Book Review: Success and shoplifting

Two servings of failed shoplifting attempts and five servings of vague relationships compose the formula for Tao Lin’s first published novella, Shoplifting from an American Apparel. This is Lin’s formula for the book, not mine.

For those familiar with Lin’s previous work, Shoplifting reads more like an extended story from his short story compilation, Bed, rather than a shortened version of his novel, Eeeee Eee Eeee. For those not familiar with Lin’s previous work, for shame. You should be.

Lin exemplifies exactly what it takes for a young author to break into the modern publishing world and maintain a modicum of success once in it. Through his internet persona, Lin has used gimmicks and scandals to boost his presence and gather as many haters as well as fans.

Such gimmickry includes auctioning his Myspace account password which led to earning more than $8,000 on Ebay as well as selling shares for a novel that, at the time, he had not yet written.

His blog is primarily used for self-promotion where he posts anything from substandard artwork and Gmail chats to advertisements of “surprise boxes” containing items packaged from his room to sell for whatever amount of money a fan may be willing to pay.

While his detractors are all too fond of calling him a fraud, Lin’s success speaks for itself. Lin has published two poetry anthologies, a novel, a collection of short stories, and now this novella, all before turning 30. He also established MuuMuu House, Lin’s very own publishing house.

What does any of this have to do with Shoplifting? Pretty much everything. The main protagonist, Sam, is a young writer in New York City with a small amount of success, suffering from severe depression, and chats on Gmail. Shoplifting is a fictitious version of Lin’s life where only the names of people have been changed. Through the eyes of Sam, Lin explores many aspects of his own life. Written in Lin’s detached, minimalistic prose, this novella is best read with a neutral facial expression.