The Tao Shoplifting Crisis by Tao Lin and Richard Grayson

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: The Tao Shoplifting Crisis

Authors: Tao Lin and Richard Grayson

Type of Book: Non-fiction, epistolary

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Tao Lin will always be odd to me.

Availability: Published by Carnarsie House in 2009, you can get a copy here:

Comments: I love writing for this site, but I think it goes without saying that any online endeavor is going to have a downside. When I wrote my analysis of 2083, the epic-length document by Oslo shooter Anders Behring Breivik, it went mildly viral. The four part discussion, close to 50,000 words of analysis, caught the attention of news sources in Norway and was translated into Norwegian. I experienced praise and pushback, and some of the pushback was upsetting, to put it mildly. But for the most part, even the negativity that came my way was delivered with some modicum of respect, aside from the terminal cases who were outraged that I discussed the woman-hate that I discovered in the document. Even the incoming links from people who disagreed with me, even from virulent racists, simply said I got it wrong, but given that I had read it my take was still worth reading.

Will it surprise anyone that in terms of annoyance and abuse that my discussion of Tao Lin’s execrable novel, the wearying and craptacular Shoplifting from American Apparel, was quite a bit more tiresome than the onslaught of e-mails and comments I received when I discussed one of history’s worst mass murderers? I still get the occasional e-mails from smug readers who insist that a line I used wherein I discussed plunging Lin’s soul was a horrible error and that I am dumb, oh so stupid, for not understanding that. It’s hard to make Lin’s acolytes understand that plunge was a play on plumbing the depths of a soul, as the saying goes. A soul’s depths are plumbed, a toilet is plunged, and I am not the first to engage in that particular word play so all the bafflement, if not assumed, is baffling. But still the e-mails come. October 2012 was the only month wherein I did not receive a plumb/plunge e-mail, though of course the number of messages has died down. And let’s keep it that way!

And yes, I am verbose, a common complaint from Tao Lin fans. Watch my verbosity in action as I use far too many words to discuss this 38 page book!

In addition to the plumb/plunge/too wordy missives, I received a lot of feedback that I can only call bullshit. But given that I hated the book and discussed it in excruciating detail, I understand that I should expect such reactions and that perhaps it is a bit hypocritical for me to consider such feedback bullshit. But then again, this world is big enough in terms of ideas that pro-Lin and anti-Lin can both be bullshit and both be right. I was just mildly surprised by and eventually tired of the lengths to which fans of Lin will go to defend their idol/friend/whatever he is to them.

I tell you these things, dear readers, not to gain pity or to get some sort of ego stroke in the form of protestations that my writing doesn’t suck. I know it doesn’t suck. I have many flaws as a writer but if I felt I was truly a terrible writer, I wouldn’t spend a chunk of my life discussing books. I tell you all of this just so you know that, character for character, discussing Tao Lin will generate more bullshit, insults and nastiness than discussing a mass murderer of children. I find that interesting and, frankly, a little unexpected. For such a passionless book, Shoplifting from American Apparel has a lot of passionate defenders.

I also tell you all of this so as to explain why it is that I waited so long to discuss Richard Grayson’s book. Grayson was kind enough to send it to me after he read my discussion of Lin’s opus and I read it very soon upon receiving it. I had wanted to discuss it but wanted to give myself some breathing room after the stupidity that flowed after my discussion of SfAA. I am disorganized at times, and then 2083 happened, and then some Redditors found me and I received an onslaught of review copies from hopeful writers (one called me “the reviewer of the damned” and I may incorporate that into the site soon). I just lost track of things. But I found my copy of the book again when I transferred everything over to a new computer and realized that I needed to discuss it.

(BTW: Even though I hated the shit out of the book, the director of the movie adaptation of Shoplifting from American Apparel asked me if I wanted to review the movie. Hell yes, was my answer and I will get to that soon. After that I suspect Lin will never be mentioned on this site again, glory hallelujah amen! Well, I say that. I’m sure I’ll read him again should I feel adequate provocation.)

The Tao Shoplifting Crisis is a series of e-mails between Tao Lin and Richard Grayson. Grayson, a writer and activist, is also a lawyer. Tao knew Grayson through common writing circles, and when he was facing a court date as a result of being arrested for, wait for it, shoplifting from American Apparel, he turned to Grayson for help. It is here I need to clear up a couple of things that could upset an ethical reader. At no point did Lin retain Grayson as legal counsel because Grayson was only licensed to practice law in Florida and Grayson repeatedly told him his expertise was not going to be completely helpful and that any advice he could give needed to be followed up with advice from a New York lawyer. For those who may think it skeevey that Grayson published his correspondence with Lin, bear in mind these e-mails occurred in 2007. When Grayson became aware that not only was Lin not keeping his arrest to himself and was, in fact, using his arrests as the premise of a book, and furthermore was using the flyer wherein he was banned from a specific store for his shoplifting for promotional purposes, Grayson no longer felt as if Tao’s arrests were anything he needed to keep quiet.