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from the vault: The Novelist by Tao Lin photo

Things I remembered about reading Tao Lin’s short story “The Novelist,” which appeared a long time ago (Aug/Sept of ’04) on Hobart:

  1. My daughter and I had just moved to Ann Arbor from B.F.E., Michigan.
  2. Aaron had just moved to Ann Arbor from Seattle.
  3. The three of us had just moved into a two-bedroom apartment next to the mall.
  4. I think we had just come back from the pool when I saw the story printed out and lying on the bed.
  5. I was “into it” right away.
  6. It was about a dude going into a bookstore (Barnes & Noble?), looking at the books on the shelves and imagining himself at some point in the future as a novelist.
  7. There was some mention of AHWOSG.
  8. I told Aaron to accept it.
  9. It was the first time I remember reading the name Tao Lin.

Things I discovered while trying to find Tao Lin’s “The Novelist” via Google yesterday so I could read it again and comment on it:

  1. Tao Lin entered his first book you are a little bit happier than i am in our/Hobart’s book contest, which was the inception of SF/LD books. 
  2. The first book we published could have been Tao Lin’s first book.
  3. Tao has been friends with Noah Cicero a longass time.
  4. Tao emailed Gawker a picture of his ass.
  5. There is a person named Jenny Lewis who is apparently “famous.”
  6. I am ignorant when it comes to “indie rock.”
  7. Most people feel good about their book for 1-2 hours after publication and then they feel the same way they have always felt after that.
  8. Tao Lin and I have several similar feelings.
  9. Tao Lin and I both think Miranda July is “famous” and want her to read our books.
  10. Tao Lin has some access to Miranda July I don’t have.
  11. I have no clue who Mirah is either. 

Things I thought while reading Tao Lin’s “The Novelist” for the first time in eight years:

  1. Whatever happened to Dicey Brown?
  2. Oh, yeah, Aaron used to take the pictures for Hobart himself.
  3. The narrator in Tao’s story writes shit on his hand. A narrator in one of my stories writes shit on her hand. Tao and I have more in common than I thought!
  4. I think I was with Aaron when he took this picture. I think it was at a Border’s.
  5. Was Megan Boyle reading Tao Lin in 2004?
  6. How many people were reading Tao Lin in 2004?
  7. Tao Lin was in Punk Planet around 2004.
  8. I emailed Tao Lin to tell him I liked one of his stories in Punk Planet.
  9. The hot dude on Gilmore Girls carried a copy of Punk Planet in at least one episode.
  10. I tried and failed to get into Punk Planet.
  11. I remember that Matthew Simmons’ story “The Bottle,” too.
  12. I remember “The Bottle” as being “sad.”
  13. In 2004, Tao seemed more relatable. Like, his character is imagining talking to girls. I don’t think his characters today have to imagine. I feel like today girls are always talking to Tao Lin and to Tao Lin’s characters.
  14. “The Novelist” feels at times like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  15. I like the narrator of “The Novelist” because he hides from bookstore employees/people in a similar manner to me.
  16. I wonder if Tao is ever alone anymore. I feel like Tao Lin is never alone now.
  17. The narrator of “The Novelist” drives an SUV. Immediately I try to imagine Tao Lin driving an SUV. It is hard to imagine Tao Lin driving anything that runs on gas.
  18. I feel like Tao Lin is always walking or taking public transportation.
  19. I would be surprised if Tao Lin has a driver’s license.
  20. Also I feel like Tao Lin rides bicycles (based on a photo I saw once of Tao and Megan on bicycles).
  21. I should be writing my fucking novel.
  22. The last sentence – “This is going in my novel.” - makes me snort.
  23. Tao Lin can be funny. People seldom talk about Tao Lin being funny.
  24. I am writing too much for this piece. I feel like this was supposed to be 200 words tops. Aaron is going to be like, what the fuck?
  25. Whatever happened to uber.nu? http://uber.nu/archive/
  26. Whatever happened to Ben Brown?
  27. Was Ben Brown the dude with the tattoos of circles on his arms?
  28. I feel like Ben Brown moved to Mexico or something.
  29. I wonder what Tao Lin published on uber.nu.
  30. http://uber.nu/2004/01/09/
  31. I wonder if the story I had on uber is still accessible.
  32. http://uber.nu/2003/05/22/
  33. I didn’t write that bio. I think Ben Brown wrote that bio.
  34. Reading shit you wrote eight years ago is embarrassing.
  35. Everything you ever put on the Internet is still out there. FOREVER.
  36. I wonder if Zac Zellers will read this.
  37. Zac Zellers is one of those super hardcore Tao Lin fans, I think.
  38. I can’t believe Marie Calloway came to Ann Arbor to see Zac Zellers.
  39. I can’t believe Marie Calloway is a real person.
  40. I’m not sure what to believe on the Internet. I feel like maybe I am too naïve and believe everything and often I am misled or fooled.
  41. I hope Tao likes this.
  42. Fuck it.

