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Tao Lin’s Syllabus

I just found this while doing some research. I hadn’t really looked for it since his class ended, but I don’t think this had been posted while I did the bulk of this blog. 5 of the stories featured here were taught in his class.

Curtis Sittenfeld (b. 1975) “1993-94” from Mississippi Review (1999)
~7400 words | Thom Jones commentary | ending analysis
James Purdy (1914 – 2009) “Color of Darkness” from “Color of Darkness” (1957)
~4200 words | Gore Vidal essay | NYTimes review | NYTimes obituary | more info

Lorrie Moore (b. 1957) “Willing” from “Birds of America” (1998)
~6000 words | 2005 interview
Kevin Brockmeier (b. 1972) “The Ceiling” from “Things That Fall From The Sky” (2002)
~5000 words

Todd Hasak-Lowy “The End of Larry’s Wallet” from “The Task of This Translator” (2005)
~15,800 words
Rebecca Curtis “The Wolf at The Door” from “Twenty Grand” (2007)
~2300 words

10/01 Charles Johnson (b. 1948)
“China” from “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (1986)
“Kwoon” from “Dr. King’s Refrigerator” (2005)
beliefs | 2010 interview

10/08 “Kmart realism”/”minimalism”
“On The New Fiction” issue of Mississippi Review (1985)
“Less is Less: The Dwindling American Short Story” essay in Harper’s (1986)
Frederick Barthelme (b. 1943) “Driver” from “Chroma” (1987)
on own writing | 1988 essay “On Being Wrong: Convicted Minimalism Spills Beans”
Ann Beattie (b. 1947) “Shifting” from “Secrets and Surprises” (1978)
Bobbie Ann Mason (b. 1940) “Graveyard Day” from “Shiloh and Other Stories” (1982)
1997 interview | 2012 interview
Mary Robison (b. 1949) “Pretty Ice” from “Days” (1979)

10/15 Joy Williams (b. 1944) (view questions/answers here) (scroll down)
“Train” from “Taking Care” (1982)
“Rot” from “Escapes” (1990)
“Honored Guest” from “Honored Guest” (2005)
“Shifting Things” essay
“Why I Write” essay from “Ill Nature” (2001)
2005 interview re “Honored Guest”

10/22 (NO CLASS)

Lydia Davis (b. 1947)
“Story” “Five Signs of Disturbance” from “Break It Down” (1986)
“The Silence of Mrs. Iln” from “Varieties of Disturbance” (2007)
Amy Hempel (b. 1951)
“In The Cemetery Where Al Jonson is Buried” from “Reasons To Live” (1985)
“To Those of You Who Missed…” from “At The Gates of The Animal Kingdom” (1990)

11/05 Noon Magazine
issue 13
TLS article | Wikipedia
Diane Williams ( b. 1946) “Very, Very, Red” from “Romancer Erector” (2001)

11/12 “postmodernism”/”metafiction”
Donald Barthelme (1931 – 1989)
“Robert Kennedy Saved From Drowning” from “Unspeakable Practices…” (1968)
1981 interview | archive of stories/essays/etc.
John Barth (b. 1930)
“Lost in The Funhouse” from “Lost in The Funhouse” (1968)
1986 essay “A Few Words About Minimalism”

George Saunders (b. 1958)
“CivilWarLand in Bad Decline” from “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline” (1996)
2005 interview | 2012 interview
Patrick Somerville
“Trouble and The Shadowy Deathblow” from “Trouble” (2006)
~9000 words

David Foster Wallace (1962 – 2008)
“Forever Overhead” from “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” (1999)
“Good Old Neon” from “Oblivion” (2004)
Sherman Alexie (b. 1966)
“What You Pawn I Will Redeem” from the New Yorker (2003)
~6000 words | 2003 interview

12/03 post 2000 & internet
Trinie Dalton “Bienvenido el Duende” from “Wide Eyed” (2005)
Ofelia Hunt “Don’t Slide The Couches” from (2006)
Deb Olin Unferth “La Peña” from “Minor Robberies” (2007)
Matthew Rohrer (b. 1970) “Dog Boy” “Mongolian Death Worm” from “A Green Light” (2004)
Sam Pink (b. 1983) “Juliana” “Bees” from “Hurt Others” (2011)
Mazie Louise Montgomery “In a Moose Language…” from (2007)
Miles Ross (b. 1984) “Bad Smelling Person in Nautica” from (2009)
Sheila Heti (b. 1976) “The Poet and The Novelist as Roommates” from “The Middle Stories” (2001)
John Haskell “Dream of a Clean Slate” from “I Am Not Jackson Pollock” (2003)
Michael Earl Craig “A Gorgeous Hotel, In a Grand City” from “Yes, Master” (2006)
Noah Cicero (b. 1980) “A Cold Wind Blows Tonight” from (2008)
Gary Lutz “Middletown” from Agricultural Reader, issue 4 (2011)
R.B. Glaser “Butt Teen” from Capgun, issue 2 (2008)
Tara Wray “Flatbed, Seabed” from Pindeldyboz, issue 3 (2003)
Brandon Scott Gorrell (b. 1984) “Jeffrey, Vincent, Jeffrey… ” from (2009)
Megan Boyle (b. 1985) “Clams” from (2009)

Grace Paley (1922 – 2007) “Mother” from “Later The Same Day” (1985)
Larry Brown (1951 – 2004) “92 Days” from “Big Bad Love” (1990)
Denis Johnson (b. 1949) “Emergency” from “Jesus’ Son” (1992)

12/17 Sherman Alexie (b. 1966)
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (1993)


Arthur Bradford

I anticipated liking Arthur Bradford’s story, “Lost Limbs.”

