Say what you want about Tao Lin and his books, but not many authors can write novels that make critics go ahead and question their entire being. And no matter what you end up saying, it’s hard to not reach the conclusion that there are actually two Lins you have to deal with: Tao Lin the writer and Tao Lin the Internet personality. While the latter might be the better known of the two Taos, Lin the writer has made great strides to outpace Lin the human meme with his latest novel, Taipei, culminating with Clancy Martin’s glowing New York Times review of the book that calls it “a gigantic leap forward” and describes Lin as “a serious, first-rate novelist.” The only thing left for him to do is convince all the naysayers.
The thing is that Martin is totally right, as Taipei is Lin’s best work, and at the risk of ruining any chance at making big, hyperbolic statements for the rest of 2013, it might be one of the most important books of the year, not because Lin is a literary conversation starter with few rivals, but because there really aren’t many people who can write about the state of bored Gen Yers doing drugs to escape or combat the doldrums of daily life quite like Lin can. Whether or not you find that entertaining or good literature is entirely up to you, yet the fact remains that lately people have been talking about Tao Lin the writer far more than they’ve been talking about any of Lin’s various attempts to make himself the most SEO-friendly writer on the entire Internet — and that’s great. People should discuss Lin and his work more than dismissing him or saying he’s a better self-promoter than a writer, and I think they will sooner than later. But there is one big problem, where Lin acts as an interesting case study, since not many authors have been faced with this issue: how can a novelist outshine his or her online persona? How does Lin get away from being known as “The Hipster Thief” and a “prodigious online self-marketer,” as well as for getting arrested at a college bookstore, selling his Myspace account for $8100, making art while on drugs, and so much more, and become known for his books? It will be tough for literary types to move away from all of that, which is why it has been interesting to watch as Lin himself has been less aggressive on the Internet, letting the press come to him a little more (this probably has something to do with the fact that he is at a big publisher now), instead of Lin having to do little things to get attention. And even though that’s good news for him, I have really enjoyed some of Lin’s past exploits, and have been hoping that once the big wave of interest in Taipei died down a bit that Lin would devise new ways to keep the conversation going. Now, nearly a month after the release of Taipei, we’re hopefully going to see that second wave, starting with Lin compiling all of the locations his main character Paul visits throughout the novel, and putting them into one handy Google Maps list for your viewing pleasure that was created by Willis Plummer. It’s things like this, no matter how small, that keep Tao Lin in our consciousness for longer than the normal two- or three-week window of buzz after a book release — even if it’s Lin concentrating more on actually writing books that will ultimately help Tao Lin the writer surpass @Tao_Lin in the minds of those readers.