Questions I had for Tao Lin after reading “The Novelist” a second time[*]

  1. Do you remember writing “The Novelist”?
  2. Do you remember what you felt when you got the email saying Hobart had accepted your story “The Novelist”?
  3. Did Hobart seem cooler in 2004?
  4. Can you believe we (SF/LD) could have put out your first book?
  5. How weird/cool would that have been?
  6. Are you glad we didn’t accept your manuscript?
  7. Were you happier Action Books put out your book instead?
  8. Do you like me?
  9. Do you remember when I emailed you about your Punk Planet story?
  10. Did you ever wonder if the hot dude on Gilmore Girls read your story in Punk Planet?
  11. What the hell is alt-lit?
  12. Did you ever meet Ben Brown?
  13. Remember when you came to Ann Arbor and hung out with Zac Zellers? Was that cool?
  14. Is Marie Calloway real?
  15. Do you feel like you fulfilled the prophesy of “The Novelist”?

-- Elizabeth Ellen


[*] I emailed Tao to ask if he could answer a couple questions about his story “The Novelist.” He replied in a timely fashion and seemed nice and “into it” but asked if I could wait until after the 15th because his novel is due soon and it is “fucked.” I said yes, because I thought  at the time that would be fine but then Aaron said he needed this sooner so I decided not to wait. I felt a little sad not to get the answers to my questions and not to share more emails with Tao because generally I have no reason to email Tao but good that my piece would go up at the same time as everyone else’s.



The Novelist by Tao Lin (Hobart, Aug/Sept '04)

I’m in the bookstore. I’m sitting in a plush one-seat sofa. I’m thinking about my novel. I see a lady with a shopping basket. There’s six or seven books in there. She’s shopping for books. I stand up. She’s big and tall. I walk behind her. I follow her. She stops, extends her arm to a shelf, gets a book, and puts it in her basket. She looks at me. I look at her. I try to smile. I fail. I look at the ground. I keep looking at the ground. I look for a long time. Then I glance up. She’s gone. I walk to the Poetry section. I sit on the ground. I think, this is going in my novel. I take a pen from my pocket. I write this on my hand. 

I’m writing a novel set in a grocery store. That’s why I’m at the bookstore. Because the narrator in my novel wanders from the grocery store to the bookstore. I’m making this up right now. I’m writing this down. On my hand. I’m writing a novel. I’m in it. In my novel, I’m me.

I ask the people at the information booth what the return policy is. I ask both of them, simultaneously. This is for my novel. I turn my head to each of them as I talk. I use messed up syntax. I say, the policy of return is what at this store? My voice is weak, inaudible. I stare at them, note their reactions. One says, excuse me? The other says, um. A third information person rises up from behind the counter, like a robot. He looks at me. My neck twitches, tenses. I say, what is the time of closing for this store? This is all rehearsed. I say, what books by Joyce Carol Oates do you have? They hesitate, look at each other. I say, nevermind. I turn around. I walk quickly to the Biography section, kneel down, and write all this on the palm of my hand. The Sting biography is in front of me. Young Sting’s face. I write this down too. For my novel. 

In the magazine area, I walk around like someone lost. Like someone foreign. Like a boy looking for mommy. I walk to the Games section. I walk through the aisles. I walk to the music area. I walk to the café. I walk upstairs. I stand in one place. I think about my novel. I move to another place. I stand there. I get an idea. I go sit in a plush one-seat sofa. My idea is for the narrator to go insane on page 100. On page 99, the narrator will be sane. But on page 101, he will be stark raving mad. I pull a pen out of my pocket. I write this on my arm.

I go to the fiction section. I pick up books, randomly. I read the first sentence of each book. I read the last sentence of each book. I give each book a makeshift review. On a scale of 1-100. Most books score in the low 20’s. A few of the books, I can’t finish the first sentence. I get bored. The words are that banal. These books receive a score of 1. In my head, I feel good. My self-esteem increases. I think, this is all going in my novel. I go to A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I look around, check for people. I see no people. I see an empty plush one-seat sofa. I rip out one of the blank pages from A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I write all this down. I write down the word ‘prowess’. I write down the word ‘morbid’. I write down the word ‘incongruous’. These are all words that are going in my novel.

