Tonight (I guess it’s last night by now), in the basement of The Elliott Bay Book Company here in Seattle, Tao Lin read a section of his new book, Tai Pei, to a crowd of about 70-80 people, most of whom were fans.
I’ve read very little of Tao Lin but being a part of the Indie Lit community I have heard his name quite a bit. And I do know that lots of people really like “Tao Lin” and Tao Lin’s writing. And lots of people really dislike “Tao Lin” and Tao Lin’s writing. And as we walked into the bookstore one of my new Seattle buddies underscored this with the phrase “very polarizing.” My friend was referring to Tao Lin’s writing but I guess he could just easily have been referring to “Tao Lin.”
Tao began by apologizing for being late (the reading had been pushed back from 7 to 8pm) and explained that he’d missed his 9:30 (a.m.) flight and then his new flight was delayed. Tao sounded a bit under the weather. A bit like he had a sore throat. But, the reading seemed to go ok.
The Q & A, though, is where things got interesting. And pretty quick. The 2nd question was about Tao’s use of Gchat and Gmail. This was, evidently, a touchy subject for Tao and from then on the Q & A, for the most part, was Tao bemoaning the negative reviews (and tweet) Tai Pei has received so far.
I say “tweet” because Tao mentioned a tweet in which he said the editor of Publishers Weekly said he was writing a “long con.”
The Q & A became, to use Tao’s own words, one long “diatribe against reviewers.”
And it was very strange and uncomfortable to watch. Strange and uncomfortable because Tao seemed so pained and awkward in answering. So pained and awkward in his speech and body language. He seemed incredibly sad. Devastated. Crushed and upset that the book wasn’t getting the chance it deserved. (note: Tao did enjoy one clever & lively moment when he said that most of the reviews seemed to have been written by Spam Bots.)
And when, a little earlier, I wrote “bemoaning” I did so because he did come across as moaning. Whining even. There was a part of me that felt sorry for Tao, that sympathized with him. (Negative reviews can be crushing. And indeed he seemed totally crushed). But there was a part of me that was thinking “really?”
And here’s the Polarity that was sharpening in me:
Tao was either being extremely sincere — Or it was a total put-on.
And without any real “Tao” experience I really couldn’t say. In my mind it was 50/50. And if tonight was anything to go by I can totally understand why people either really like or really dislike “Tao Lin.” Watching him suffer, or seem to, was like watching a coin turning, heads, tails, heads, tails.
This all being said it was a “Tao Lin” crowd and almost every one in attendance lined up after the Q & A to have “Tao Lin” sign their copy of Tai Pei—and, as I walked by, on my way out, I glanced down at the book he was signing and saw that he’d drawn a large, elaborate cat.