christa's Reviews > Shoplifting from American Apparel

Shoplifting from American Apparel by Tao Lin
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's review
Apr 09, 2010

did not like it
Read in April, 2010

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 loathe something physical. And I wanted to finish it, so I would have more reasons to not like it. Joke's on me: Lin profits from my wrath.

Our hero Sam is a bored New York City writer/organic vegan restaurant worker who sleeps until 3 p.m., then IMs Internet friends on Gmail. These are gripping back-and-forths that frequent digress into "I'm so fucked." "I'm so fucked, too." "He's so fucked." Sam seems to like iced coffee, vegan dining, and his ex-girlfriend Sheila, although it's hard to tell. This entire story? chronology? Twitter stream? is written in an eerie See Dick Run monotone. What passes as witty conversations seem to be of the "had to be there" variety. Sam is horseshit at shoplifting, the two times he does it he lands in the clink. Friends enter and exit scenes and new ones replace them but act exactly the same.

All the while, Sam has some sort of cult following of people who actually want to hear him read his words in public and talk about being fans of his work. Then things get super fun on a trip to Florida where everyone gets crazy and does antics.

There is part of me that hopes this book is some sort of elaborate bit of social satire. Like maybe, just maybe Lin is making a statement about blind worship, consumerism, and herd mentalities. Maybe Lin is sitting at home using Hotmail and Bing, craving gas station coffee and Olive Garden, laughing at his friend -- the one who took blurbs from the reviews of people who didn't like this book and tried to refute their claims. I'm not convinced Lin wouldn't do this: he's allegedly given readings where he repeats the same sentence over and over and over; he papered NYC with Britney Spears stickers. Why not write a blase novella, and then mock people who like it in the name of art? Don't get me wrong -- even if that is what's going on here, I'd still hate it.

Another true story: I started reading "Less Than Zero" by Bret Easton Ellis in the same sitting. Strip these two tales, and they are similar concepts: 20-somethings wandering here and there, leaving a trail of pop culture bread crumbs. Yet Ellis doesn't inspire ire. He makes me giddy. Nostalgia is a better brand of vapid. I prefer bored twits from the 80s to bored twits from the 2000s.

This book actually made me mad, and then more mad because I let it make me mad. And this book made me really glad that I don't have any friends younger than 30. It also made me hate the Internet, cult followings, bloggers, and vegans, readers, and emo anything.
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07/26/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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message 1: by P (new) - rated it 5 stars

P 'And this book made me really glad that I don't have any friends younger than 30'

message 2: by Alex (new)

Alex This is terrifying. You bought the book and wrote about it to tell everyone how awful it was. But you are just perpetuating the cycle that made you buy the book in the first place. Which is kind of what he was referring to in his book to begin with. And here I am, never having read a single word by this guy and by leaving the comment I continue the publicity. I don't think Tao Lin is an author. He doesn't write great books for people to place next to classics. He is some sort of meta-artist commenting on the vapidity of our culture that is swayed quickly through the virality of the internet. He is proving that even the dumbest shit by the most nameless person can become a physical part of everyone's life merely by constantly placing it in front of everyone's face regardless of whether it is in a positive or negative light. Also a squirrel outside my window is stuffing straw in its mouth to make a nest.

message 3: by P (new) - rated it 5 stars

P that's a pretty sophisticated theory for someone who has 'never read a word' of tao lin.

universal truths:

all literature should conform to using a certain type of 'literary' language,

lots of stuff should happen in every novel, not 'boring' or 'vapid' stuff

all novellas should take a long time to read

all novellas should have lots of 'interesting, multi-dimensional characters' that I like.

the world of young people is full of things that could be considered by a grumpy 38 year old to be 'trendy' - this is morally wrong. veganism, 'hipsterism' etc - these are all things that I am not a part of and are therefore gimmicky and do not belong in books

if I can't percieve a message there is no message, in order for it to be a good book there must be a message.

the 'main character' is always 'our hero'

christa Just because a person calls what he does art, doesn't mean you have to stand around in a circle with your friends nodding about it.

Take a moment to read "Almost Transparent Blue" by Ryu Murakami. He does what Tao Lin seemed to be trying to do but does it really well.

message 5: by P (new) - rated it 5 stars

P try to be more patronizing please

christa I thought it was okay to be patronizing, since you opened the door by defining the novella for me.

message 7: by P (new) - rated it 5 stars

P oh dear...

message 8: by Jk (new)

Jk as a fellow literature blogger i must weigh in: you do bring up some good points, but i have to respectfully disagree on the whole.

at first i didnt really get Tao Lin and i am not sure I do yet but I liked "SFAA" better than "EEEE...." and I think "Richard Yates" is going to be even better.

and i love less than zero! but Tao and Bret are quite different.

if Tao is writing this to comment on "herd mentality" then i think he is a hypocrite.

i dont think that's what its about at all.

i think its about the new way people have of communicating. it may be "lame" or "depressing" but its the way it is. blogs twitters facebooks all of the horrible stuff about "generation me" that i wish i were born four years earlier to avoid being included by in cultural stereotyping of age groups. but Tao built his reputation off the internet--one of the very few authors to do it effectively--and so it is only appropriate that he write about the experience.

i dont love this book by any stretch--but it was probably the 2nd best thing i read published in 2009. if Tao is hyperpcritical/cynical than I am reading him all wrong. it seems a lot more innocent to me.

and if you have a problem with the language why don't you go read hemingway or vonnegut? i hate twitter, but this isn't "twitterature" (the worst fucking idea i have ever heard of in my life)--this is like a self-imposed guideline, a writer forcing themselves to write objectively and autobiographically (this is what i see, it may not be correct) without sentimentality towards its main character. its as different a book as there is, but in his own skewed narrative way, Tao has made something that is real and memorable.

Jonathan Papernick Possibly the worst book ever written in the English language.

Jonathan Papernick Possibly the worst book ever written in the English language.

message 11: by J.D. (new)

J.D. I feel like even the most pointless things can seem beautiful or interesting when someone with writing skill describes them...likewise, even something otherwise potentially interesting can be turned 'vapid' by unskilled writing. To some extent, I think all of us would think of our own lives as interesting (or at the very least, relevant)...but how many of us would want to listen to it in monotone, or read it in succinct, disjointed sentences that convey action alone (he did this, she did that), without any heart or soul? In the wrong hands, even something of the utmost importance or relevance can bore us to death. Maybe this book has a point, maybe it doesn't, maybe its point is something so internally selfish that it doesn't show up on the radar of anyone other than the writer himself (see this interview of the author for more on that: ...but it would be a treacherous undertaking to attempt to find a point in this text considering how painfully unskilled the writing was -- just from the short excerpt I read of the preview. This sort of style has become acceptable for tweets or blogs or text messages, but in the realm of literature, where the bar is set high by classic authors, this doesn't even show up on the radar. It feels like some new, tech-age attempt to pull this unconsciously put-together self-narrative writing of the Internet, into the realm of consciously crafted classical work...which holds as well as Walmart polypropylene shelves, against hand-carved hardwood furniture. It may have attention now, for the sake of trend or newness, but I hardly think I has the wherewithal to last the ages...especially when what readers get from a work is often relative to the time and effort put into it -- and that's just not something you can fake.

message 12: by Lea (new)

Lea Actually I hated Ellis' vapidness, too. So I'd probably loathe this book.

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