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Everybody's Autobiography

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In 1937, Gertrude Stein wrote a sequel to The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, but this darker and more complex work was long misunderstood and neglected. An account of her experiences in the wake of having authored a bestseller, Everybody's Autobiography is as funny and engaging as The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, but it is also a meditation on the meaning of success and identity in America. Everybody's Autobiography is Stein at her most accessible and her most serious, and is among her most popular books.

344 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1937

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About the author

Gertrude Stein

253 books985 followers
Gertrude Stein was an American writer who spent most of her life in France, and who became a catalyst in the development of modern art and literature. Her life was marked by two primary relationships, the first with her brother Leo Stein, from 1874-1914, and the second with Alice B. Toklas, from 1907 until Stein's death in 1946. Stein shared her salon at 27 rue de Fleurus, Paris, first with Leo and then with Alice. Throughout her lifetime, Stein cultivated significant tertiary relationships with well-known members of the avant garde artistic and literary world of her time.

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5 stars
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125 (39%)
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73 (23%)
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26 (8%)
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Displaying 1 - 26 of 26 reviews
764 reviews14 followers
November 22, 2015
Stein describes a few years of her life. Highlights include her lecture tour of America, observations on writers and artists, and her musings of her own new-found fame. The book's style is at once its biggest accomplishment and its biggest failing. Her tone is very vernacular--there's a lot of repeated phrases and run-on sentences. In fact, it very clearly mimics speech. The book flows nicely if you're reading it out loud, but not so much the rest of the time--and it's far too long to read out the whole thing. Various parts of Stein's life are endearing; I quite liked her stories about growing up, her fascination with pulp mystery books, and virtually anything to do with Alice Toklas. Less relateable are her disbelief at meeting a black school teacher, her complaints about finding good cooks and housekeepers, and the not-infrequent name dropping.

I think part of the issue for me is that I'm not very well-versed in the Modernists; I know a bit about Virginia Woolf and her circles, but virtually nothing about the French group. I have a feeling that if I had a liking or even greater familiarity with the other work, I'd have more to respond to. As it is, I really admire the book's composition--it's impressive to make something feel so crafted and simultaneously so much like improvised frree speech--but I'm more indifferent to the rest of it.
Profile Image for Ben.
390 reviews34 followers
August 21, 2011
After all one is brought up not a Christian but in Christian thinking and I can remember being very excited when I first read the Old Testament to see that they never spoke of a future life, there was a God there was eternity but there was no future life and I found how naturally that worried me, that there is no limit to space and yet one is living in a limited space and inside oneself there is no sense of time but actually one is always living in time, and there is the will to live but really when one is completely wise that is when one is a genius the things that make you a genius make you live but have nothing to do with being living that is with the struggle for existence. Really genius that is the existing without any internal recognition of time has nothing to do with the will to live, and yet they use it like that. And so naturally science is not interesting since it is the statement of observation and the laws of science are like all laws they are paper laws, as the Chinese call them, they make believe that they do something so as to keep every one from knowing that they are not going on living. But after all I was a natural believer in republics a natural believer in science a natural believer in progress and I began to write. After all I was a natural believer just as the present generation are natural believers in Soviets and proletarian literature and social laws and everything although really it does not really make them be living any more than science and progress and democracies did me. This is what I mean. After all if you ask a question unless not even then when you are very little is the answer interesting, if there is an answer why listen to it if you can ask another question, listening to an answer makes you know that time is existing but asking a question makes you think that perhaps it does not.
Profile Image for Jeff T..
29 reviews36 followers
August 24, 2009
Even if one has a knack for arresting observation, referring repeatedly to oneself as a genius will annoy yes it will annoy one's readers even if the readers like the book yes they like it.
Profile Image for Erwin Maack.
393 reviews17 followers
May 1, 2012
"Outros povos dizem que entendem ou não entendem alguma coisa mas os americanos realmente se preocupam com entender ou não entender alguma coisa. Afinal você está mais ou menos em comunicação e de qualquer maneira se você muda você continua a dizer isso mais uma vez, e afinal a mecânica é uma coisa empurra outra coisa mas quando acontece de ficarem juntas sem empurrões isto é apenas ficar juntas dizendo alguma coisa é claro que isso não tem nada a ver com entender. A única coisa que qualquer pessoa consegue entender é a mecânica e é ela que faz com que todo mundo sinta que é alguma coisa quando está falando dela. Com relação a todas as outras coisas ninguém é da mesma opinião ninguém com o que fala quer dizer a mesma coisa que o outro está dizendo e só quem está falando pensa que está querendo dizer o que está falando embora saiba muito bem que isso não é o que está falando. Essa é a razão porque todo mundo acha a máquinas tão maravilhosas elas só são maravilhosas porque são a única coisa que diz a mesma coisa a qualquer um e cada um e consequentemente se pode passar sem ela, por que não, afinal não se pode existir sem se estar vivendo e viver é uma coisa que ninguém consegue compreender ao passo que é possível existir sem as máquinas isso já ocorreu mas as máquinas não podem existir sem você isso faz com que as máquinas pareçam fazer o que fazem. Bem seja como for depois de todo mundo estar cheio de qualquer coisa sempre se consegue viver sem ela."
Profile Image for Sam DiBella.
36 reviews8 followers
November 6, 2020
This book gets at two dilemmas: 1. When is inaccessible writing acceptable? 2. How long do you want to be in someone else's head? I feel torn on this one because I genuinely enjoyed the writing style (although some would find it very grating). It's this fluid, stream-of-consciousness, non-stop switching, with very little punctuation, which I found very fun to read. For the actual content, about Stein's five years after publishing The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, it's hit and miss. Her views on art and writing and her manner of telling a story are both entertaining and accurate to how I think we experience them. Example: "and little by little we never saw him again".

