Alienation And Weirdness At Tao Lin’s Book Launch Party

This week marks the publication of Internet lit kingpin Tao Lin’s seventh book, the perhaps-more-autobiographical-than-usual Taipei. Wednesday evening there was a party to celebrate at indie bookstore powerHouse Arena in Dumbo. Here’s how it was for your BlackBook correspondent (a somewhat less well-known novelist) to attend:

7:50 Arrive 50 fashionable minutes late, knowing I need a large crowd if I’m not to look appallingly awkward. Lots of people smoking outside. Speak to a Salon reporter who is shoveling a giant Poland Spring bottle into his backpack. Inadvertently interrupt his conversation with a smoker in a red dress whom I then realize is Marie Calloway, whose own book, what purpose did i serve in your life, is doing quite well despite three publishers balking at its “obscene” content. Have no idea what to say. Run inside.

7:55 Notice the crowd is twice as big as most literary parties that happen in this space, and the booze line is about four times longer than average. Get on line for booze. Encounter a prominent reading organizer who asks if I see anyone from Vintage (Taipei’s publisher). We decide the actual publishing people must be the ones in neckties, etc., as most others are out of hipster central casting.

8:05 Burrow as deep into crowd of strangers as I can. Sip wine. Realize I haven’t eaten yet. Listen to the music DJ’d by two Pitchfork writers. Not bad. Spot Lin himself sitting atop amphitheater steps, drinking just sparkling San Pellegrino: the classic pillhead cocktail. Begin to look around with an eye as to who might be a drug dealer. Approach none of my guesses.

8:15 The editor for Taipei makes a few strained remarks (leading off with a standard publishing joke about drinking, no laughs) as Lin sits back and records the whole thing on his iPhone. Briefly concerned that I may be in the background of this video, but think I’m okay. Editor does get one laugh, by relaying a line from the New York Times book review (“like Hemingway filtered through Twitter and Klonopin”) and then instructs us to “exhaust the wine supply.”

8:16 Get on the wine line again, this time behind Marie Calloway, who turns around and locks eyes, and I have the fleeting fear that I’m about to puke on her. Discussion with other dude about whether we are on the line for wine or the line to get books signed. Some confusion. 

8:17 Wine supply exhausted.

8:20 Lost time. Think I sat down for a minute and tried to sip the last wine as slowly as possible to stave off impending anxiety attack. Enjoying Pitchfork DJs. Consider going up to tell them so, as have nothing better to do. Ultimately too nervous.

8:40 Get in finally shortening line to get book signed. Only have an old book by Steven Millhauser. I don’t know Tao personally, but we each know whom the other is, kind of, so I think he might think it’s funny, especially if he’s high, as he must be.

8:45 Notice guy in vintage Tommy Hilfiger t-shirt who is pulling Presidente beers out of his backpack. Having finished the wine, offer to buy one of the beers off him. He only has one left and it’s got someone else’s name on it. I tell him he’s a good friend. “I am,” he agrees thoughtfully.

8:50 Party almost over, looks like Tao is told to speed up the signing process. He nods when I ask him to sign the book he didn’t write and puts down “T. Miles Klee” on the title page, with sunrays shooting out of it. Collector’s item for sure. Without knowing why, I drum the back of his non-writing hand enthusiastically. It’s odd.

8:55 Feeling guilty, actually do buy a copy of Taipei on the way out.

9:05 Stop by reBar, where the afterparty is being held for no good reason whatsoever. Say goodbye to some people I never said hi to. Order a beer and drink it quickly and leave. It’s a long subway ride back to Harlem.

1:30 p.m. the following day: Place Taipei on my formidable to-read pile and notice the shiny typeface glinting on its spine. Seems faintly mocking. 

Follow Miles on Twitter here

Photo: Canteen Mag.

‘Sh*t My Dad Says’ Author Justin Halpern On Sex, Growing Up, and His New Book

For Justin Halpern, it all started with a break-up. Blind-sided by the end of a three-year-long relationship, Halpern moved back home with his parents in 2009, made an office out of his living room couch, and started jotting down his dad’s brutally honest, sage, and expletive-ridden advice on a Twitter page called shitmydadsays. Within two months, the site had over half a million followers, a book deal, and a TV deal. After Sh*t My Dad Says topped the New York Times bestseller list, Halpern started working on his next book: I Suck at Girls

In I Suck at Girls, we follow the now-married Halpern as he recalls some of the most life-changing, awkward, and embarrassing misadventures of his life – from losing his virginity to a waitress he worked with at Hooters, to having explosive diarrhea on the first-date with his wife. In this follow-up, Halpern’s own wisdom shines through. 

But if you’re worried about losing his dad’s signature insight – don’t – it’s in there, with a bunch of new colorful characters too. And although Halpern’s dad warned him that he "better make this better than the last one, people will wait to shit on it," his dad returned to his son with the highest praise after just one reading: "This will be difficult to shit on. They’ll find a way, but it will be hard." 

