Inaugural Blog Tour: Richard Yates
by Paul Oliver
More and more, we find ourselves in awe of the quality, depth and variety of places on the internet talking about books. Thus, we’ve decided to take a year-end look at how those places talked about our titles. (Read the kickoff.) The point is to highlight not only the titles we proudly published in 2010, but also some of the great writing about those titles from around the internet. In some cases the writing may only mention our book. In these instances the posts would of course have to be extraordinary.
On that list though perhaps no one is quite as controversial as Tao Lin. Sure, those aforementioned names have evoked far greater wrath from far more powerful entities than any Lin has (the NYPD & American Apparel aside), but it is the consistency with which Lin has made minor enemies that elevates his controversial status to rarefied airs.
“What constitutes illicit love in a generation without rules?” is the tag line to Richard Yates, which is Lin’s biggest book to date. He approaches love from the darker, perhaps scariest outposts of obsession and identity. More specifically Richard Yates deals with the slippery slope where identity blurs and becomes less definite, which of course opens the door to obsessive, self-destructive behavior. Some have celebrated his unflinching, deadpan approach to such an evocative subject. Others have been horrified.
Mom: I’m trying to read the Tao Lin book. But I’m having such a hard time. It’s so upsetting.
Dan: Oh yeah?
M: It’s all shit. I guess I just don’t get it. I really want to get it. I keep thinking maybe it’s existential, but it seems like it’s just meaningless and disturbing.
D: Yeah. Some people think that represents this era. Like he speaks for the current generation.
M: If he does, then the current generation is all about committing suicide, and being unhappy, and talking about what they’re going to eat next, or what they’re going to poop next, or how to kill themselves.
D: I guess so. People say it’s very funny.
M: It isn’t.
M: I’m not sure I can make it until the end.
That exchange is courtesy of the personal and eponymous blog of journalist Daniel B Roberts, who wrote an extended piece on Lin for Salon. Mom doesn’t seem to like Lin very much, or, at least she doesn’t care so much for the darker aspects of his novel. This of course is part of the Lin controversy. Generational, regional and socio-economical differences can leave even an educated reader grasping at the meaning or purpose of Lin’s writing. Add to the mix Tao’s spare, literal exposition and you have yet another distinct trait that some find hard to celebrate.
In the estimation of one J.A. Tyler writing on a blog named Big Other :
The most interesting part of reading Tao Lin’s new novel RICHARD YATES was when I set it on a footstool & the book slid slowly off & I didn’t know the footstool was crooked.
If you’ve never read Lin before, maybe you’ll be impressed by his style or approach – but I’ve read all of his books to date & at this point I feel more regurgitation than genuine writing.
What follows is a fiery exchange of comments where Lin’s fans rally to their author while Tyler defends his disdain. The discussion is lively and contains its own peculiar nuances. If nothing else it affirms my belief that cliches tend to hold rugged truths. In this case the cliche would be that with Lin you either like him or don’t. There is no midland ground.
Speaking of liking Tao Lin, the number of blogs that do just that vastly outnumber the ones that do not. Of all these this heartfelt and very honest appraisal from a blog titled The Madisonial is my favorite:
So then, why was I so bothered by a novel about an abusive relationship (which I’ve never been a part of) carried out in New York City (where I’ve never lived) over Gmail chat (which I’ve never used)? Is Tao Lin’s message to my generation so strong that it affected me in a deeply personal way, despite not actually experiencing the things in his book? As in “Matilda,” I’ll pray that it was the style, not the substance, that got to me.
That’s strong, sincere praise and it goes against my previous assertion (which I will yet maintain) that Lin’s biggest potential disconnect is one of place, time and economics. The Matilda reference is entertaining, even if slightly disturbing, and warrants you hopping over to the blog to check it out.
The blog is a form at its best when it evokes conversation and perhaps that is why Lin has has found such a large audience online. People seem to want to comment on Tao Lin more than they want to appraise his books, which is why I finished with the very honest review written by The Madisonial. While others want to audit his increasing fame, often at the expense of actually talking about the writing, this blog honestly explains why they like Lin, supporting it with the particulars. In turn, as you can see in the Big Other comment section, Tao Lin’s fans seem more worried about someone not liking Tao Lin versus actually listening to the criticism being made.
It all makes for wonderful conversation, which is something we love on MobyLives. So with the impending year-end break before us, let’s turn this post into just that: a discussion. Let’s have them folks: your Richard Yates / Tao Lin comments, discussion topics and hell, we’ll even entertain a little vitriol. A little… Just keep the eye-gauging to a minimum.
Paul Oliver is the marketing manager of Melville House. Previously he was co-owner of Wolfgang Books in Philadelphia.