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Gertrude Stein Autobiography Tops Time's 100 Best Nonfiction Books List
By Lucy Li
posted: 09-04-11

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Gertrude Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas recently joined 99 hyped titles such as Freakonomics, Omnivore's Dilemma, Dreams from My Father, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and Fast Food Nation in Time Magazine's new list of 100 Best Nonfiction Books. Many of these titles have graced the Buy 2 Get 1 Free or Summer Reading aisles at Borders, several have been made into documentary films, and many authors have appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart or AC 360. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, on the other hand, is hardly nonfiction. Stein wrote from the perspective of her partner in her usual conversational yet staccato jumble, and the events in Stein's life are largely exaggerated and oftentimes fabricated. Hemingway called it a "damned pitiful book," Matisse was outraged by her portrayal of his wife, and Braque thought Stein misconstrued Cubism. But then, was there really any other way for Stein to write a genuine autobiography without employing inventive avant-garde stylistics and causing a stir? Here's what Time had to say:

 

 

"Writing her lover's 'autobiography' proved a witty way for American author Gertrude Stein to detail her own life as Parisian writer, salon host and arts patron. Ostensibly, readers can take in the book, published in 1933, as Stein writing about Alice B. Toklas (which is what the title suggests) or as Toklas 'writing' about Stein (which is what the book actually is). Either way, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas was groundbreaking in its experimentation with form: an autobiography written by another person. Many modernist masters make an appearance in Stein's tome — among them Picasso, Hemingway and Matisse — and their influence on Stein is recounted through vivid anecdotes. For example, Stein's first major publication, Three Lives, was written under the "stimulus" of a Cézanne painting. Although it became the author's best-selling book, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas was mainly notable for its easier-to-read narrative style (a departure from Stein's favored monologue form), making it a sort of Stein for Beginners."

 

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