicts, so willing to live in (and constantly reconstruct) awkward tangents around every person and thing they touch. I mean, we're all sad, but these people are awful and, worst of all, in the literary world, just not that interesting :/
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33 of 45 people found the following review helpful By JMT on July 24, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm 74 and have lived in Maine for 40 years. I just could not relate to it. I did try.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By - Kasia S. VINE VOICE on June 19, 2014
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I liked the unusual rhythm through the book, it was veiled in a very relaxed manner, the drug use, the dating, the literary life that Paul leads; it was different from what I usually read but enjoyable. The ending was especially surprising in comparison to the tone of the story, it actually made me chuckle.

This is East meets West with Paul and his modern life being blended back with that of his parents in Taipei as Paul travels and talks about his work and his books while constantly high and on drugs. It truly reads like someone’s life, a stream of trippy consciousness. People seem to be shocked at the bits and pieces as if their own lives were spotless, sterile and boring. I don’t think that people should force themselves to read this, many seem to dislike it and that’s fine. We can’t all like the same thing but I had no trouble in my enjoyment, it was pretty fast moving and made me feel happy that this wasn’t my life since I don’t mind being awake and aware when I talk to people but I can see why someone like Paul would need meds and pills considering how most of our modern society sucks. Mental sleepwalkers who point fingers, just read the reviews.

- Kasia S.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Logan Rand on May 18, 2015
Format: Paperback
I knew what I was getting into with this book; I'd read enough reviews. So I decided to listen to Taipei rather than read it. As such, I got through it in about 2.5 hours listening at triple speed and enjoyed it enough as the rather banal scenarios flew by as impressions without my getting caught up in the details that would never amount to much of anything anyway. As such, I prevented myself from growing bitter toward the text as many readers apparently have.

It's another writer writing about writing.
It's another druggie writing about tripping.

Yawns all around.

But, I treated it like an Andy Warhol experience, where it's superficial in the moment-to-moment but, taken as a whole, makes an abstract commentary about the larger society in which its endless banality exists.

That's good enough for me to push this quick listen over the halfway to great mark.
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