The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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October 29, 2019

Gertrude Stein Has Arrived

I was right...this was fun.

I think I read The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas when I was in college ... if I did, all that I really remember about it was that, of course, it wasn't.  
In the summer of 1935, after nearly three decades of writing and publishing everything from three-word poems to one-thousand-page novels, American author Gertrude Stein finally achieved overnight success. The surprising vehicle for her literary stardom was an uncharacteristically lucid and readable book, one that until the last sentence of the last paragraph of the last page she had pretended was written by someone else. ... 
I definitely don't remember ever hearing the story that I've spent the last few days immersed in... that the book was incredibly popular, and that Gertrude and Alice became instantly famous, especially in America.  At the urging of some of their American friends, they undertook a seven-month tour of the U.S., returning to their homeland for the first time in decades. They arrived in New York, criss-crossed the country, traveled by airplane for the first time (and loved it); they were recognized on the street, interviewed on the radio and for newspapers (including by Walter Cronkite, when he was a freshman writing for his college paper), and they met everyone from Eleanor Roosevelt to Charlie Chaplin.  It's all a little hard to imagine, and delightful.

It had been, all things considered, a long time coming. Prior to The Autobiograph of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein was known primarilyto American reader for her dense, often indecipherable prose and for being an amusing, frequently quoted avatar of the modernist movement in painting and literature. Her face was well known, her writing not so much. 'It always did bother me,' she complained, 'that the American public were more interested in me than in my work.'
Gulp. I'm guilty of that. I don't have any of her books on my shelves (I know I've read something that she wrote, but I'm not sure what.)  She's definitely an author who I've enjoyed reading about, more than reading. I even made a little pilgrimage, when I went to Paris, to see where Gertrude and Alice lived, at 27, rue de Fleurus...

A book like this one doesn't help. :)  Once again,, I greatly enjoyed reading about her --  and about Alice, who's always been a little of a shadowy figure in the background.  The author writes that the Autobiography is 'lively, fast-paced, and often quite funny,' and this new book is too.

Gertrude Stein Has Arrived: The Homecoming of a Literary Legend, by Roy Morris Jr
John Hopkins University Press (2019)
Borrowed from the library 

1 comment:

JoAnn said...

Definitely one for the wish list! Glad you enjoyed it so much.

Thank you for visiting!

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