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Two Thoughts on the State of Books

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Here are two statements worth considering. One from director John Waters, the other from Canadian writer Stan Persky at dooneyscafe.com.

The Decline of Reading: QED

The American NBC nightly newscast for Aug. 9, 2011 offered a minute-and-twenty-second analysis of the London riots under the Dickensian heading “A Tale of Two Cities.” The network’s London correspondent, Martin Fletcher, concluded his report with this voice-over on top of visuals of shattered glass: “A final thought that may say a lot about our times: in this shopping centre every store had been looted but one – the bookstore.” Closing shot: a pristine Waterstone’s window display in otherwise trashed shopping centre. Nuff said. – August 9, 2011 by  (Related at The Atlantic: London Rioters Are Leaving Bookstores Untouched)

Written by Caleb Powell

September 28, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Caleb Powell Interviews David Shields at Gulf Coast

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The last of my three interviews with David Shields came out today at Gulf Coast. Thanks goes to Hannah Rebecca Gamble, Interviews Editor, for working with me to prepare the final draft. Shields’ book, Reality Hunger, the primary topic of the interviews, turns out to be one of the more discussed books of 2010. My own take…I disagree with at least half of his views, some quite strongly, but…it’s all good.

Click to read review at Biblioklept

The book helped solidify, for me, why fiction is, if not the best, as good as any literary art in tackling reality. I wrote more than one unique review, including this at dooneyscafe.com, as well as the interviews at The RumpusThe Quarterly Conversation, and Gulf Coast. That’s what a quality read does, it gets you thinking and keeps your attention.

Tao Lin vs. Albert Camus

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Comparing Tao Lin to Albert Camus is like comparing apples and orangutans. Not apples and oranges, my friends, as two sweet round fruits aren’t really that different. Would Camus spoof a cover of Time Magazine (or the French equivalent) and parody the article? Would Camus solicit a James Frey type boob to blurb his book? Would Camus host a contest, and then enter the contest under another name, win the contest, and pocket the money (Tao Lin Wins His Own Contest Refuses to Refund Money). No way, Albert Camus was too busy cursing human darkness, opposing the Nazi invasion of France, and trying to decipher war and horror in the twentieth century. Tao Lin is no idiot, but he gears down. Some call him an existentialist. Existentialist my ass, Tao Lin has created a new form: narcissentialism. And contrary to this JMWW reviewer’s opinion, Tao Lin ain’t no Camus.

Let’s compare two versions of The Stranger. First, the parody written by Tao Lin:

He’s not the richest or most famous. His characters don’t solve mysteries, have magical powers, or live in the future. But in his new novel, Richard Yates, Tao Lin shows us the way we live now.” “Early readers of Richard Yates have found that the book has a narcotic quality.” “(Lin) likes megamouth sharks, toy poodles and, somewhat jarringly, that ‘ocean sunfish are like hamsters but fish and a lot bigger.”

Ha ha ho ho. Now, here’s L’Étranger:

“I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe. To feel it so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realize that I’d been happy, and that I was happy still. For all to be accomplished, for me to feel less lonely, all that remained was to hope that on the day of my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration.”

Albert Camus: Smokes, helped originate existentialism, and is a Nobel Prize winning author. He thought and wrote about 20th century guilt, war, capital punishment, and how to face a world without god. He compressed volumes of thought into novels such as The Fall and The Stranger.

Tao Lin and Camus both use short sentences and few words, but Tao Lin is not really a minimalist. Ten pages of thought hidden in 202 pages of Richard Yates does not qualify.The existentialist hallmark is uncertainty in context of larger ideas, not simple uncertainty. Lin’s blog, persona, publicity stunts (he offered investors a percentage of future royalties for $2,000), all spur many young authors in North America to read, and this is good.  He has an affect, as “Taolicophants” love to imitate his prose, though his books are tedious.

Let’s contrast: Albert Camus was French but grew up in Algeria, his formative childhood memory is of his father’s reaction to attending an execution. He witnessed French colonialism in Algeria and the Nazi Occupation in France, and was a contemporary of Sartre. When Camus began to question Sartre’s leftist views regarding communism their friendship began to deteriorate, but Camus’s doubts about Marxism have been validated by history.  After a time as a journalist Camus devoted himself to literary pursuits, including drama, where he sought moral solutions within an indifferent universe. His death in 1960 by car accident cut short an important life.

Tao Lin = Narcissentialist. Shoplifts, eats delicious vegan food, writes about hamsters, preoccupied with self-marketing, drops names of Nobel Prize winning authors like the vile pro-Nazi Knut Hamsun, wrote a review of himself in The Stranger.

Tao Lin, born of Taiwanese parents, grew up on the East Coast of the USA, and makes his home in New York City. He writes about the dislocated confused suburban/urban dysfunctional pseudo-suffering of today’s youth, but probably has never suffered, and I’m talking the living-in-the-Sudan-suffering orbeaten-and-violated-by-your-stepfather suffering. Though Tao Lin’s fictional alter-egos irreverently mention they may as well commit suicide…there’s no evidence that Tao will die anytime soon.

Tao Lin ain’t Camus. There’s no parallel, it’s all perpendicular. Sure, Tao Lin drops names or provides Cliffs Notes summaries of Camus and other authors such as Beckett, Bukowski, and Sartre. Though it must be pointed out, as far as I know, only Taolicophants and not Tao Lin make the comparison.

Bottom line, Richard Yates reads like two hundred pages of nothing but conjunctions, prepositions, and punctuation marks peppered with celebrity names (Tao Lin’s next book?). Tao Lin will, in the end, get what he wants, attention. Nothing wrong with that, all writers crave attention, but my taste is more grooved to a writer who displays consideration for the reader and doesn’t pander to the superficial side of his fans…in other words, a writer who is not so goringly effin’ boring.

Related:  Tao Lin: American Dork – book review at dooneyscafe.com

Tao Lin’s Richard Yates vs. the 2006 Dodge Caravan’s Owner’s Manual – at The Nervous Breakdown

Written by Caleb Powell

October 25, 2010 at 11:34 am