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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Today in Books: ACLU's Uncensored Celebration & Tao Lin Reading Recap

Posted by Alison Hallett on Wed, Sep 29, 2010 at 3:37 PM

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Tonight at Holocene, ACLU of Oregon hosts their second annual Uncensored Celebration—it's Banned Books Week, y'all—with music and readings from Kevin Sampsell, Bitch Magazine editor Andi Zeisler, Portland must-read Tom Spanbauer, Vegan Revolution with Zombies author David Agranoff, and PSU professor Jill Freeman.

Readings start at 7 pm; music—from Lifesavas, the Angry Orts, and DJ Anjali—starts at 9 pm.

A really good transition to my writeup of last night's Tao Lin reading would be to note that Kevin Sampsell had an internet... encounter with Tao Lin a few years ago, when Kevin was trying to edit a story of Tao's for publication in an anthology. Tao published the correspondence and there was a kerfuffle and it's fun to read if you're bored and like gossip. So ACLU event ——> Kevin Sampsell --->Tao Lin ----> reading recap after the jump!

First Mr. Brainwash, then Joaquin Phoenix, and now Tao Lin—I'm all for art prompting discussion, but I'm not sure "Is this guy for real?" constitutes meaningful discourse. That was, however, all my friends and I talked about after the Tao Lin reading at Reading Frenzy last night, which is perma-seared in my memory as the 30 most awkward minutes I've ever spent in a bookstore.

The reading itself wasn't awkward. The reading was sad with little bits of funny, which is a pretty good way for a reading to be. Tao read the first few pages of Richard Yates, and the words hit me differently coming out of his mouth than they did on the page. His delivery—the way he kind of trailed off at the end of each sentence—really just sounded the way depression feels. I can't think of any other way to describe it. It made me glad I'm not 15 anymore. If I were, I'm sure I'd have bought a copy of the book.

So that was interesting, and I'm glad I went for that, but the Q&A portion was just excruciating. Some of the questions were the standard readings business, from people who actually care about writing—questions about process and place—and some were minutia-oriented, laser-focused on Tao himself: "What did you eat today?" and "Do you go to shows?" and "Do you like that band BARR?" Like they'd all agreed that there was to be no pretense that they were there for the work. All Tao Lin readings are like this, according the internet; Tao Lin fans performing being Tao Lin fans. And he answered each question succinctly and awkwardly and half the time I felt like a bully for being there and half the time I felt like I was on a really terrible blind date, and the whole time I felt like laughing but couldn't figure out if there was a joke.

I'm only a year older than Tao Lin, but reading his work (and reading about his work, which is an exercise in internet bullshit endurance) makes me feel like I'm on the wrong side of some generation gap—like for me, awkwardness was something to overcome, not something to embrace and announce to the world by wearing giant awful glasses. But I guess that makes me old and a "phony" or whatever. Any one else who was there, thoughts?

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