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Taipei (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – June 4, 2013
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Guest Review of Taipei, by Tao Lin
By 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.
Top Customer Reviews
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?
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.Read more ›
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.
I was reading this poolside at a family reunion in Virginia and was asked what it was about and I said it wasn't really about anything. My uncle said, "what are the pages blank?", he got up to go to the barbeque and I'm glad he did. Can't an experience of nothing be enough? Plot wise, it's essentially Paul doing drugs on his book tour, with parties and people in between. But Taipei is a book where the particulars are inconsequential and at the same time vital to understanding that the book isn't about anything but the motions of living. Not even of living in a specific time- you see Whole foods and Gmail and think it's about today, but take the nouns away and it's just a story of the inner monologue of a person interacting with different people. So, that in itself sounds boring- that's why people read memoirs or some other jazzed up excitement, because why read something as boring as living. I'd say that's why this book is good- because it's about as close to living as possible, with all the drawn out silence.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
To me, if you've read one drug addict book, you've read them all. They're always filled with people not making good decisions and you're supposed to feel sorry for them, but in the... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Sesho
A completely unique discourse years beyond the comprehension of the contemporary mind. When we catch up I guess it'll be -.-Published 1 month ago by pure_honey
It's clearly Tao Lin writing about himself. I did not enjoy this book at all.Published 9 months ago by Jordan F.
I have to read this book for a college course, definitely don't read this book if you can't handle reading about consistent drug use. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Amazon Customer
the main characteristic of tao lin's writing has always been detachment. analyzing his own life experiences as though they were something he's watching happen to someone else even... Read morePublished 12 months ago by pancake_repairman
I have a good friend from Taiwan, so was interested to read this book to perhaps learn more about the country and cultural perspectives. Read morePublished 12 months ago by ~Kimber~
He's a cool dude but the book can be monotonous but I guess that is the point,Published 13 months ago by Amazon Customer