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Shoplifting from American Apparel

3.14  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,888 Ratings  ·  342 Reviews
Set mostly in Manhattan—although also featuring Atlantic City, Brooklyn, GMail Chat, and Gainsville, Florida—this autobiographical novella, spanning two years in the life of a young writer with a cultish following, has been described by the author as “A shoplifting book about vague relationships,” “2 parts shoplifting arrest, 5 parts vague relationship issues,” and “An ult ...more
Paperback, 112 pages
Published September 15th 2009 by Melville House (first published July 1st 2009)
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Tao Te Ching by Lao TzuThe Tao of Pooh by Benjamin HoffSiddhartha by Hermann HesseThe Te of Piglet by Benjamin HoffTao by Alan W. Watts
Best Books on Taoism
11th out of 79 books — 82 voters
The Bird Day Battalion by Genevieve DeweyThe Meat Market by James ChalkInto the Killer Sphere by Stefania MattanaGalactic Energies by Luca  RossiDestroyer of Worlds by Dennis Sharpe
Good short fiction
78th out of 566 books — 461 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Anita Dalton
Look, people have shit on those who write for a new zeitgeist pretty much since publishing evolved from the Gutenberg Press to a more accessible means of conveying ideas. Truman Capote demeaned Kerouac. Half the people I know would like to kill Holden Caulfield if he were a real human. Douglas Coupland mined his generation so thoroughly that some think he wrote himself into a place of relative irrelevance, and Bret Easton Ellis’s scathing examination of 1980s consumer culture, American Psycho, i ...more
Sep 29, 2011 Lee rated it really liked it
In recognition of Tao Lin's mention of this review on HTMLgiant, I've decided to temporarily give his novella an additional 'star,' although I won't change the original review 'below':

My facial expression was almost neutral after I finished this book, which was controlled, calm, short, flat, and simple. I'm not the target demographic for this book. I don't really get excited about nearly identical disembodied proper nouns doing not much and talking about not much in an intentionally undescribed
Jul 30, 2013 Lisa added it
lisa finished her vegan tofu scramble and coconut water and started a g-chat with jay.

"i just finished shoplifting from american apparel. have you read it?" lisa typed

"yeah" jay said "what did you think?"

"i don't know. it was the top of a free stack of books i got. it was short."

"so it wasn't your favorite?" said jay

"no. but it wasn't my least favorite either. i mean it was awkward. it felt dated. so web 2.0. but at the same time it felt like a lot of young people i meet. disconnected. bored. al
Oct 19, 2009 Matthieu rated it it was ok
Recommended to Matthieu by: Crls
Apr 09, 2010 christa rated it did not like it
Of all the vapid crap in all the vapid world over, this is the vapid-est. I have not been able to get that word out of my head -- vapid! vapid! vapid! -- since I finished Tao Lin's vapid "it" novella "Shoplifting from American Apparel." A task completed over the course of an hour and a half that would have been better spent watching "16 and Pregnant."

True story: I read more than half of this in the cafe at Barnes & Noble and knew I hated it. But I still bought it because I wanted to be able
David Schaafsma
I read this because I have liked Kafka and Camus and have heard this is a new century hipster version of existentialist angst and alienation. It feels more like arrogance than alienation, actually. Does it capture the "current zeitgeist" in some way? Maybe. Like Kerouac with the Beat generation? Hmm. I doubt it.

I like the title a lot! I like a lot of hipster art titles like Dear Jenny We are all Find by Jenny Zhang and Selected Unpublished Blog Posts of a Mexican Panda Express Employee by Megan
Jul 12, 2010 Jasmine rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american
I have a feeling that this review will be insulting, so perhaps people emotionally attached to either this book or eat when you feel sad should perhaps just look at the star rating not the rest of the review. Thanks.

I like this book, I like a lot of books, sadly me liking thing tends to translate into me having opinions which easily slides into direct criticism. Things I hate are safer I tend to simply digress or not care enough to say anything.

Anyhow, let's begin with a serious digression, I wa
Mar 17, 2014 Jason rated it it was ok
A friend and I discussed this book for a moment. She had recently read it, and I just finished it yesterday. We concluded that we didn't like it very much. It wasn't terrible, there were some good parts, funny parts - the seemingly incompetent writing was most likely intentional and consistent with the scattered-brained vapid technologically saturated creatures who aimlessly and meaninglessly search for a reason to exist and ways to stave off boredom in a landscape of too many possibilities. The ...more
Jan 10, 2010 Andy rated it did not like it
I'm a fan of gritty realism, and i've got no problem when a book doesn't go anywhere. It's not that I don't "get it", it's that the author doesn't. If taken as satire, the references are painfully out of touch and come across like the misplaced name-dropping of someone who hangs out in the city on weekends but doesn't really know his way around.

