I've been rupturing my head locks recently over atrocious front cover designs and so it is with glossy delight I present the Damn! That Looks Good In A Minimal Way award to Melville House Publishing for their Contemporary Art of the Novella series — may I suggest the series acronym CAN — which demonstrates you don't always have to employ David Carson design-types to prevent your publications from looking like complete bum rubbish.
Tao Lin is currently a darling of the American alternative set and his novella, Shoplifting from American Apparel, is the latest title in the CAN series. Forgive me CAN enthusiasts, from now on I will refer to the Contemporary Art of the Novella series as the Contemporary Art of the Novella series or 'series' to avoid any suggestion that it should be canned.
Lin's diaristic venture tells the story of Sam, a shoplifting writer who trundles through a vegan world of soya and tofu, trying, or not trying, to make sense of nothing. Along the way, he is arrested for shoplifting, has various encounters with various characters in various locations (but mostly Manhattan), fucks around in Florida and then returns home. End of novella. “Hang on a second!” I hear the expectant reader murmur. “Surely there is more?” Well, no, there isn't. That is pretty much it. Now onwards to deep analysis of the narrative!
Lin is adept at publicity and in 2008 began a campaign to procure finance from his forthcoming second novel by offering six "shares" in the novel's future royalties. He sold them all and received much media attention in the process. As a journalism graduate he knows how to engage with the press and turn negative reviews into good publicity — the so-bad-it's good paradox — by using the latter to generate traffic and other statistical goodness. And this is how you are supposed to experience the Tao Lin narrative — through the spectacle of the Lin/Melville publicity vehicle, which creates mystic support for an otherwise deficient product. If you avoid the publicity, you will quickly realize that Shoplifting is book-bound chaff. If you have been entranced by Lin already, then there is no point reading any more of this review.