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.
Taipei, will be released on June 4 from Vintage and is available for pre-order now. To read an early excerpt from the novel that we published in 2011 titled “Relationship Story,” click here.
Anne Carson vs. George Saunders
The first quarter of 2013 sees new works by two of the most highly regarded North American authors. George Saunders’s Tenth of December, a collection of stories published over the last five years, and Anne Carson’s forthcoming Red Doc>, a conceptual sequel to perhaps her most popular work, Autobiography of Red.
It has been seven years since Saunders’s previous collection, In Persuasion Nation. While that book enjoyed a relatively positive reception, it was still a far cry from the reaction to his second book, Pastoralia, which for the most part established Saunders as the kind of guy who is regularly referred to as things like “one of the most important and blazingly original writers of his generation.”
And for good reason. The stories in his first two books were funny and surprising both in voice and image. You never knew what would happen next, and no matter what did, the way the story was told carried you through. Great humor and light could be found in stories that might take place in a strip club or an insanely premised theme-park and still meet the criteria of “feeling human.”
I think most people’s first reaction upon hearing that Anne Carson, who identifies as a poet, had decided to write a sequel to a novel in verse about a quasi-mythical coming-of-age erotic meta-epic was somewhere amidst surprise, excitement, slight confusion, and expectation: a good mixture of whys.
But I couldn’t curb my curiosity toward seeing what Saunders had done now. Like many of my generation, Saunders was exciting to me early on, and I’d already seen no less than three people call this book, released on the 8th day of the year, “The Best Book of The Year For Sure.” That immediate and fawning praise might have had something to do with the sudden foreboding sense of unreasonable dread the idea of actually reading the book, putting a face to what it is, elicited in me.
And yet I went in ready for the world. I always want things that have an expectation of greatness to actually be colossal, particularly in the hands of those I’ve loved before. I never give up expecting another burst like the ones I felt as a young reader finding work that changed the way I thought.
I read the first story in Tenth of December waiting for that punch. It clearly had all the mechanisms of Saunders’s best abilities: amazing timing; surprising tic-like outbursts; post-corporate entities pressed upon the human to what end; light jabs of funny sexuality; a melding of charming observation and personal slang eliciting a quick familiarity with the narrator; a sense of contemporary-condition understanding faced with moral gray area allowing vague emotional pull without forcing the issue, and so on.
When I finished the story I was left with the sense that we could go anywhere from here. It felt like an opening pending on the worlds I’d been through in his work before in a way that almost seemed ready to go past them, to build off of what had been long ago begun.
The book, for me, never transcended that beginning. It worked the territory that it knew, if always in the grand style to be expected of George Saunders, but only as far as before, and in less robust versions of what it modeled. It felt to me in the same terrain and manner of his previous ideas, working the same strings in a new way after a few relatively failed attempts in previous books at shaking a new leg. That opening story’s title, “Victory Lap,” suddenly seemed a bit too telling.
Since Saunders’s first book, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline in 1996, his style has become in many ways a high-water model for a certain kind of story, one where the narrative provides a frame for the voice to propel itself toward an understanding. One finishes a Saunders story with the feeling of having been through something with someone, tasted their mind, and experienced a catalyst of change that many narrative writers would call essential.
Saunders is often able to do this without the active elements seeming as directed as others working in such form. He charms you into his world, incorporates you alongside the vision. He makes you laugh and sounds like George Saunders. It weighs more than a pound. The temporary feeling is kind of nice, if only in the way we knew it would be.
I want more.
I’ll Read You When You’re Dead
I can’t bring myself to read books by writers who are still alive. It’s not simply that dead authors should be read first in order to understand the living authors they’ve influenced, although proper chronology has seemed important to me ever since I watched the third season of The Sopranos before the first two and had no idea what was going on. On a more visceral level, books by living authors, no matter how complete, just don’t feel like they’re done yet.
To be fair, I have no doubt that works of great genius and profound historical importance are being written right now, maybe even by people in Brooklyn. I am very happy these authors exist and I wish them many productive years.
The dead author is simply a better companion. They are great listeners. Eternally silent, they bequeath their laboriously crafted work to us across the abyss of time. Their work acquires the knowing muteness of great holy texts. And we’re much less likely to hear the dead author on Terri Gross, talking about how the ending of their book was actually “the publisher’s idea.”
