Tweets about pandas, rappers, and dirty stuff plus sex confessions equal a Tao Lin-curated reading at St. Mark’s
Inside St. Mark's Bookshop last night the 20 folding chairs were full and there were at least 40 more people jammed into every open space with a sightline. They were there for a reading curated by Tao Lin, under his Muumuu House publishing aegis.
Most looked like college students—Pratt creative writing students are required to attend three readings per semester, and this seemed like a popular pick. But there were some recognizable faces as well: Gaby Dunn, a comedian and writer who turned her blog into a New York Times writing gig; Cole Stryker, author of Epic Win, a book about 4chan. Throughout the crowd, and certainly through the medium of the night's readers, the Internet was converging IRL.
Tao Lin, the somewhat controversial, provocative figure in the New York literary scene, started the night by reading his own Tweets, iPhone in hand, in a calm monotone.
"What if Jeremy Lin's last name was 'Kafka'?"
"I want a remote-control bed with wheels."
"Energy drink called 'liquid Jesus'."
"Novel with the word 'autism' in every sentence."
In all, he read around 30 tweets, and about half of them got laughter registering somewhere in the polite to genuine segment of the continuum. Maybe not genuine enough for Lin, who concluded his bit abruptly: "That's all I'm going to read," he said, and introduced the next reader, Marie Calloway.
Calloway, a 21-year-old woman from Nevada, is known for the frankly sexual articles she's written for Thought Catalog, including one titled "Adrien Brody", which Lin republished on the Muumuu House site, that told of Calloway's visit to New York to have sex with a 40-year-old New York writer she admires. The names had been changed, but the New York Observer quickly picked up the story and ran with it via a lengthy feature on Calloway (and a comments section that left little to the imagination about who the elder writer in the affair had been).
Calloway, evidently unfazed by the microscandal, was in town for the reading and to meet with literary agent Edward Orloff. So unfazed was she that the part of "Adrien Brody" she chose to read was the sex scene at its end.
"I wish I could say that I did it for a more dignified reason," Calloway read, "that I wasn't going to let him use my body for his pleasure […] but really I was just sad and angry about how he was going to leave after we had sex." It was certainly a contrast to Tao Lin's pseudo-stand-up act, and everyone was silent, rapt.
Spencer Madsen, who also writes for the Muumuu House website, read next from his book of poetry, a million bears, which has sold out its first print run. His poems, of which he read four, were mainly series of one-liners (sometimes two-liners) and expressions of anxiety about growing up.
"I'm good at not thinking about things I don't want to think about. / But then I think about them when I'm sleeping."
"High school is a bunch of people going through puberty at the same time."
Madsen got some big laughs with "If this is poetry then what was Shakespeare doing? Seriously?" as well as a mashup of a Kanye West Tweet ("God is dope") and a 50 Cent Tweet ("Booty is my new motivational topic of the day. If ur skinny buy you a ass. If u have no tits put them in bitch. Quit playing around.")
"I'll blow a panda if it asked me to in a small human voice."
"Should have gotten an MFA in waiting for my dealer."
"Blowing Rick Ross on mushrooms would be intense."
Twitter and rappers were popular subjects.
Brandon Scott Gorrell, who has written a book of poetry for Muumuu House titled during my nervous breakdown i want to have a biographer present, and is a writer and editor for Thought Catalog, read a piece from the site titled "5 Embarrassing Social Blunders You Have Maybe Made." It's about what you'd think it would be about. The biggest laugh line from it was a quotation from The Office's Michael Scott.
Megan Boyle, the last reader, has also published a book on Muumuu House, selected unpublished blog posts of a mexican panda express employee (pandas were another popular subject), and she is (or perhaps was) married to Tao Lin (for people who Tweet all the time, the details can still be a bit foggy). Boyle read from her book, which is, pace the title, written from her own perspective. It has a mix of facetiousness ("most cats just walk around without testicles every day"), personal stories about visiting with her mother, and absurd bodily fixations ("I want to replace my vagina with something more practical / but I still want to feel orgasms").
The literary differences fell, maybe unsurprisingly, along gender lines. The three male readers went for laughs, joked about rappers (as though nothing could be further from their heady literary experimentalism than the black experience), and seemed cooly aloof, while the two women performed their sexuality and their awkwardness, less for laughs than for the sake of some therapeutic confessionalism. If a Muumuu House house style emerged, it was one that was very much in line with the affectless, self-concerned style of Thought Catalog: diaristic essays and Twitter poetry. And it's succeeding. Gaby Dunn, a Thought Catalog writer, scored that Times gig, while Calloway is meeting with literary agents.
The reading ended with a question and answer session. When asked why so many readers read their Twitter feed, Madsen said: "I think it reads like jokes. Like Mitch Hedberg." There was a garbled, indistinct question about Kevin Federline directed toward Tao Lin.
"I don't understand that," he said, and then announced there would be time for two more questions. After an awkward silence, he counted down: "5, 4, 3, 2, 1," and the reading was over.