If the book is actually to be taken in earnest, it reflects the privileged, vapid reality inhabited by the class of "slumming" pseudo artists who want t
Dec 31, 2011 Tfitoby rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lit, favourites
This was in the cult section of my favourite bookshop and upon reading the title I knew I had to get this book. Yes, I guess this makes me hip or some other label.

I now know more about the author because I loved this novella so much I had to wiki him. He made a documentary on the mumblecore film movement and this is a fact that sheds a whole new light on the structure of Shoplifting From American Apparel. This is a mumblecore novella.

There is something so real and awkward and funny about the cha
Sentimental Surrealist
Jan 28, 2015 Sentimental Surrealist rated it did not like it
Shelves: book-hell
So Tao Lin. His books are set up to look all guileless and devoid of all flash and tricks, these short declarative parataxical fragments without any sort of adornment at all: "I woke up. I looked out the window and saw the sun. I looked over to my alarm clock. It was 6:02. I got out of bed. I walked over to my dresser and put my pants on. A coin fell out of my pants. It was a dime. I got sad or something." That sort of thing for a good hundred pages, writing we've all been trained to see as bad, ...more
Feb 12, 2012 Dan rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2012
as i see it, there are a few slightly contradictory ways to interpret this book...

one way would be to see it as some kind of updated, facebook-era existential absurdist tome - like kafka or beckett with text-messaging. or you can take the opposite approach, and see it as a twee, miranda july-ish attempt to capture the awkwardness and vulnerability of 20-something vernacular. or you could pull pack a bit, and look at it as a mostly formal exercise in the rhythms of conversational language, with
Andy W
Oct 24, 2012 Andy W rated it did not like it
Terrible. I actually picked this up at a local bookstore one day when my Kindle had run out of battery and I wanted something quick to read on my way back home on the subway. I picked it out purposely because it was thin and seemed like a quick read, bonus points that the title was hip and obscure enough that I would feel like a cool hipster champion as people gazed upon my proudly-displayed reading material on the train.

But for what was a little over a 100 pages and should have been finished th
James Crichton
Aug 15, 2010 James Crichton rated it it was ok
As previous reviews have aptly explained, this book does kind of resist any sort of formal analysis. I am going to try to outline my main problem with this book, but it should be noted that I actually don't dislike this book, it's just hard to "like" or have any kind of emotional response to, in the conventional sense.

So the main problem I have with this book is that, having read quite a lot of what has been written about the book, I am left feeling that the people who write about the book are
Dec 30, 2009 Trish rated it liked it

Just this morning NPR broadcaster Lynn Neary opined that ebooks and online mobile reading will make writers and readers of traditional books less central to the important intellectual challenges being debated today. Since most ebooks are simply a repackaging of "traditional" books, I question that assertion, but it did make me take another look at Tao Lin's Shoplifting from American Apparel . It occured to me that the style, which hasn't a strong narrative thread but is bits of thought, hints
Apr 09, 2011 Harris rated it liked it
I'm not entirely sure how to review this interesting, unusual work of seemingly semi-autobiographical fiction. The work follows the mundane everyday life of Sam, an unfocused vegan writer who bums about New York City (and occasionally elsewhere) shoplifting, drinking Synergy brand kombucha, chatting with friends on Gmail, and indulging in painfully self-conscious irony (he jokes about buying a "Spicy Chicken Sandwich from Wendy's," and then not eating it). I have to say, "Shoplifting from Americ ...more
Will Clarke
Jan 21, 2011 Will Clarke rated it liked it
This is a weirder version of Lost in Translation. It depressed the hell out of me too and made me wonder if half my generation isn't just a bunch of worthless narcissists who want to stare in the mirror, twist their hair into the most ironic curls, masturbate and play listless Elliott Smith covers on their acoustic guitar while smoking handrolled cigarettes and thinking of their 3rd grade crush. Yuck.

Three stars because it did such a good job capturing millennial cool culture. If it had a sense
Sep 22, 2009 Stop added it
Shelves: interviewees

Read the STOP SMILING Interview with Tao Lin:

Reading About Other People's Lives

Stop Smiling: You’ve said that your target demographic includes hipsters, happy but sensitive teenagers, depressed vegans, Europeans and college students. Does it strike you as odd when other types of people — say, literary critics or editors of magazines — are attracted to your writing?

Tao Lin: No. The way I write, I feel, is within the tradition of what literary critics in every mainstream publication would approve
Emma Sea
After five pages I really wanted to stop, but the lassitude of the characters infected me, and suddenly putting the book down was more effort than I could manage.

I both loathe it, and find it a kind of genius, in the same think.

The CD ended and everyone went outside the house to go see a Japanese band at a bar. Someone said the bar wouldn't let them bring in beer.

"We can put them in our pockets, " said Sam with his beer in his pocket.

"There's nowhere to put it on me," said a person in tight
Mike Kleine
Aug 29, 2015 Mike Kleine rated it really liked it
This is a short book. The ending is really good. Tao Lin also, is a good writer. He will make you think about the way you think. He will make you realize that everyone is different and awkward really doesn't mean anything since we all end up having our "moments"... If you think about it.

