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May 1, 2007

Book Notes - Tao Lin ("Bed")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.

Tao Lin, already a well-respected poet, releases two works of fiction this week. Bed is his debut short fiction collection.

Of the novel, Time Out Chicago wrote:

"Employing Raymond Carver’s poker face and Lydia Davis’s bleak analytical mind, Lin renders ordinary—but tortured—landscapes of failed connections among families and lovers that will be familiar to anyone who has been unhappy.”

Many thanks to Tao Lin for joining Chuck Klosterman and Dave Wellington as a repeat contributor to this series.


In his own words, here is Tao Lin's Book Notes essay for his debut novel, Bed:


Bed is a medium-sized book of nine stories. Each story is a professional, Best American Short Stories-style, 20-page short story with professionally-constructed themes, realistic yet "engaging" narrative arcs, and an attention to language both noticeable and unobtrusive. I am professional. While writing these stories I studied stories by Lorrie Moore and Joy Williams. I created charts for some of these stories. I made charts. I stared at the charts. I printed the stories in single-spaced, size-6 font to "gain perspective." I wrote notes on the paper. I wrote things like, "Insert something for flow," "Make this a lot tighter," "Edit this part tonight you piece of shit," or "Terrible shit [arrows pointing at circled parts]." I submitted these stories to undergraduate writing workshops at New York University. I like writing workshops. Whenever a person criticized my stories I lectured them until they stopped talking. In one class someone attacked me for being "postmodern." I just stared at my computer screen for about 3 minutes trying to remember another instance of someone "attacking" me in workshop but could not think of anything. I don't remember specifics. I almost never criticized anyone else's stories. I always found something I liked in every story. I am nice. I worked many hours on the stories in Bed. Maybe an average of 175 hours per story. That is how many hours it takes me to write a professional, 20-page short story with themes on the language level. Lorrie Moore is the only writer I have read that is consistently "thematic" on the language level. I don't know what that means. I think it means she repeats the same words or images or ideas or else variations of those words or images or ideas throughout the story. Yes. That is what it means. I think I lectured people in class about that. I wanted them to understand that Lorrie Moore is the only writer I have read that is consistently "thematic" on the language level. I am impressed by stories that are "thematic on the language level." When I lectured my classmates they listened politely then talked about something else. I don't read much Lorrie Moore anymore. I read Joy Williams now. The stories "influenced" by Joy Williams in this collection are stories number 5, 6, 7 and maybe 2 a little. The other stories are "influenced" by Lorrie Moore. Story 8 is "influenced" also a little by Jean Rhys. I think "influenced" means I read them and liked how I felt and then wanted to make new things that would make me feel how they made me feel. I also like stories by Ann Beattie, Lydia Davis, Todd Hasak-Lowy, Bobbie Ann Mason, Richard Yates, Trinie Dalton, and others but they did not "influence" any of the stories in this book, either because I read them later or just did not feel uncontrollable urges to create the same effects as they did. Mostly I write what I want to read. That is why I am mostly impervious to criticism. I am the only person who knows what I want to read. If someone interrogated me using intense psychological methods and discovered exactly what I want to read I would still be mostly impervious to their criticism, because "what I want to read" is always changing. But if someone criticizes my actions in concrete reality I am not impervious to that, I will listen politely and, ideally, discuss my actions in a detached way, as if I were someone else, in order to decide how to "fix" them. All the stories in Bed are in third-person, with some rhetoric in second-person. I like writing in third person. It is easier maybe to talk kind-hearted shit about the characters if I write in third-person. I don't like bitterness. When I talk shit about my characters I always try to make it "kind-hearted shit."

There are nine stories in Bed. I will type about each. I will choose one song for each story that I think I listened to the most while writing that story. I listen to music when I write. Some of the songs I choose will be complete guesses, because I just thought about it and don't remember what I listened to the most while writing each of these. I won't choose Britney Spears or No Doubt or something "just to be funny." I will be professional.


