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Shoplifting from American Apparel

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3.12  ·  Rating details ·  3,636 ratings  ·  411 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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Lisa
Jul 30, 2013 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
...more
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
Lee Klein
Oct 22, 2009 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
...more
christa
Apr 09, 2010 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 to
...more
Matthieu
Oct 19, 2009 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Matthieu by: Crls
Why?
Dave 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
...more
Jasmine
Mar 14, 2010 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
...more
Andy
Jan 10, 2010 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
...more
Jason
Feb 06, 2012 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 in the novel who aimlessly search for a reason to exist and for ways to stave off boredom in a landscape of too many possibilities. There ...more
Alejandro Saint-Barthélemy
Apr 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: xxi
This book and his main character are 50% Tao Lin poking fun at hipsters, 50% Tao Lin himself (which I think happens in most of his books [for example, he is well-aware of the detachment and messed-up notion of the "self" that Paul has in "Taipei" due to the addiction to the internet, and yet Tao Lin is "the internet author" personified]). 3 examples to illustrate this theory:

1) Organic food: hipsters believe in buying such food as a revolutionary act, when it is merely a quick way to feel good a
...more
Toby
Dec 30, 2011 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
...more
Sentimental Surrealist
Nov 23, 2014 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
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
...more
tao_lin3
Nov 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: tao
I like this book. I can read this book in any mood and enjoy it, I think.
The words all have meaning that my brain can process. After I read the words I feel emotions. Each sentence makes me feel emotion.

I will read this again later on and probably more times later on.
Phrodrick
May 02, 2020 rated it it was ok
Tao Lin is one of those performance artists who does stuff in one person shows; usually to a small audience. This time he wrote stuff, Shoplifting from American Apparel. I presume he intends for a small readership. The people at Art of the Novella had gotten criticism about only publishing the obvious and not helping the “less accessible” lessor knowns. So they use the same nifty small sized editions to run the Contemporary Art of the Novella Series. I’ll not state that Tao Lin is inaccessible o ...more
Mike Kleine
Jun 12, 2010 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
...more
Will
Jan 17, 2011 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
...more
James Crichton
Aug 15, 2010 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
...more
Imogen
Sep 17, 2009 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,
...more
Dan
Feb 11, 2012 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
...more
Harris
Apr 09, 2011 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
Marcus
Oct 10, 2013 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
...more
Tshiung Han See
Mar 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Tao Lin is the Jeremy Lin of fiction.
Charlotte Dann
I find 'flirting with life's purpose' and his blunt style quite alluring and BEE-ish, but this was pretty drab, especially compared to Taipei which was rather charming in its despondency. ...more
Schuyler
Dec 17, 2009 rated it liked it
It's easy to read Lin and conclude that he writes about nothing. I mean, that's what I was thinking half the time. But what is behind the 'nothing'. And what do I mean by 'nothing', because clearly he's writing about something. 'Nothing' is really a representation of the current twenty something generation (of which I am a part) that spends way too much time on their Macbooks (this is a Macbook on which I am typing)and talking on Gchat (of which I am also guilty...guilty? Why do I say guilty?). ...more
Trish
Dec 30, 2009 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 though
...more
Megan Boyle
Apr 13, 2011 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
Leah
Dec 31, 2011 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
...more
Mia
May 27, 2013 rated it did not like it
Mildly funny. Too many of the characters in this book grin too often, which I find creepy idk why. I want to say I understand what Lin is doing. I get the whole "technologically-advanced-generation-makes-for-lonelier-people", the stand-alone and realistic dialogue (like text message dialogues that are real and u understand but others might not), and, overall, this ""postmodern"" novella. But I'm still so eh about it. I do appreciate that Lin doesn't force a certain "reading" of the novella; no e ...more
Howard
Oct 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
i started off thinking this was in the nihilistic vein of many contemporary writers but soon became aware that this 09 piece was actually almost celebratory. there's a freshness to Lin's prose which suggests a joy in writing and experimentation. the tastefully pared down writing flowed through my head in an enjoyably unobtrusive yet somehow unforgettable way ...more
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1,486 followers
Tao Lin is the author of Trip: Psychedelics, Alienation, and Change (2018), Taipei (2013), Richard Yates (2010), Shoplifting from American Apparel (2009), cognitive-behavioral therapy (2008), Eeeee Eee Eeee (2007), Bed (2007), you are a little bit happier than i am (2006), and Selected Tweets (2015). He edits Muumuu House. Feel free to follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Medium, and to read his ...more

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