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Shoplifting from American Apparel (The Contemporary Art of the Novella) Paperback – September 15, 2009
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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.)
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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."
—The Stranger (Seattle)
"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.”
"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.”
"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.”
"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
Top customer reviews
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Shoplifting from American Apparel follows the protagonist, a lightly fictionalized or not-fictionalized-at-all version of Lin, through some stuff, where he thinks about--and to a much lesser extent, assumes some agency in regard to--girls and life and veganism and, yes, shoplifts from American Apparel. (For background on that particular aspect of the work, please consult this critical behemoth: [...]) Rarely has so little plot been so polarizing among the people I've spoken to.
I read the majority of this novel in the back patio of 4th Avenue Pub in Brooklyn. At some point, I was joined by a number of people from BAM and their various artistically-inclined associates. I assumed that they fit the basic target demographic for his work, but no one in the crowd registered awareness of Tao Lin until certain details about the author and his writing were mentioned, at which point the mood turned sour. Comments were made to the effect of disapproval of his public persona and "provocative" behavior e.g. the title of this novel.
It was hard to make the case in favor of Lin. I don't know if that's intentional on his part. Much noise is made about his unlikableness but when its coming from Gawker and the like I'd chalk that up to the narcissism of small differences more than anything else. His aggressive social media campaign also sends mixed signals about his desire to be liked or disliked by a mass audience, if that's even relevant to the discussion.
(Full disclosure: This series of Tao Lin reviews was prompted by an email exchange with the author. These conversations were too brief for me to provide any first-hand accounts on this subject, though he seems like a nice enough guy.)
The best reason I can give you to read Shoplifting from American Apparel might not exactly inspire you but I hope you understand where I'm coming from on this. I adhere to the theory, which I first saw articulated in Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, that reading a good book is like having a great conversation with a friend. I'm sitting here eating vegan chicken salad and drinking iced coffee as I write this. I alternate between a vague detachment to everything or a paralyzing emotional connection. I want to write and feel enormous dread about my abilities as a writer, my prospects for making any sort of living at it. I feel like when Lin writes about himself, in the way intimacy among friends often goes, he also reveals things I didn't really recognize about myself and provides a safe space to come to grips with them.