I have a weird interest in biid, which is body identity integrity disorder, which is when someone has a compulsion to sever a limb in order to make themselves feel more complete.
I first read about this disorder in a book that I have since tried tracking down so I could read it again. But all I can remember from the book is that there is a boy and a girl, they run away to New York City and go to a nightclub for people who have biid. And there is also this scene where the girl is sitting on the toilet pissing and the boy pisses into the bowl between her legs while he is standing. If you Google a combination of those key words, you will probably find posts from me trying to get people to help me figure out what that book is.
Anyways, I am not sure what it is exactly that interests me about biid. Probably the body’s physical response to psychological absences. Or rather the psychological response to render those absences bodily.

At some point, my interest in biid extended to an interest in severed limbs in general.

So in Bradford’s story, the narrator meets a woman who is missing her arm.

“I was in an car accident,” she said. “Actually, it was a van accident. I was 11 years old. We were on a school trip.”

“Did anybody die?”


“That’s good.”


“Did they try to sew your arm back on?”

“It was crushed. The van rolled over onto it.”

This is interesting to me because when I was about 11 years old I got into a really bad van accident. The van got hit by a drunk driver and turned it over. The side of the door was peeled back like a sardine tin. No one died, but the boy who was sitting next to me was sitting next to the door. And the metal severed his arm so badly they had to amputate it just below the shoulder. Maybe this has something to do with my interest in severed limbs.

But the girl from the story is just telling a story; it’s not even true about the van. She later admits she was born without the arm.

These facts are the only things that interest me about the story. Not the way it was told or craft or any other possible element that either appears or fails to appear with in it.

I figure the limb is a metaphor for the desiderata of the narrator’s life.

Lore Segal

Other people’s deaths are ones that do not belong to you. They are not your death. You are still alive. You are reading a short story. You are reading it on the internet. You are reading this sentence:
“They stood for a moment, they talked, not accounting to themselves for the intense charm of the summer hill rising behind Ilka’s house, of standing, of breathing—of the glamour of being alive.”
In the last story, the wife died. This time, the husband.
There are 3,010 more words in this story than the last one. But you don’t know how much more there is too it except names.
You like this paragraph:
“They found a couple of bricks, piled one on top of the other, and took turns standing on them to look in the window. Those were the stairs the dead man must have walked up and down on. There was a little table with a telephone on it, and a chair. Had the dead man sat on that exact chair and lifted that phone to his ear?”
You don’t know what the point is of this story, of any story. You don’t know why you have written stories and sent them out to publishers, even the one that published the story you are now reading. You have lost track of communicating anything to anyone, like how Dr. Stone does not know how to express anything to the widow.
You finish the story, liking it more at the end than you did at any point reading it. You could sense the accrual of your appreciation for the story, even though you couldn’t define any particular element that turned you towards liking the story. It grew on you.
You have no idea what makes this story a good one, if that is what it is. The New Yorker is known for being a sort of bar for writers. A kind of status that guarantees certain things. But what those things are, what this story possesses that merits its publication, you couldn’t begin to try to understand.
You click on the icon at the bottom of the story that connects you to the author’s other stories and you see that they are all about Ilka. It makes you feel something you can’t define. These stories were published periodically since 1981. How does it affect the reading of this story?

Stephen Dixon

The best book in which the chronology of the narrative is reversed is Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow. The best movie is Memento.

I wrote the review for Stephen Dixon’s story, “Wife in Reverse,” probably at least a year ago. This isn’t that review.

I like the idea of telling a story in reverse. It is different and gets the reader to think about the way a story can be told, and how it can still be fresh when the outcome is revealed in the first sentence. This is a challenge.

But doing something different can feel gimmicky. Like doing it just to do it. It feels like a college assignment. This story in particular feels that way. I don’t get anything new from it.

I am not a very big fan of Stephen Dixon’s work in general. I liked his book, Meyer, but could never finish any of his others I started.

I want to like more of the short stories I am reading. I guess partly it is a matter of arbitrarily picking stories based on their availability. But you would think that if these are examples of contemporary short story writers, their stories, even random ones, would be worth reading. But maybe Tao Lin had specific stories in mind, stories that did a particular thing he could expound upon.