Tao Lin Talks Taipei
The interview below was conducted in the wee hours of the morning (from 1 to 4 AM) on the bed of Tao Lin, in his apartment on the east side of Manhattan, with a small party going on in the other corner of the room. Tao and I later tightened a few things up through email. This is the first, definitive interview with the author after finishing his novel, Taipei, which will be released this spring from Vintage.
PART I: ANNE SEXTON
VICE: Were you happier before, during, or after writing Taipei?
Tao Lin: I think… after.
During… I got into a routine of doing like 80 to 120 milligrams of Adderall and not sleeping for like 36 hours. Then using Xanax or Klonopin and eating, then sleeping for like 12 hours, or not sleeping another night and using more Adderall. Which mostly felt bad, like a constant state of desperation, thinking the novel was incoherent. And I would have days without Adderall, so that it would still work, but it gradually worked less—and on those days I would just eat and use Percocet or whatever I had and be zombielike, then sleep. Wait, did you say you didn’t want drugs in this?
Well, I was saying maybe we won’t mention them since we’ve done that so much already but it doesn’t matter. What were you reading while writing Taipei?
I was rereading Fernando Pessoa and Schopenhauer. I had eBooks of different editions of their stuff on my iPhone. I mostly read eBooks off my iPhone. I remember reading Elizabeth Wurtzel’s memoir, More, Now, Again, about her trying to write a book while using a lot of Ritalin and feeling interested because it was like what I was doing. Except she was writing a nonfiction book and rich enough to move to Florida to focus on her book. I was writing an autobiographical novel and borrowing from strangers on Twitter. When she described her worst times, like going into a shopping mall and feeling insane from Ritalin, I was like, “shit, that’s… normal, for me.”
When would you read? Before you wrote?
Mostly after. Like when I couldn’t work anymore and wanted to be asleep but my heart would be beating really fast. I remember thinking I was probably going to die of a heart attack… and [long pause] another book I read… it was a biography about… what’s that poet who killed herself?
The other one.
It’s a famous one? I don’t know.
Well, I read her biography and it was really depressing. She was committing suicide but not dying, and people were afraid to be genuine with her because anything might cause another suicide attempt. But people were afraid that she might sense them being not genuine… so it was just, like, impossible to be her friend. Then she finally killed herself. Reading was kind of my form of social interaction for like a year. I hung out like once a month, like I’d go to an event with you, but mostly had no IRL interactions.
Can you think of any books that directly affected the writing you did for Taipei?
For a while, because I felt like horrible about everything I was writing, whenever I read anything—even things by me, from my other books—I’d be like “that seems good, I should do it like that.” And desperately try to change the tone and prose style of my entire book, while viewing it as an unfixable piece of shit, compared to whatever I’d just read. I remember reading half a sentence of a Gore Vidal novel, like the first five words, and closing the book and feeling convinced that I must rewrite my novel in the tone and style of the five words I had just read… I was in a constant state of desperation about what choices to make in my book, except for like the two hours each day when I was peaking on Adderall. I used ecstasy a few times when I didn’t have Adderall, to get into a mental state where everything didn’t seem horrible.
Why write at all?
Well, I’ll talk about this book: why did I write this book. I was just barely making enough money… I don’t remember how. Oh, probably mostly off royalty checks every six months, and writing for Thought Catalog and other places, and selling art. The checks were getting smaller every time, and I think, at some point, Richard Yates and Bed became unavailable on Amazon and currently still are unavailable, except as eBooks, which I think means those books are out-of-print, so not in bookstores. So I was going to need to do something for money. I emailed Bill Clegg, who had reviewed Richard Yates positively for Amazon, and asked if he would be interested in trying to sell 20 pages and an outline of my next novel, and he was, and he did. So I got one-third of a $50,000 advance, and a timeframe, to write my third novel.
You know how certain writers are like, “I have to write. If I didn’t write, I’d die.” Do you feel that? That if you couldn’t write you’d die?
No, I never got that. I’ve never gotten the thing like “it’s a voice inside of me” or when writers say they start with an image, then try to figure out what it means, and like the image just “came to them,” so they really want to find out what it means… I’ve never related to that. And I think I view myself as always writing, like nonstop, because I view thinking and talking—because they use language, the same language as writing—as forms of writing.
Do you have another book contract?
