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Paperback The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas Book

ISBN: 067972463X

ISBN13: 9780679724636

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

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Stein's most famous work; one of the richest and most irreverent biographies ever written.

Customer Reviews

4 ratings

A Charming Memoir

This is a lively read. It's also an interesting artifact from an artist who, from her perch atop the turmoil of World War I Paris, managed to craft a work that was modern in style, yet classically human in expression. Here she stood on the cusp of 19th and 20th century literature: T. S. Eliot's The Wasteland this is not, nor is it Hemingway's musings on the Lost Generation or Fitzgerald's cold, vacuous and material world. It's not cubist or surrealist, either, despite the influences evident elsewhere in her work. Instead, this is Gertrude Stein unplugged: witty, hip, self-deprecating, self-aggrandizing, opinionated and sharp, and we love her for it. It's a book about hanging out with friends in Paris, and that's about it, thank you. It has a whimsical style reminiscent of Seinfeld, but with the real-life characters of Picasso, Hemingway, doughboys and lovers wandering through the set, it also carries literary weight and impact. In a sense, this is a book about nothing, but it's delivered with such intelligence and energy, one might swear Gertrude Stein is leading the reader through her teeming streets of early 20th century Paris on the way to catching a new art sensation. Stein has a remarkable feel for these streets, too: their intimate moods and pulses. The autobiography, actually not an autobiography at all (but we get the joke), is also a parody of her partner Alice B. Toklas, who bears the brunt of affectionate barbs when not showering the author with zingers and unflattering observations of her own. This technique of imitation is uncommon in American literature--it's more common in Russian and Spanish classics, for example--but Stein carries it off with requisite naturalness and wit. Despite her playfulness, Stein refrains from the avant-garde in this book. There's little "Steinese" experimentation or inventiveness here. The words flow from her pen and typewriter like conversation, unflappably so, and this choice of language is shrewd, as the work gives a you-were-there quality; like a photo album, this book is a testament to her visual and "painted" frame of reference. Those who want to see her more edgy experiments in syntax and diction should check out Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein, an edition that includes this autobiography and an interesting, if oddly unflattering at times, essay by F. W. Dupee and helpful notes from editor Carl van Vechten. At times, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas feels shallow, I must say. While far from cold and plenty humorous, the writing conveys the aura of a modern city on the go, where relationships are casual, the stakes are low and people move in and out of other peoples' lives with little impact. Some of this entails love "French style," while at other times a character might drop dead with no more than a mention. Even French soldiers, fighting one of the most savage wars in human history, emote their greatest dramas only when responding to mistakes in Stein's thoughtful, but occasional

You Will Enjoy and Dislike Portions of this Book [78]

Split into 7 chapters, chronologically identified but the topic not necessarily so well organized, this book has great moments, and less than great moments. First, the book's preface is that it is an autobiography of Stein's long time partner, Alice B. Toklas. Realizing this preface is nothing more than a ruse - which Stein acknowledges in the last sentence of the book - you immediately understand that it is Stein's autobiography which refers to Stein in the third person. Second, the preface is that this is fiction. I would argue that it is mostly nonfiction. In the beginning, the idiosyncratic and egocentric Stein distances herself from readers - other reviewers were gravely upset by her self proclamation of being a genius only equaled by Picasso. But, that juvenile repertoire soon succumbs to Stein's maturation - as a person and as a writer. I too disliked the first chapter where she mainly seeks to receive adoration for having hobnobbed with the avant garde of the turn-of-the-century impressionists and surrealists in Parisian art society. But, she was there and she was part of that time when painting was a major art form in Paris. It was not only exciting to her, but was exciting to those she hobnobbed with. She was the original American in Paris. Stein's autobiography is outlined in Chapter 4. She gives you her history up to the time she moves to Paris and becomes part of the art scene. In this chapter, she writes one of my favorite paragraphs. " . . . I feel with my eyes, and it does not make any difference to me what language I hear, I don't hear a language, I hear tones of voice, and there is for me only one language and that is english. One of the things that I have liked all these years is to be surrounded by people who know no english. I do not know if it would have been possible to have english be so all in all to me otherwise." (Stein never capitalizes countries) One friend comes to stay with her, and upon observing the lifestyle of the people to whom Stein is befriended, asks, ". . . is it alright, are they really alright, . . but really is it not fumisterie, is it not all false." And, probably most is fumisterie - so what of it? That is the attitude which defines and describes the artists and their friends at this time. Then came WW I. Fumesterie and coffee-and-a-croissant philosophy withered when touched by man's horrors. Matisse, Hemingway and Apollinaire were physically reduced by the war. Many others were mentally drained. Stein reflects on how people would become tired for the simplest of tasks. It was a phenomenon which she, a Johns Hopkins' educated psychologist, had to observe with a keen eye. And, her emotions, her world, her priorities too had changed. The last chapter discusses much less about art, and much more about literature. It can be said the first chapter focuses 90% on art and 10% on literature, while the last chapter focuses 90% on literature and 10% on art. Her friends, in the last chapter, are mai

What a great read!

I just finished this book and I really loved it. Yes, Gertrude Stein is very conceited, and yes, sometimes the language is difficult to work through, but if you take the time to get through this book you will not regret it. It was so witty and subtley funny that I was smiling almost the entire way through. This book is definitely worth the time it took to read it.

Language as liquid

Gertrude Stein's playful and witty story of her life with Alice Toklas (told via the life story of Alice) chronicles nearly thirty years, up to 1932. Crackling with energy and zest, the story unfolds like conversation at a party where Picasso, Hemingway, Matisse, and others are in attendance, and the reader is introduced to them all in succession. Documenting not only their exciting life together, the book also takes us through the dangers of World War 1, as well as detailing Stein's writing activities. Ultimately, it is Gertrude Stein herself who shines throughout the book, through the lens of Toklas, and it is this portrait crisp and alive that makes this the most well-known of her works.

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas Mentions in Our Blog

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas in 7 Little Known Facts about Ernest Hemingway
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Published by Ashly Moore Sheldon • July 20, 2021

Literary giant Ernest Hemingway was a bullish character who captured the public interest with his colorful life. An ardent adventurer, he poured his experiences into rich, stirring tales, written in his singular, understated prose. To celebrate his birthday, here are seven surprising facts about the iconic figure.

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas in 10 Titles You Lit-erally Need to Read
10 Titles You Lit-erally Need to Read
Published by Eva • September 14, 2015

Five words you never want to hear in a comparative lit class?

"Yeah, going off of that..."

Which, when translated to normal human speak, actually means "This in no way relates to the point you just made, but I really love to hear myself talk." Every English major knows the scenario: The class circles up after reading (or not reading) a beautifully crafted piece of literature, and an intellectually-indulged twenty-something decides to hijack the discussion with the deluded idea that they have the book completely figured out. But the thing about great literature is that no one has managed to totally figure it out – that's why it stands apart as a selection of work that we all keep coming back to. Plus nothing kills an engaging class discussion quite like an unchecked know-it-all. Whether you're the type of student who's read the book before it was assigned, or who only highlights quotes they find on sparknotes, these ten works of literature are worth a second (or third) read. And here's a plus; two of them are comic books.

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