1. Love is a Thing on Sale for More Money than There Exists

This is a story about fighting terrorism at New York University while teaching pilates to an ambitious family of blind-deaf rabbits, overseeing the construction of a 20,000 square-foot luxury hamster resort below Washington Square Park, and simultaneously editing three different online literary magazines—Mad Hatter's Review, Elimae, and Juked.

I think I listened to "Tripped" by Neva Dinova the most while working on this story.


2. Three-Day Cruise

This is a story about an intra-family ping-pong tournament with no clear winners or losers.

I think I listened to "97" by Alkaline Trio the most while working on this story.


3. Suburban Teenage Wasteland Blues

This is a story about a young man with severe social anxiety disorder who works in a public library in Florida and sometimes has nightmares about hamsters the size of ants "going undercover" in fire ant colonies "for no discernible reason."

I think I listened to "Wrong Side of the Tracks" by Strung Out the most while working on this story.


4. Sincerity

This is a story about talking kind-hearted shit about D.H. Lawrence in 2004.

I think I listened to "A Better Tomorrow" by No-Cash the most while working on this story.


5. Love is the Indifferent God of the Religion in which Universe is Church

This is a story about being a jobless bitch in New York City.

I think I listened to "Station me Wherever" by Blacktop Cadence the most while working on this story.


6. Cull the Steel Heart, Melt the Ice one, Love the Weak Thing; Say Nothing of Consolation, but Irrelevance, Disaster, and Nonexistence; Have no Hope or Hate—Nothing; Ruin Yourself Exclusively, Completely, and Whenever Possible

This is a story about seeing a movie alone and friendless in college at night a few days after 9/11, when they were showing free movies at Union Square, and feeling momentarily consoled against crippling loneliness because of seeing homeless people with empty seats by them that people wouldn't sit in at first but then when there were no seats left finally sat in, then after the movie walking around outside looking at the ground thinking about specific people including myself and feeling very emotional—then four years later going to a Leftover Crack concert and remembering all of that.

I think I listened to "I've Got a Feeling" by Neva Dinova the most while working on this story.

The lyrics to that song are "I can't stand this anymore / when you scratch away the layers / there's nothing there / and I don't give a f*ck / you can't hurt me anymore / chop off my arm / there's a hole in my heart / and I don't give a f*ck / everyone I love / everyone I trust / what's going to happen to all of us? / seems like I've done something wrong / well, let that punishment come / hide the sun / I don't give a f*ck / scratching my nuts right at god / on second thought there's no one there / and I don't give a f*ck / what is this world without pain? / ain't a god damn thing / just a rock floating through the universe / the world's a shitty place / and I can't wait to die / just kidding world, you know I love you"


7. Nine, Ten

This is a story about the aesthetic, health, mood, environmental, moral, political, metaphysical, and philosophical benefits of spending money on raw organic vegan food and eating it. Just kidding about "metaphysical." I don't know what that word means in this context.

I think I listened to "Counting Numbers" by Hot Water Music the most while working on this song.


8. Insomnia for a Better Tomorrow

This is a story about being a jobless bitch in Jersey City (Grove Street stop on PATH train).

I think I listened to "Make War" by Bright Eyes the most while working on this story.


9. Sasquatch

This is a story about the benefits and "drawbacks" of leaving without paying at Denny's. It is also a story about being a shy, quiet, lonely, nervous, and employed jobless bitch in Orlando, Florida.

I think I listened to "Separate Ways" by Satanic Surfers the most while working on this story.


see also:

Tao Lin's Book Notes essay for his short story collection, Bed
Tao Lin's Book Notes essay for you are a little bit happier than I am

the author's blog
the book's website
the author's myspace page
the author's Wikipedia entry
Tao Lin's poetry online
Tao Lin's stories online

Time Out Chicago review

Bat Segundo interview with the author
Publisher's Weekly interview with the author
litpark interview with the author
other interviews with the author

Ellen Kennedy and Tao Lin's press

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)

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