But in simple terms, Tao Lin's SHOPLIFTING FROM AMERICAN APPAREL is interesting to read and fascinating in concept. I say this because Lin uses a style of writing that is both precise and minimal. In a recent in
Sep 17, 2009 Imogen rated it really liked it
Ah, Tao Lin. Evan was like, "Tao Lin has an Andy Warhol thing going on," which is true. Intentionally vapid in a way that points to the vapidness (vapidity!) of the culture! Smart.

And for the first sixty pages of this little book, I was super pumped about it. "This is great," I thought. "Nobody writes this simply and directly about complicated things." But by the end I was like, "okay, yes, you write simply and directly about complicated things, and the lack of analysis is basically the point,
Jan 02, 2012 Leah rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literary
I think it must be ridiculously hard to write this simply and make it endurable. I actually didn't quite connect with the ending as much as the rest of the book; once he met Audrey it sort of veered off in a different direction than the one it had seemed to be heading in.
I think this might be because I read an alternate ending that he posted a link to on his blog or something, so the character of Audrey and the role she played were foreshadowed and so felt a little less genuine.

It was just so r
Oct 10, 2013 Marcus rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
I thought about writing a review in the style of this book. Then my sentences would be short. My sentences would be short and I'd seem completely apathetic about writing the review. I'd also probably choose the most mundane parts of the book to write about. I would not try to be interesting.

I read this book mostly on my iPhone. I read it in an app called Oyster. I was sitting up in bed when I read it. After I read it, I had some organic milk with organic cereal. I watched a TED talk and thought
Tshiung Han See
Mar 30, 2012 Tshiung Han See rated it it was amazing
Tao Lin is the Jeremy Lin of fiction.
Megan Boyle
May 16, 2011 Megan Boyle rated it it was amazing
I think I've read "Shoplifting from American Apparel" 2.5 times, and have intermittently re-read select passages from it (the "Moby meeting"/party where things are confusing and funny, following the "crazy Asian homeless person"/community service, and the last ~20 pages immediately `come to mind'). I first read it in the spring time, ~May 2009 I think, sitting in a park near my apartment until it got dark, then took it inside and finished it in bed. I remember spending a lot of time physically p ...more
A. D. Jameson
Nov 21, 2010 A. D. Jameson rated it it was amazing
A minor modern masterpiece, easily the best thing I've read by Lin, and one of the best new novels I've read by anyone. Do folks still think after this one that Lin isn't deeply committed either to his own writing or to literature? Rather, he strikes me as far more serious than most. An updating of 80s minimalist realism to the present-day, this book is as desperately absurd and emotional as works by Beattie, Carver, L. Moore, J. Williams (the lineage Lin is clearly inhabiting). I read this seve ...more
Mar 21, 2010 Phloe rated it it was ok
Two stars because Lin does - write in a way no one else has prior.

Two stars because - it really wasn't all that engaging.

But. I'm not the one with a book deal, and one who is included in the series "The Art of The Novella" alongside Kipling, Flaubert, Wharton and Joyce. Tao Lin is inarguably making more money than I am.

Shrug. Maybe it's because I'm not a writer. I just read. Perhaps I am missing something.

One-hundred-and-three pages of hipster ennui. Our main character Sam basically drinks iced
Sep 05, 2011 Laura rated it it was ok
I try to keep an open mind about what the young kids go on about these days, so I thought I would give this guy a chance and see what's what, what. But then I realized that Tao Lin is a year older than I am -- I thought he was, I don't know, five years younger than me? which would help excuse him. But no. The story and the writing both reminded me of the diaries I kept late in grade school and early in high school (that is, the parts where I described social interactions, which weren't many). It ...more
May 20, 2012 Aya rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I'm not sure to rate this book with 3 or 4 stars, I think I have to read more of Tao Lin's books before deciding what I think about his writing. I can say that I enjoyed the book. It's a quick read. I haven't ever encountered something alike, which is quite strange for me as his style and subjectmatters are undeniably of my generation (around 25-35) and there are many writers from this generation. The refreshing part is that he doesn't, as most young writers may, feel the urge to write in the ol ...more
Dec 01, 2012 Sergsab rated it it was ok
Nada nuevo bajo el sol. Ni siquiera nuestras exquisitas formas de aburrirnos. Incluso con novelas en las que no sucede mucho, hay que gastar tiempo en una trama que justifique la apatía existencial de los personajes, no del autor.

Revisitación floja de aquel 'Menos que cero' de Easton Ellis de 1985. Ahora con Gmail y Ebay pero con menos gracia. No sé si volveré a cruzarme con este chico. No he sentido el impulso de hacerlo. Y sí el de acabar de una vez por todas con el postmodernismo existencial
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“Do you sometimes look up from the computer and look around the room and know you are alone, I mean really know it, then feel scared ?” 51 likes
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