Geek Love – Bookforum talks with Tamara Shopsin about LaserWriter II, her novel of a Manhattan computer-repair shop

Tamara Shopsin. © Michael Schmelling

Although it sounds like the name of a sequel, LaserWriter II is the debut novel of writer and designer Tamara Shopsin; it takes its name from a laser printer manufactured by Apple in the early 1990s. The mechanics of printing are a formal concern throughout the book, which is divided by surprising page breaks and pixelated illustrations, as well its central plot fixture: Shopsin follows Claire, a young New Yorker with anarchist leanings, through her stint as a printer technician at Tekserve, a computer-repair shop that operated on West 23rd Street until 2016. Between shifts spent laboring over paper sensors and I/O boards, Claire quietly observes her coworkers, delegates of various ’90s countercultures who are united by their fascination with desktop publishing. Shopsin makes Tekserve sound about as utopian as a retail space can be, but Claire and her colleagues find echoes of bleaker political-economic shifts in their work: fixing a broken LaserJet at one point, a technician named Joel notes that “the fan (much like capitalism) has a design flaw that makes it eventually fail.” Set just before the dot-com crash began to really loom and filled with great period details (everyone is constantly drinking Snapple), LaserWriter II registers a sweet spot in the history of personal computing when the industry seemed built primarily to “help people make poetry and do their taxes.”

LISA BORST: LaserWriter II is a workplace novel that takes place at a now-shuttered business called Tekserve. Would you mind giving a quick overview of the what the shop was?

TAMARA SHOPSIN: If you lived in New York in the ’90s and you had a Macintosh, you ended up at Tekserve and your world was a better place. It was, at its bones, a computer repair shop in the Flatiron District, but it was much more. It was weird, and it had soul. It was funky, magical, and beloved by nearly everyone who went there. I worked there for maybe three months in the late ’90s.

Your last book, Arbitrary Stupid Goal, is set mostly in Greenwich Village at the original location of Shopsin’s, your family’s restaurant—another weird, offbeat business that seems like it’s so…