The book I just finished reading, Wolf in White Van, is told more or less in reverse chronology. And the structure of the novel is exquisite. It isn’t as if the time is actually going backwards, but each chapter gets at a piece of the story that happened prior to the chapter before it. And everything that flows through the novel is a result of the one thing that happens at the end of the book, so there is this building, even though we already know the results, the cause is still climactic and works as an end point.

You don’t get that in “Wife in Reverse.”

WiR is very short, boiling the moments from loss to meeting in terse sentences. I guess maybe it is to mimic the way one might look back over a life and find it fleeting. How when you first meet the woman you will marry, everything is still in front of you, to be experienced. But when you lose her, when she is dead, there are no more memories you will make together. Everything is gone and all you have left is a handful of memories that slip through your fingers.


A.M. Homes

I read A.M. Homes’ “A Real Doll,” a while ago and wrote some interview questions for her and then forgot about them. Well, here are the questions and some of my answers to them.


Did you have Barbies or other dolls growing up?
I had a large collection of stuffed animals and even a knock-off Cabbage Patch Kid for whom my mother made an assortment of clothes I’d dress him in. I didn’t play with dolls, but I didn’t have many “masculine” toys either. I wasn’t allowed to have guns including cap guns, water guns, or even figurines who would use guns such as G.I. Joe.

How do you think toys facilitate gender roles?
I feel this was more obvious in the past and seems less clear now, but I’m not sure. I guess I’m curious about specific toys, maybe Barbie, and how they shaped your ideas of femininity. I feel like I had a lot of gender neutral toys such as Legos, Lincoln Logs, etc. I don’t think my parents were necessarily avoiding gender stereotypes, but as a result it may have influenced a certain sexual confusion. I don’t know if these things are related or not, but I thought I might potentially be asexual for quite a while, until toys were no longer a part of my life.

Why do you think the story is told from the male pov? Is it the author’s view of how males perceive things/ operate? Or is it something else?
There is a certain amount of gender confusion or sexual ambiguity. I felt Jennifer acted more strongly “male” with her abuse of the doll and the narrator had definite feminine designations, such as his interest in the doll in the first place, putting the doll’s head in his mouth (oral sex/ mouth = his vagina), cumming inside Ken’s body, etc. Is this a product of the toys’ influence, society, the author’s influence or something else?

Where are the parents?
I’m half convinced that this story isn’t about toys at all but about the way genders relate to each other and part of my reason for believing that is the very small role the parents play. They have no function in the toy aspect of this story at all.

How do you think a male reader responds differently to this story than a female?
I don’t really know the answer to this question. But I’d like to hear how you respond.

Who do you relate to most in the story?
I would say Jennifer, because I was experimentally inquisitive with my toys.

Diane Williams

These stories of Diane Williams’ seemed to wash over me like a series of separate words, like a list of random words extricated painfully from a dictionary. I have absolutely no desire to be critical of these stories, only to understand. What is a story? What is it made of? What is the least amount of data or information or pathos or communication one can impart and still be published and be called a writer and write stories? And if I were to attempt this, what would happen? Sometimes I feel like I’m interested in a certain theoretical idea, like creating a story which conveys no human emotion, but when I read such a thing leaves me cold and uninterested. Do authors have an obligation to the reader? Or is the author’s obligation to challenge traditional expression? And is that even what Diane Williams is doing? As a writer, I don’t want to feel confined by tropes or traditions or expectations. But I do want to make something that feels real and has some kind of effect. I’m not sure what Diane Williams wants. What do you want to tell me, Diane? I would love it if someone read these stories and felt something and told me what they feel whatever it may be.

Donald Barthelme

I like watching old movies. Like The Phantom of the Opera starring Lon Chaney from 1925. Although my favorite Lon Chaney movie is The Unknown where he pretends to be an armless knife thrower. The Phantom of the Opera is also about tragedies befalling the disfigured, like an early Elephant Man.

When I was looking through Donald Barthelme’s stories, “The Phantom of the Opera’s Friend” stood out as potentially being funny or interesting, as the original phantom was friendless and what would being a friend to the phantom be like? I imagined the friend calling the phantom to hang out but the phantom being too busy haunting the opera. I imagined the friend wishing the phantom were a better friend. And that’s not exactly what doesn’t happen.

The story wasn’t  what I expected, but I feel like I’ve been overly negative with my reviews of the stories I read here. So there were certain things I thought were interesting, mostly how a lot of the prose came at you in single-sentence paragraphs and were not necessarily plot driven but more episodic, or I don’t know. It’s built off something else. “Everything that can be said has been said many times,” Barthelme writes. “I have no new observations to make.” So that instead the sentences are more like commentaries: “Is one man entitled to fix himself at the center of a cosmos of hatred, and remain there?” That’s like an exquisite gem just sort of tucked there.

He quotes Edmund Burke: “All men that are ruined are ruined on the side of their natural propensities,” which fits the phantom and may be used to fit the author, Donald Barthelme himself, who knows.

I liked how the phantom’s friend tries to help him out, convinces him to leave the opera, but only after the author of the original story, Gaston Leroux, releases him, as if the phantom is also a Phantom of The Phantom of the Opera.