A few weeks ago, Tao Lin, poet, novelist, short story writer, and editor at 3:AM Magazine, moved into the futures business – offering to sell, for two thousand dollars each, six ten percent stakes in the royalties of his as yet unfinished second novel, due to be published next year by independent Brooklyn press Melville House. A full article about the venture can be found here, care of Publishers Weekly.
Interesting, I thought, and kind of smart. After all, if David Bowie can do it, why not Tao Lin? Make some money, get some publicity, and build an audience. A few days after I found out about the offer I went to check out Lin’s blog, Reader of Depressing Books, but I was too late. The offer had been closed. No matter — I probably wouldn’t have shelled out the cash anyway. Instead, I found myself drawn into some of the other posts, in particular one about how Lin had been flamed on the internet (by what he calls “a shit talking entity”) and so he was inviting his blog readers to chime in about what a good and honest person he is.
I’m intrigued. What is it that people are saying that could be so bad that he feels he has to mount such a public defense? Then I remember that I have heard about Lin before – on Gawker, no less – when I was directed, by a link, to this article from the Seattle based alt weekly The Stranger, in which Lin charts the various levels of writing greatness. I remember reading that piece and thinking — hmm, there are not many people I know who could compare Anne Tyler to a $9.98 Petco Gerbil and get away with it. I remember also thinking, there’s someone who is very clear-eyed about how this whole publishing world works.
So I hang out at Lin’s blog a little more and read more posts, and the comments left in response to those posts, and I deduce a few things. The first is that Lin has quite the following, and many of his acolytes leave comments that seem to be written in his own style. Ergo, Lin is already influencing people. Ergo, he must be original to some degree, and have things to say that others respond to. So what exactly is his style?
Based on a reading of his blog (I can’t comment on his other writing because I haven’t read it) I’d say it was specific, acerbic, oddball, compellingly honest, verging on sarcastic at times, generous at others, and self-depreciating in a hard to read kind of way. Arch, and ironic, but that bite is undercut by the struggle to say something true.
He uses scare quotes a lot — to indicate, I think, a degree of distance from what he is saying. Or maybe the scare quotes are a defense against the possibility that what he is saying is, in some way, false. For instance, he says that reading work written by a friend of his “made me “stop being a little bitch” for an amount of time.” I can identify with that. Who doesn’t feel like a little bitch now and then, and who hasn’t had the experience, when reading great work, of being released in some way, or experiencing your own self (and so the world) as a little larger and fresher? Great work can do that.
The thing about trying to speak the truth is, it can leave you feeling pretty vulnerable. I can understand how scare quotes could be a useful way of countering that vulnerability. In some cases, their presence serves to heighten it, or heighten the reader’s sense of it, as in: wow, if he’s using scare quotes, he must really feel the need to seperate himself from those feelings, he must be afraid of them, and so they must be true. It’s actually putting a spot light on the vulnerability to some degree. That’s my reading of it, anyway.
Here’s a post from Tao Lin’s blog that heightened my sense of him as a vulnerable, honest person trying to make sense of his place in the world, and which also happens to be a great model for begining writers about how the process of submitting work to literary magazines can so often play out. Here’s another of his posts that performs the same set of functions. [I forgot to mention, in the original post, that Lin is also funny.]
What do I get from all this and why am I blogging about it? Well, for a start, it’s pretty rare, in my opinion, to come across someone whose voice, even if it is on a blog, is so unique and well-formed. Second, in reading Lin’s blog, I had a sense that he had formed his own universe — a great achievement for any writer — and that I recognized aspects of it but was intrigued by others. Third, he’s ambitious and savvy, both qualities that will probably mean he’ll go far, and qualities that other writers may also have, to various degrees and in various combinations, but might not manifest in the same knowing, playful way as Lin does. Lin has interns and he encourages them to promote him. One of his stated aims is to have a regular income without having to have a job. Seems like a pretty good aim to me.
I’m running out of time here — my dog needs walking. She’s looking at me with a pleading expression and batting me with her wet nose. So I’ll conclude by linking to a Tao Lin poem with an excellent title: I’m Going To Touch You Very Hard. An excerpt:
the only reason i am not an out-of-control asshole
is because it feels like an amazing person is licking my heart
I didn’t intend for this post to be a defence of Tao Lin, but it seems to have turned into one. Not that I really think he needs defending. The aforementioned “shit talking entity” is clearly cracked and I have a feeling that Lin will do just fine despite him.