One of the twentieth century’s most influential writers, Gertrude Stein, doesn’t always make it to the top of everyone’s reading list. The men she mentored, like Ernest Hemingway, often get a bigger slice of literary fame. Her influence as a twentieth-century writer and art collector cannot be overlooked and is celebrated among literary scholars.
But her works aren’t as often read, but more discussed as a backdrop for other people’s work. To celebrate Gertrude Stein turning 148 this year, 2022 is the perfect time to pick up some Stein and check out her utterly unique writing. Check out these reasons to pick up a Gertrude Stein book this year and which book is right for you!
Enjoy the Simple and Mundane
Stein’s work Tender Buttons feels like it could have been written during the pandemic. The three-part prose poetry collection focuses on simple and everyday things around the house. There is an entire section called “Food” where it seems like Stein is just writing bizarre poems about what is in her kitchen fridge. Another section “Objects” feels like she was walking through her living room writing down whatever came to mind.
Stein’s slightly unhinged and nonsensical writing style perfectly reflects pandemic life, even if it was written over 100 years ago. In the past two years, we’ve all spent an unexpected amount of time indoors with our own objects. Looking at Stein walk the line between brilliant and insane is exactly how these last years have felt for many of us.
You Can Take What You Need
Stein’s modernist style is certainly a bit unconventional, but it is in the bizarre that we find beauty. Because Stein doesn’t follow traditional grammar rules or seem to even stay on topic, there isn’t usually an explicit theme or point to her work. This gives you space to find what you need from these poems. You get to decide the message that she’s sending.
If you’re angry, mad, happy, or sad, her work takes on the emotions of her reader. If you need comfort, a bit of wisdom, or to get out your anger, you’ll be able to find it in her writing. Her writing is so blunt and out of the ordinary that each time you read one of her poems, it takes on a new meaning.
Trying to find a book that fits your mood is hard and takes a lot of effort. Stein’s work will often take on the attitude you give it. Instead of finding a book that fits your mood, read some work that fits almost any mood.
Enjoy the Parisian Escapism
Do you have visions of yourself living in 1920s Paris collecting art, reading, drinking good coffee, and even better wine? Gertrude Stein and her salon are one of the reasons that you have this fantasy. If you’ve ever dreamed of debating philosophy, literature, and culture with Picasso, Fitzgerald, and Matisse, you are dreaming of Stein’s real life.
Although I’ve never heard anyone use the word “escapist” to describe Stein’s writing, I think this point is often overlooked. If you want to fall into 1920s Paris with someone who was not only there but was a key feature in creating this culture, look no further.
Her book An Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas tells the story of her Parisian lifestyle from the perspective of her lover, Alice. Some of your favorite authors like Ernest Hemingway and Sinclair Lewis are characters in the book, along with other beloved authors and artists that traipse through Stein’s life.
If you’re looking for meditations on French fashion, food, and culture, look no further than her work in Paris, France. This celebration of French culture is a great way to escape into the time period. Interestingly, this book was published the day that France fell to Germany in 1940, maybe just to prove that French culture can never die.
She Has Something For Everyone
No matter what your reading preferences are, Stein has something you might enjoy. Stein never stuck to one genre or type of writing, so her work appeals to readers who have all different tastes in literature.
Interested in poetry? Check out Tender Buttons or her poems about Picasso and other famous painters.
Love a good memoir, but still want it to be literary? An Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and Everybody’s Autobiography has you covered.
Love books about sad women with beautiful writing, but very little plot (I’m talking to you Sally Rooney stans!)? Her book Three Lives is a foundational book in this style.
Enjoy long, slow-burner novels? The Making of Americans clocks in at a solid 925 pages.
Are you an inspiring writer yourself? Her book How to Write is all about the journey of writing.
Whatever your reading preferences, Gertrude Stein has something that you are going to enjoy!
Featured Image via The New Yorker