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Tao Lin (林韜; born July 2, 1983) is an American novelist, poet, essayist, short-story writer, and artist. He has published three novels, a novella, two books of poetry, a collection of short stories and a memoir as well as an extensive assortment of online content. His third novel, Taipei, was published by Vintage on June 4, 2013. His nonfiction book, Trip: Psychedelics, Alienation, and Change, was published by Vintage on May 1, 2018. His next novel, Leave Society, is forthcoming from Vintage.
In November 2008 Lin founded Muumuu House, an independent publishing house, and in 2010 he co-founded MDMAfilms, an independent film production company.
Lin was born to Taiwanese parents and grew up in Orlando, Florida. He graduated from New York University in 2005 with a B.A. in journalism. He has lectured on his writing and art at Vassar College, Kansas City Art Institute, Columbia College, UNC Chapel Hill, and other universities and museums, including the Museum of Modern Art and the New Museum. In 2012 and in 2015 he taught a graduate course at Sarah Lawrence College called "The Contemporary Short Story." Lin lives in New York City.
Lin has one brother who also lives in New York; their father is a retired physics professor who is the inventor of the flying-spot LASIK, a laser procedure for vision correction (US pat. #5520679, 1991).
Lin's writing has attracted both negative and positive attention from various publications. Gawker once referred to him as "maybe perhaps the single most irritating person we've ever had to deal with", though he was later "pardoned". After reading this criticism, however, Lin retaliated by completely covering the front door of the Gawker office building with stickers bearing Britney Spears's name. Later, Gawker published a piece Lin had written. L Magazine said, "We've long been deeply irked by Lin's vacuous posturing and 'I know you are but what am I' dorm-room philosophizing..." Sam Anderson, in New York Magazine, wrote, "Dismissing Lin, however, ignores the fact that he is deeply smart, funny, and head-over-heels dedicated in exactly the way we like our young artists to be." Miranda July has praised his work as "moving and necessary."
An article in The Atlantic described Lin as having a "fairly staggering" knack for self-promotion. The same article said "there's something unusual about a writer being so transparent, so ready to tell you every insignificant detail of a seemingly eventful day, so aware of his next novel's word count, yet also remaining so opaque, mysterious "inscrutable.""
Lin's work has increasingly been praised in the UK, including positive reviews from The Guardian and Times Literary Supplement, who, reviewing Taipei in 2013, said Lin was "a daring, urgent voice for a malfunctioning age," and a 2010 career overview from London Review of Books.
you are a little bit happier than i am (2006)
In November 2006 Lin's first book, a poetry collection titled you are a little bit happier than i am, was published. It was the winner of Action Books' December Prize and has been a small-press bestseller.
Eeeee Eee Eeee & Bed (2007)
In May 2007 Lin's first novel, Eeeee Eee Eeee, and first story collection, Bed, were published simultaneously. Of the stories, Jennifer Bassett, writing in KGB Lit Journal, said: "In structure and tone, they have the feel of early Lorrie Moore and Deborah Eisenberg. Like Moore's characters, there are a lot of plays on language and within each story, a return to the same images or ideas — or jokes. And like Moore, most of these characters live in New York, are unemployed or recently employed, and are originally from somewhere more provincial (Florida in Lin's case, Wisconsin in Moore's). However, Lin knows to dig a little deeper into his characters—something we see in Moore's later stories, but less so in her early ones."
They were ignored by most mainstream media but have since been referenced in The Independent (who called Eeeee Eee Eeee "a wonderfully deadpan joke") and The New York Times who called Lin a "deadpan literary trickster" in reference to Eeeee Eee Eeee.
cognitive-behavioral therapy (2008)
In May 2008 Lin's second poetry collection, cognitive-behavioral therapy was published.
The poem "room night" from this collection was anthologized in Wave Books' State of the Union. A French translation was published by Au Diable Vauvert in 2012.
Shoplifting from American Apparel (2009)
In September 2009 Lin's novella, Shoplifting from American Apparel, was published to mixed reviews. The Guardian said, "Trancelike and often hilarious… Lin's writing is reminiscent of early Douglas Coupland, or early Bret Easton Ellis, but there is also something going on here that is more profoundly peculiar, even Beckettian." The Village Voice called it a "fragile, elusive book." Bookslut said, "it shares an affected childishness with bands like The Moldy Peaches and it has a put-on weirdness reminiscent of Miranda July's No One Belongs Here More Than You." Time Out New York said, "Writing about being an artist makes most contemporary artists self-conscious, squeamish and arch. Lin, however, appears to be comfortable, even earnest, when his characters try to describe their aspirations (or their shortcomings) [...] purposefully raw." San Francisco Chronicle said, "Tao Lin's sly, forlorn, deadpan humor jumps off the page [...] will delight fans of everyone from Mark Twain to Michelle Tea." Los Angeles Times said, "Camus' The Stranger or sociopath?" while Austin Chronicle called it "scathingly funny" and said that "it might just be the future of literature." Another reviewer described it as "a vehicle...for self-promotion."
In an interview aired December 2009 with Michael Silverblatt on KCRW's Bookworm Silverblatt called the novella "the purest example so far of the minimalist aesthetic as it used to be enunciated" and Lin described the novella's style as deliberately "concrete, with all the focus on surface details, with no sentences devoted to thoughts or feelings, and I think that results in a kind of themelessness, that, in its lack of focus on anything else, the theme becomes, to me, the passage of time."
