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Tao Lin vs Ben Brooks

The alt-lit phenomena Gchat about gaylords, ketamine and book boot-camps

PhotographyCoco YoungPhotographyJulia CorosoTextStuart Hammond

Taken from the September issue of Dazed & Confused:

Whether they like it or not, and indeed whether you like them or not, Tao Lin and Ben Brooks are becoming poster boys for the recent “alt lit” boom. At 30, New Yorker Lin is a veteran and figurehead of the scene: alongside three novels he has written two books of poems, a story collection and a novella and founded independent publisher Muumuu House and film company MDMAfilms. His most recent novel, this summer’s Taipei, is increasingly being referred to as his “breakout book”. Ben Brooks, meanwhile, is a novelist from Gloucestershire whose body of work (he’s six books in at 21: whoa), like Lin’s, often screws around with the strange and important space that exists between “online writing” and “fiction writing”. Plus it’s got illegal intergenerational sex, plus it’s funny. His latest, Lolito, resembles Taipei in its keen interest in young people, drugs, computers and sexual ennui, and also in the way it’s the author’s best one yet. We joined the pair for a two-and-a-half-hour Gchat marathon; these were the best bits.

BEN BROOKS: When we sent each other our books, you said we shouldn’t discuss them for a year.

TAO LIN: Yeah, has it been a year? How long has it been? I feel like it may have been a year or more. I just finished Lolito. It’s legit. 

BB: I feel like Taipei was you ‘stepping it up’ in terms of emotional complexity and intensity and also on a sentence level. 

TL: I have underlined or circled probably 150 things in your book that I liked and think would do well on Tumblr. Here’s two. 

1: ‘I think about making him this offer: let’s both tell each other exactly what to do from now until it’s over. Every time I don’t know what to do I’ll call sleeping man and he’ll tell me. Tell her to get fucked. Choose the Lasagna. Wear Blue. Same with him. We will never be confused again. We will be each other’s robots.’ 2: ‘I don’t understand why people can’t let other people lie in their beds and slowly disappear if that’s what they want to do.’ Both our books have ketamine in them. 

Things in both our books: ketamine, death, suicide, Harry Potter, singularity, ‘gaylord’, Eternal Sunshine, 
Daniel Clowes. 

BB: The drug use in (Brooks’ previous book) Grow Up was more aimless maybe. I liked writing as though the internet wasn’t something separate from ‘us’. It seems the obvious way to do it, like in Richard Yates when you were writing Gchats with just ‘he says’ tags. Has anyone ever made up a name for people who like you?

TL: Not more than just using any derogatory term, no.

BB: I think I read ‘Lin-heads’ once. Also might not have done.

TL: I’ve never read that ever. It sounds crazy, scary.

BB: No, I just Googled it, I don’t know why I thought that was one. 

TL: It has no results?

BB: Just things about Jeremy Lin. Do you go to the library specifically to write?

TL: I don’t think I ever sit down to write, or I wouldn’t think of me doing that. But I feel differently than if I’m Gchatting or doing any other thing just because I treat everything differently, since it’s its own thing by definition. 

BB: I don’t really talk to anyone on the internet any more, but I spend hours a day reading articles on sites like BuzzFeed, Daily MailThe Guardian, HTMLGiant, so it seems helpful to have it turned off. 

TL: I think it’s more a matter of personality. Kafka could write in a house with other people in it, I think. But other people feel like they can only write in their own room, at Yaddo or something. Yaddo is a famous writer’s-colony-type-thing in America. I quite fancy it, but at the library I write on even better computers, with better internet. But I print out the book to edit away from the computer also.  

BB: I don’t know why I don’t talk to anyone on the internet any more. I just feel more anxious than three years ago about typing things that will make the other person like you.

TL: It does seem to have changed, the internet.  

I don’t really talk to anyone on the internet any more, but I spend hours a day reading articles on sites like BuzzFeed, Daily MailThe Guardian, HTMLGiant, so it seems helpful to have it turned off. 

BB: You’re also less active on it now. A lot less.  

TL: People don’t use blogspots any more as their main place. Twitter seems to have taken over big time.  

BB: You’re good at Twitter. I tweet sometimes, if I’m drinking, to give away money or say news, then I usually delete them.

TL: You’ve paid me money for no reason before.

BB: I gave away money when Taipei was bought I think. Maybe $700 to Twitter people and $500 for cam -girl naps ‘in celebration’. Just pay for cam girls then tell them to have naps, or do whatever. It seemed funny to do.

TL: Thank you for doing that.

BB: Yaddo. I dare you to go to Yaddo.

TL: I don’t know how to go. You have to apply. I would accept a writer’s retreat gladly. The problem is you need to apply. And I hate people. But you get your own room and they serve you food and do everything for you.

BB: I think the other writers talk to you though.

TL: But you don’t have to talk to them.  

I started a novel, but it hasn’t been going well... unfortunately.

BB: Aren’t there ‘workshops’ or something?

TL: The goal is to write, to focus on writing.  

BB: Having a room and being brought food just seems like a weird writers’ hotel.

TL: Yes, but I wouldn’t go to them. I’ll accept a writers’ hotel. If it’s located somewhere nice, like by a beach. 

BB: Do you like beaches?

Having a room and being brought food just seems like a weird writers’ hotel.

TL: Yes. They make me think of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Which is in both our books.  

BB: Funny. Also, I think, (US punk band) Leftöver Crack are.

TL: Also the word ‘gaylord’ is in both our books. I don’t remember Leftöver Crack in your book, where is it?

BB: He listens to them once I think. I don’t know when. Maybe it got deleted. Your name got deleted from my book.

TL: Things I remembered in both our books: ketamine, death, suicide, Harry Potter, singularity, 'gaylord’, Eternal Sunshine, Daniel Clowes. I noticed I was deleted. I understood.

BB: I wrote Lolito in London two years ago, and then a little in Barcelona last year. I wrote some then left it for a long time.

TL: What have you written since?

BB: I have written 40,000 words of a young adult novel and 20,000 words of a novel about suicide. You aren’t working on anything are you?

TL: I started a novel, but it hasn’t been going well... unfortunately.

BB: I feel like there is a ‘scene’ based around you that doesn’t include you, possibly.

TL: Yeah, that makes sense and is funny.

TaiPei and Lolito are out now, published by Canongate