On Gertrude Stein


If you’d met me a couple of years ago, and if we had started talking books, I would’ve told you that my favorite author was Tao Lin, after reading Richard Yates and Tai Pei and a few other compilations of his short stories. Don’t get me wrong – I still have an unyielding amount of love for Tao Lin and his chronicles of trippy, aimless, drug-fueled wandering in New York City.

However, there is a new addition to the panel of Rachel’s Favorite Authors. Late last year I fell in love with the idea of early 20th century Montmatre (admittedly after reading The Paris Wife & Hemingway’s The Moveable Feast; sorry, I’m that person) and began learning a bit more about the people who used to live there. It was only a matter of time before I came upon Gertrude Stein. I picked up The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas early this year, I think, read Three Lives a few months ago, and now am slowly making my way through Tender Buttons, her book of prose. The Making of Americans is still on my Goodreads “to read” list. Like literary critics have said, Gertrude (I’m going to call her by her first name bc I feel like we could be pals) really helped pioneer the stream-of-consciousness style of writing; who could forget that Hemingway had always sought her approval? She possesses a dry wit and a secular, matter-of-fact approach to living life. You’re not going to be reading 5 page long descriptions of the flowers and the trees and the sky here – you can picture that stuff for yourself. I am also a massive fan of her fuck punctuation approach to writing. Like e.e. cumming’s poetry, it’s conversational and not contrived and refreshing, in a weird sort of way.

With all that said, Gertrude was a product of her times. She was racist and misogynistic to a certain degree, even though she herself was a woman. On the flip side, Alice B. Toklas was her lover – Gertrude was a lesbian author at the turn of the century. Take what you will from it, and G’s definitely not everybody’s cup of tea, but I thought I’d share. I’ll leave you with a wonderful quote from Alice B. Toklas:

She says it is a good thing to have no sense of how it is done in the things that amuse you. You should have one absorbing occupation and as for the other things in life for full enjoyment you should only contemplate results. In this way you are bound to feel more about it than those who know a little of how it is done.

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