In December 2009 clothing retailer Urban Outfitters began selling Shoplifting from American Apparel in its stores.
Richard Yates (2010)
Published September 7, 2010, by Melville House, Richard Yates is Lin's second novel.
In a book review in The New York Times, Charles Bock described the book as "more interesting as a concept than as an actual narrative", adding, "By the time I reached the last 50 pages, each time the characters said they wanted to kill themselves, I knew exactly how they felt."
On February 23, 2013, Publishers Weekly awarded Taipei a starred review, predicting it would be Lin's "breakout" book and describing it as "a novel about disaffection that's oddly affecting" and "a book without an ounce of self-pity, melodrama, or posturing." The same month, Bret Easton Ellis tweeted, "With Taipei Tao Lin becomes the most interesting prose stylist of his generation, which doesn't mean that Taipei isn't a boring novel..."
Taipei was published by Vintage on June 4, 2013, to mostly positive reviews. Novelist Benjamin Lytal, writing in the New York Observer, called it Lin's "modernist masterpiece," adding, "[W]e should stop calling Tao Lin the voice of his generation. Taipei, his new novel, has less to do with his generation than with the literary tradition of Knut Hamsun, Ernest Hemingway, and Robert Musil." According to Slate, "Taipei casts a surprisingly introspective eye on the spare, 21st-century landscape Lin has such a knack for depicting."
New York Times critic Dwight Garner wrote, "I loathe reviews in which a critic claims to have love-hate feelings about a work of art. It's a way of having no opinion at all. But I love and hate Taipei."
On June 18, writing for The Daily Beast, critic Emily Witt said in a highly positive review:
Taipei is exactly the kind of book I hoped Tao Lin would one day write. He is one of the few fiction writers around who engages with contemporary life, rather than treating his writing online as existing in opposition to or apart from the hallowed analog space of the novel. He's consistently good for a few laughs and writes in a singular style already much imitated by his many sycophants on the Internet. Some people like Tao Lin for solely these reasons, or treat him as a sort of novelty or joke. But Lin can also produce the feelings of existential wonder that all good novelists provoke. His writing reveals the hyperbole in conversational language that we use, it seems, to make up for living lives where equanimity and well-adjustment are the most valued attributes, where human emotions are pathologized into illness: we do not fall in love, we become "obsessed"; we do not dislike, we "hate". We manipulate ourselves chemically to avoid acting "crazy."
On June 30, in The New York Times Book Review, Clancy Martin wrote:
His writing is weird, upsetting, memorable, honest — and it's only getting better [...] But I didn't anticipate Taipei, his latest, which is, to put it bluntly, a gigantic leap forward. Here we have a serious, first-rate novelist putting all his skills to work. Taipei is a love story, and although it's Lin's third novel it's also, in a sense, a classic first novel: it's semi-autobiographical (Lin has described it as the distillation of 25,000 pages of memory) and it's a bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story about a young man who learns, through love, that life is larger than he thought it was.
On July 5 The New York Times Book Review awarded Taipei an Editors' Choice distinction. It was the only paperback on the list for the week.
On KCRW's "Bookworm", in a conversation with Lin, Michael Silverblatt called it "The most moving depiction of the way we live now," saying that it was "unbearably moving."
Taipei was included on best book of the year lists by Times Literary Supplement, Village Voice, Slate, Salon, Bookforum, The Week, Maisonneuve, and Complex, among others.
"High Resolution", a film version of Taipei was released in 2018.
Selected Tweets (2015)
On June 15, 2015, Short Flight/Long Drive Books published a collaborative double-book called Selected Tweets by Lin and poet Mira Gonzalez. The book features selections from eight years of their tweets at nine different Twitter accounts, as well as visual art by each author, footnotes, and "Extras". Emma Kolchin-Miller, writing in the Columbia Spectator, described the book as "[featuring] a selection of bleak, depressed, disturbing, funny, and personal tweets that create a fragmented narrative and show how Twitter can serve as a platform for art, storytelling, and connection." Andrea Longini, writing for Electric Literature, opined: "Although Twitter in name implies a kind of chatter or 'twittering,' Tao Lin and Mira Gonzalez have elevated the medium into an art form with the power to transmit authentic observations."
Trip: Psychedelics, Alienation, and Change, a nonfiction account of Lin's experiences with psychedelic drugs, was published by Vintage Books in May 2018. Much of the book is devoted to Lin's continuing fascination with the life and thought of Terence McKenna, as well as an introduction to McKenna's ex-wife Kathleen Harrison.
Trip was a Los Angeles Times bestseller. In Scientific American, John Horgan wrote, “If an aspirant asks for an example of experimental science writing, I’ll recommend Trip. The book veers from excruciatingly candid autobiography to biography (of McKenna) to investigative journalism…to interview-based journalism to philosophical speculation to first-person accounts of the effects of DMT and Salvia.”
Lin co-founded, with Megan Boyle, the film company MDMAfilms in late 2010. So far the company has released three films, all recorded solely with the iSight camera of a Macbook: MDMA, Bebe Zeva, and Mumblecore. There is a projected fourth film, World of Warcraft, which has been "delayed."
Other web projects
In 2016 Lin began a podcast on SoundCloud.
Since 2014 Lin has been drawing mandalas, which have been published on the covers of Vice magazine, Story magazine, his book Trip. In an interview with Arachne, Lin said, "With my mandalas, I don’t walk around the painting, but I turn the paper so that I 'walk around' it."