For my novel, I need to see what happens when someone spills coffee on a display of hardcover bestsellers. I want that in my novel. I buy a coffee from the cafe. I go to the hardcover display. It’s right inside the entrance. I stand there. I think how great this will be for my novel. I sip my coffee. It burns my tongue. I put the coffee on a Harry Potter book. I put my hands on the Harry Potter book. I pick up my coffee. I can’t bring myself to do it. There’s all these invisible forces. Pushing me away from the action. Like-charged magnets, everywhere. I put the coffee down on Harry Potter’s face. I’m thinking that I need to just say fuck it, start doing things. I’m thinking that this could be a turning point in my life if I could just do this. After I spill the coffee I’ll go chat up some girls. I’ll enter into their circle of friends. I’ll become the leader of them. We’ll have an orgy. I’ll go around during the orgy, impregnate each of them. I’ll have children with each of them. I’ll call them my minions. We’ll all live in Queens. In an underground tunnel system. I’ll give them all assignments, like in Fight Club. My children will have more children. But it doesn’t matter. By default, they’ll all be My Minions. By genetics. They’ll live in my underground tunnel. They’ll dig it deeper. Straight through to China. They’ll travel on the Great Wall and reproduce with the Chinese. I take out my A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius paper. I write all this down. In my head, I read it over. I think, this is good. I think, I am a genius. 

I stand here sipping my coffee. I think of what to name my novel. I write down ‘Me and My Minions’. I write down ‘Straight through to China’. I finish my coffee. Someone comes up to me and looks at my face. I look down at my hands, at the empty coffee cup. The someone says, can I help you? It’s a guy. An employee. I say, no. He keeps looking at me. Angling his head to look at my face. I say, I’m fine. I stare at Harry Potter’s face. His glasses. I turn away from the employee. I go stand in the travel guide section. I stand here for awhile. I see travel guides for Paris, the Bahamas. I stand here. I’m waiting for the employee to go somewhere else, away from the entrance. I stand for a moment longer. Then I walk quickly past the hardcover display and exit the bookstore. Outside, the sun is yellow. The sky is blue. I stand up straight. I make my posture good and strong. The sidewalk is white. I think, I am writing a novel. I think, I am a novelist. 

I stand on the sidewalk, feeling superior to all these other people who are not writing novels. A tall man walks by me. I wonder if he’s writing a novel. I think, probably not. I feel superior to him. Even though he’s about 2 feet taller than me. He doesn’t look at me. He goes in the bookstore, behind me. I walk into the parking lot. My SUV is parked here. I get in it. I sit. I grip the steering wheel. I pull the armrest up. I climb back to the backseat of the SUV. Like someone else is driving. I sit here for a while. I sit here for a really long time. I listen to people in the parking lot. People going in and out of the bookstore. I wonder if my novel will make me famous. I wonder if I should do a book tour. I watch a young couple kiss outside their minivan. They go in the bookstore. I wonder how many novels they have written between the two of them. I think, probably zero. I sit here in the backseat for awhile longer. It starts getting dark. I stare at the people outside. I follow them with my eyes. I wonder how many of them are writing novels, if any. I watch a lady pet her son on the head. Like a dog. The son ducks, hops away. I watch a man skip across the parking lot. His friends grin at him, from behind. They all laugh. They go in the bookstore. I pull my legs up on the seat. I move to a crouch. In front of me are the driver and passenger seats. I turn around, face the back of the SUV. It’s dark out now. The parking lot lights are on. I climb over the backseat, to the trunk area. I sit here. It’s quiet. I stare at the back of the backseat. I listen to a car pull up beside me. I feel hidden. I listen to the car outside. Its doors open, close. I hear voices. A man and a woman. The man says, lets do it on the roof tonight, we’ll pull a mattress up there. The woman laughs. She says, how about in the neighbor’s yard, against their front door, we’ll just pull a mattress over there. They laugh. It’s quiet again. It’s dark. I think, no one in the parking lot has a clue that I’m sitting here in the trunk area. I lie down. I fold my legs up. I feel small and unseen. I stare at the dark inside of the trunk. I think, this is going in my novel.

image: Aaron Burch