As many of you know, I’ve been performing in a Broadway production of one of John Steinbeck’s best-known works, Of Mice and Men, which is why I’m writing about one of his lesser-read works, In Dubious Battle, a novel that is part of Steinbeck’s migrant-worker trilogy set during the Great Depression.
An Excerpt from Tao Lin’s Taipei
Over the past month or so we’ve been publishing a whole slew of iPhone photos Tao Lin took on a recent visit to Taipei, the place from which his new novel takes its title. Pictures are all well and good (and we’ll be publishing another batch of them tomorrow), but to give you a real idea of what Tao’s new book is like, we thought it fitting to publish an excerpt. This is the first glimpse of Taipei Vintage has released, and it concerns the main character, Paul, and his difficult upbringing in Florida.
Taipei will be released on June 4 from Vintage and is available for pre-order now.
Paul’s father was 28 and Paul’s mother was 24 when they alone (out of a combined fifteen to twenty-five siblings) left Taiwan for America. Paul was born in Virginia six years later, in 1983, when his brother was 7. Paul was 3 when the family moved to Apopka, a pastoral suburb near Orlando, Florida.
Paul cried the first day of preschool for around ten minutes after his mother, who was secretly watching and also crying, seemed to have left. It was their first time apart. Paul’s mother watched as the principal cajoled Paul into interacting with his classmates, among whom he was well liked and popular, if a bit shy and “disengaged, sometimes,” said one of the high school students who worked at the preschool, which was called the Discovery Center. Each day, after that, Paul cried less and transitioned more abruptly from crying to interacting with classmates, and by the middle of the second week he didn’t cry anymore. At home, where mostly only Mandarin was spoken, Paul was loud and either slug-like or, his mother would say in English, “hyperactive,” rarely walking to maneuver through the house, only crawling, rolling like a log, sprinting, hopping, or climbing across sofas, counters, tables, chairs, etc. in a game called “don’t touch the ground.” Whenever motionless and not asleep or sleepy, lying on carpet in sunlight, or in bed with eyes open, bristling with undirectionalized momentum, he would want to intensely sprint in all directions simultaneously, with one unit of striving, never stopping. He would blurrily anticipate this unimaginably worldward action, then burst off his bed to standing position, or make a loud noise and violently spasm, or jolt from the carpet into a sprint, flailing his arms, feeling always incompletely satisfied.
An Interview with Harmony Korine
In 1998, shortly after his feature-length directorial debut, Gummo, Harmony Korine published a novel called A Crackup at the Race Riots. The book is built from an insane collage of images and thoughts, including lists of ideas for movies, titles for novels, suicide notes, joke routines, celebrity rumors, and strange short scenes and dialogues involving rapists, amputees, dogs, vaudeville performers, and manic-depressives. Like all of Korine’s work, it is a rare collision of fun, fucked, funny, sad, and bizarre—the kind of thing you pick up every so often just to buzz your brain. For years the book has been out of print, fetching prices upward of $300 used online, until recently when it was repackaged and rereleased by Drag City. Harmony was kind enough to get on the phone with me and talk about the making of the book.
VICE: The first thing the reader sees when they open A Crackup at the Race Riots is a picture of MC Hammer at age 11. Why did you decide to start the book that way?
Harmony Korine: At the time I was doing a lot of narcotics. I remember basically the process was that I would hear things, or I would see things… I would hear somebody walking down the street, and maybe they’d say something interesting, and I’d put it on a piece of paper. Or I would see a pair of socks hanging from a telephone pole with a Star of David on the ankle, and I would just write that. Or whatever… I’d see someone juggling some toilet paper, and I would describe that. And then I would see a picture of MC Hammer at age 11, and I would just think maybe it all kind of came from his imagination.
The book is a thought in MC Hammer’s mind?
Well, it could be. Like most things in life, it could be. [laughs]
So, if I’m understanding you correctly, you basically started acquiring bits and pieces and then just let them fall as they may on the paper, in the order you found them?
Not exactly. What happened was I would just write everything down. I’d write things in crayon or on the side of the wall in my apartment, or on a typewriter or whatever. You would just see things, you know… cut them out of books. I might hear something really crazy that somebody said on a city bus, like somebody might be spewing some kind of crazy racial rant, and then I’d go back home and write that down, and then I would just look at it for a while, and I would imagine, like, What if it wasn’t that guy on the bus? What if Harrison Ford said that? What if I was actually riding a horse or something, and Harrison Ford was riding a horse, and we were riding somewhere, we could even be racing, and what if he just turned to me, and he said that same exact thing that I just heard? And I was like, Whoa! The context completely changed the humor. That’s basically what the book is. I started thinking about it like that, and there started to be these thematic connections in that way, and after I had amassed all of these fragments, these tripped-out, micro narco blurts, I went back and recontextualized them into something that was closer to a novel, or closer to a novel idea.
Over the next two months, in celebration of the forthcoming release of Tao Lin’s latest novel, Taipei, we will be featuring a weekly selection of photos taken by the author during his recent trip to Taipei, Taiwan. While there, he took thousands of pictures with his iPhone, pictures which he has divided into albums titled things like “Taipei funny,” “Taipei food,” Taipei babies,” and “Taipei animals,” among others. The images were taken between January and February 2013 during one of his semi-yearly visits to the Taiwanese capital, where his parents live. This first selection is titled “Taipei babies.” All photos and captions by Tao Lin.
Considering Roberto Bolaño and Woes of the True Policeman
I absolutely hated Roberto Bolaño the first time I read him. I’d heard the endless hype surrounding the release of translation after translation, a kind of post-death onslaught in the manner of some literary Tupac who kept pumping books out after losing his life too young. I tried not to be automatically skeptical, but it’s hard, particularly when the man seemed to come from out of nowhere despite legends of being one of the most revered authors in Chilean history. Finally I buckled and bought a copy of The Savage Detectives. I dug in lying face up on my bed, waiting and waiting for the alleged fireworks to come alive. I made it straight through the first 150 pages before getting angry and taking the book back to the store.
It was a long time before I read any Bolaño after that, and I talked a lot of shit during that time. I couldn’t understand what was so regaled and vital about a novel whose first third centered around a bunch of overly-romantic young male writers going on and on about the beauty of poetry, how they wanted to be famous poets, and trying to get laid amidst their self-worship. Everyone kept telling me that the book changed completely and became something else after the opening, but I wasn’t interested in seeing it any other way. Despite not having read any of his nearly 20 other books, I was convinced the Bolaño craze was a sham around a mediocre foreign writer who died young and was being fetishized by profile-worshipping Americans who thought he had done something new when really he was just another boring narrative writer. Sure, the man could turn a sentence, but it was nothing that would carry forward over time. We get sold a lot of shit in this country by jacket babble and stupid awards, and I figured this was just another big dull wash mirage.