How much money would it have to be for?
Not that much, I don’t think.
Like not as much as you were paid for this one?
If someone were offering $50,000 for another novel, I’d do it. I would like that.
PART II: BRET EASTON ELLIS
What movie is most like your book?
Shit… what’s a movie where they use drugs a lot but no one dies and there’s no violence, and it’s funny, but everyone is depressed?
I don’t know.
Maybe Husbands and Wives with drugs and younger characters. I can’t think of movies where people use a large variety of drugs. It’s usually like… focused on one drug. In movies, I don’t know, it’s like—
—it’s like somebody dies or there’s some kind of fucking moral to it. Bret Easton Ellis tweeted one day something like, “Why can’t somebody write a drug book where they just keep partying instead of going to rehab and getting clean?”
Blake Butler read 135 books this year, a number that is about as impressive as Wilt Chamberlain’s 10,000.
Month by month, the canon of bin Laden death literature grows ever larger. Late last year, the books began trickling out and have since turned into a stream. Now there’s a full on torrent. In May 2012, Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden—from 9/11 to Abbottabad was released. A few months later, came No Easy Day, a memoir by a Navy SEAL who had been on the raid. Mark Bowden’s The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Ladenfollowed shortly. Two days after the election, SEAL Target Geronimo: The Inside Story of the Mission to Kill Osama bin Laden came out. And in December, yet another book, entitled Killing Geronimo: The Hunt for Osama bin Laden, will be released.
Jordan Castro asked if I wanted to go on a four-day reading tour with him, Mallory Whitten, Scott McClanahan, Sam Pink, and Mike Bushnell. I said I did. A reading tour is like a music tour but with writers who know each other from the internet instead of musicians who know each other from bands. I asked everyone to live blog the tour so I could compile our accounts into something at the end. Jordan, Mallory, and Scott emailed me their live-blogs (Jordan’s entire live blog, Mallory’s entire live blog, my entire live blog). Here is what we wrote.
Thursday, September 27, 2012: Columbus, Ohio
Feel very confused about why we stopped at loft apartment of Jordan and Mallory’s friend Andy. Wandered around apartment complimenting things until Mallory drove Sam and I to a pizza place where Mike Bushnell was waiting. Returned to Andy’s with Mike. Jordan said one of us had left a door open and Andy’s cat ran away.
Text from Mom: You sound like you are high or drunk or something. Please don’t be stupid.
Smoked three hits of marijuana from a device that looked like a grocery bag, more hits from a bowl passed around table.
Nauseous. Nodding out a bit. Reading doesn’t start until 11 PM. Incredibly tired. Can’t decide whether I should take more Adderall, drink a Red Bull, or take more Adderall and drink a Red Bull.
Jordan just asked if I was liveblogging. Someone fed me more Adderall. Extremely affected by marijuana and Suboxone maybe.
I didn’t understand something.
These walls look 39 years old.
Megan seems more and more deaf as she smokes weed, completely misunderstanding multiple sentences, seems funny.
I just went into the wrong building looking for the reading. The security guy started walking towards me and shouted into his walkie-talkie: “Intruder in the building. Intruder in the building.”
Needed something to be repeated several times before I understood. Standing next to Mallory while Jordan’s band plays. Sam is behind us and looks wet/feverish.
Despite amount of Xanax I ate, felt very nervous about Sam sweating a lot from drugs.
Guy is belligerently playing jazz drums alone in room where Jordan’s band played.
Person in charge of reading said audience was getting impatient. Feel like I can’t stand up.
Friday, September 28, 2012: Columbus, Ohio to Louisville, Kentucky
Woke up to Scott drinking Busch Light sitting at a table with Sam and Mike who were not drinking Busch Light.
Ate 15mg DXM in backseat on the way to Louisville. Jangled pill bottle between Mallory and Jordan and said “Drug refills? Anyone? Xanax?”
The philosopher Ninomiya Kinjiro was born into a poor family in 18-century Japan. He had to work and didn’t have time to study, so he read his books as he worked and became a great man. In his honor, bronze statues depicting him reading and carrying firewood were erected all over the country, mostly in primary schools, but today these are decreasing in number. For some reason, Japanese authorities reckon it’s dangerous to read and walk at the same time.
Photographer: Inbe Kawori
Stylist: Sam Voulters
Model: Anna Ryon