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3.6 out of 5 stars
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (Penguin Modern Classics)
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
An enjoyable read: the world of Stein and Toklas seemed to revolve round anyone who was anyone in the early 20th century art world, and the anecdotes about famous artists will doubtless appeal.

Ultimately, though, I found this book unsatisfying: we don't really get to know much about either Alice, Gertrude, their relationship or their friends. The name dropping - "Picasso called by for tea" "Man Ray came to photograph Gertrude Stein" etc - gets rather tedious, as does Toklas's hero worship of Stein (i.e. Stein's own consideration of herself as a genius).

I much preferred the later "Alice B. Toklas Cookbook", writted by Toklas herself after Stein's death: although containing recipes (most famously "Hascish Fudge") it is mainly an account of their life together in occupied France.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 24 January 2000
When the 'Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas' was first published in 1933 it became an instant best-seller. Written from the perspective of Alice, Stein's enigmatic bodyguard and typist, the pages are crammed with appearances from the pioneers of modernism. Half the fun lies in Gertrude's outrageous swipes at her literary rivals ("remarks are not literature", she tells Hemingway) and, of course, her matchless gift for self-aggrandisement. Gertrude herself was disappointed that this readable book should be the catalyst for international fame, rather than the experimental prose that she had been labouring over for years, but it did (and still does) provide an excellent introduction to the author's world.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 21 January 2013
A book I loved and, at times, hated a little. That might be more an assessment of how Stein comes across. Written by Stein but from the point of view of the woman who shared her life in Paris it is, as is the nature of autobiography, self-obsessed. The tone is that of a woman leaning over a fence catching up with a neighbour and rattling off a long list of anecdotes of (famous) friends and associates, interrupted only by herself and her meanderings into other anecdotes from the past with other friends and some not so. Doesn't sound entertaining, does it?

But of course this is Stein and despite the endless boasting of what a genius and inspiration she is to 'the young writers' there is much to enjoy here. A portrait of the joys and rivalries of the likes of Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson (and many, many more, some lost to obscurity) before and after the Great War, it hits its stride when mentioning the personal detail of Stein and her partner's domestic set-up, as well as their involvement in relief work from 1916-18. Stein likely was an original. She eschewed much punctuation as well as the emotion behind words and in doing this did influence elements of modern American writing. Her conceit as the light-giver in her celebrated literary and artistic salons shows geniuses and lesser mortals all batting around her like moths. Her arrogance has her sitting on a podium between Jesus and Shakespeare and, if she did not find you interesting, she would not shy away from revealing it. Despite all this, this is an enjoyable read. It is not a masterpiece but has intrinsic value as a portrait of an inspirational time and place.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 14 October 2013
This is not really about Alice B Toklas at all: it is Gertrude Stein's solution to the problem of arranging for someone to write all the things about you that you would write yourself. Toklas is the cipher that presents La Stein as she would want to be seen. Having said that there are some great anecdotes delivered in a deadpan style, although if this were not a well known figure of the artistic world I wonder if this stlye might not be described as flat.Sentances such as "I would have well, not taken to the practice of medecine" anticipate the later oratory of England manager Graham Taylor.
But I really enjoyed reading it and the insights on the lives of Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Eliot etc. As Gertrude Stein might have said. "Pablo was I well not a very clever woman."
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 31 October 1998
Actually Stein's own fictionalised autobiography it is an important document of artistic life in Paris in te first half of the century, a treatise on art from one of the first modernists, and a compellingly readable story. Before the war Stein consorted with Picasso, Matisse and other artists, then after it was Hemingway, Pound and Ford Madox Ford. Her own naturalistic style fits perfectly the subject matter, and only the ambulance driving of the war years - showing some nostalgic sentimentality - grates.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 28 November 2012
I find Gertrude Stein's writing style tiresome in the extreme. I quite understand why it is considered that despite being one of the best known 20th Century writers, she is one of the least read. Stein was one of those 'artists' so convinced of her own genius that she carried everyone else along with her. I didn't finish the book.
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on 30 August 2014
A fascinating book, all the more so as the character of Alice B. comes over as though she really did write it. Lots of names are mentioned, some still well known, others not but they seem to be used to give a personal picture of the cultural movements of that period and how different combinations of artists influenced each other, rather than existing in the vacuum of just being names from the past. Very enjoyable and gossipy, some anecdotes end with memorable quotes, some just fade away. The description of the war years adds a sombre note.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Two slightly dotty ladies with very interesting lives. Self-defined geniuses give a particular slant to the lives of others. Flies on walls come to mind!
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on 12 February 2014
Gave up after a couple of chapters. Sycophantic and respective with a grim writing style. Can't recommend it. Not sure why it became well known.
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on 27 February 2015
I read this for my book club. The prose is bare, and here in lies the reason for my 3 star review. Interesting content, little flavour.
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