I Suck at Girls has been described as everything from a coming-of-age story, to a romantic comedy mystery, a memoir, and a confessional. How would you describe your second book?
It’s a story about growing up and exploring the opposite sex, for most people. There are a lot of books, like The Game and Tucker Max’s books, that are about sleeping around and they have a bit of misogyny in them, and then there’s a bunch of books on the other end of the spectrum where the people are social outcasts. I didn’t really see anything for the in between – and that’s who I was. I wasn’t popular, but I wasn’t a total loser. I was awkward. I wanted to write a series of essays that relate to universal stories everybody had. Most importantly, I just want to entertain people and tap into that thing where you read something and you say, “Ah, that happened to me. I had something like that."

What’s the biggest lesson you learned that you hope others will too?
That love and relationships are just a bunch of really embarrassing losses and failures that happen to you and hopefully, at the end of the day, you get one win. You get the person that it works with. So when you have all those other things – all the failures and break-ups – don’t take them too hard. They need to be there.

Which loss, in particular, had the greatest impact on you and your perspective on relationships?
I dated this girl Simone, and it was the only casual sex relationship I’d ever had. I didn’t have a big emotional connection with her, and when it ended, it had the biggest effect on me because I realized I didn’t want that kind of relationship. I wanted a relationship where, when it ends, I feel like shit. Because then I know it meant something. Guys always talk about sleeping around and sowing your oats, but I feel like at the end of the day, we’re all like pack animals. You want to be with somebody who wants to be with you, that you give a shit about. Any guy or girl who is okay with having lots of casual relationships and never wants to settle down, there’s something else in their life they’re compensating for because we are genetically coded to be with at least one partner. So if you’re fighting that, there’s something else going on.

I feel like a lot of the time they’re hiding that there is that one person they want to be with, they can’t be with, so in order to try to get over that person they try and get with a bunch of people.
Yeah, and isn’t it weird? Because you’re meeting people in all different parts of that journey. So you can meet the perfect person but they’re up here and you’re down here and it’s not going to work. You have to meet the right person who is at the same place, at the same time.  That’s why it’s so fucking hard to meet somebody and make a relationship work.

Which moment in the book might surprise or even horrify your readers?
During the time I was working as a cook at Hooters, I lost my virginity to this girl Sarah. I was 19 and it was especially bad because it was my first time, not hers. The next day, she broke up with me over the phone while I was at work. She called the manager, and after she was done breaking up with me, she asked me to put the manager back on so she could get the rest of her schedule and tell him where to send her last check since she was quitting. It was so bad. You think about how inconsequential you are in someone’s life when they have other business, besides breaking up with you, to take care of. There’s an agenda and I’m at the bottom.

Now that you’re married, did you have any reservations about including the casual sex chapter in the book? What does your wife, Amanda, think of it?
I talked to her before I wrote about it and asked if she was okay with me doing it, and she said that it was fine. She really likes the book. It’s sort of about her, like a love letter. There’s all these failures and she was the one that worked out. I love her to death. To me, it says, “All that stuff that happened? That’s so that I could be with you.”

It’s kind of an inspirational story.
Yeah, someone else said that! This guy, 22 years old, was like, “This gives me hope!”

It’s basically saying, “You’re going to go through a lot of crap, but it’s going to work out.”
You learn something during every shitty thing you go through. They’re not just useless experiences. It all leads up to something.

We’ve heard so much from your dad. What about your mom? Does any of her advice make its way into the book?
She has tons of great advice, but none of it makes its way into the book because she didn’t want it to. She’s more private then my dad, and asked me to leave her out of the book as much as possible, and I did. She’s amazing and the smartest person in our family, for sure.

I Suck at Girls

I heard that I Suck at Girls is already going to become a TV show.
Well, we’ll see. I sold it and I’m developing it. This guy, Bill Lawrence, who created Scrubs, Spin City, and Cougar Town, he’s overseeing the project with my writing partner and I. We sold it so, hopefully, fingers-crossed, we’ll make it. It’ll be set in the early ’90s, kind of like The Wonder Years. It’s about a 14 to15-year-old kid living with his family.

You’ve said that so much in your life has changed since the success of Sh*t My Dad Says. What has stayed the same?
The people around me have all stayed the same. I have the same friends, my wife was my girlfriend. That’s the beauty of being a writer; nobody knows what you look like and nobody cares really what you do. You get this lovely anonymity, even if your projects are successful. The people closest to me have stayed the same, but the rest of my life has totally changed. My wife loved me when I was waiting tables.

A lot of people become more and more like their parents as they get older. Do you think you’ll become your dad? 
I think I’ll be completely different, but I hope I’m equally as good. I don’t think I’ll ever turn into him cause he’s just a crazy guy, but I hope that I’m able to connect with my children the same way that he connected with me. I hope my kids will love and respect me as much as I love and respect my dad. And to do that, I have to be as good a father as he was.