But it's overshadowed by her obsession with nationality and stereotyping. It's that unfortunate quality of bad social commentary that treats national character as essential to their citizens and as if making that observation, even if it's on a trivial tiny thing, is some kind of profound insight. It's life as tourism. So when she's talking about which type of Chinese house servant she prefers, know that I do not give a shit.
Profile Image for Carol.
338 reviews14 followers
March 22, 2010
This was probably the most lucid of Gertrude Stein's writing. I am not sure if that is a good thing, though, because it made me dizzy. Stein did have medical training, so maybe most of her writing was crafted to work a certain way on the brain. Perhaps the woman was the genius she claimed to be.
722 reviews
October 24, 2011
I took this book from our castle in Ireland after it became clear that I wasn't going to have enough books to read on the plane home (plus my five-hour layover in Newark). I will now send it back, because I don't want bad book karma. It was interesting to know how bewildering it was for her to achieve widespread success with The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. I enjoy the flow and rhythm of how she writes, and/but it takes some time to catch it. And some of what she says could be said no other way and still be that perfect. I still I wonder how she managed to have so much free time and how easily she had money, which seems to be a key component in her composure and general serenity (this is going from what I got out of the writing, not some general commentary on her life, about which I know almost nothing). She'll talk to anyone, ask them anything, and make people think about the way they talk and the way they think about things. There was a photo of a crowd at William & Mary (supposedly she was in the center of it), and her ideas about restoration--making old things new and new things old--belong somewhere in the rewrite of my dissertation, when it explodes to become something else. I have a couple of quotations to put here, but I'll have to find them first.
Profile Image for Maureen M.
545 reviews14 followers
February 26, 2012
Her sentences still make my head hurt sometimes, but I found myself captivated by Gertrude Stein and her account of what her sudden celebrity meant to her. Moreso than in "Alice B. Toklas," I can understand how she could have been a much-liked and sought-after personality. Her account of her trips to Chicago and tour of the Midwest particularly resonate. Now I have to find out the identity of the St. Paul newspaper reporter who almost lost his job by opening his story about her visit with an homage to the way she writes.
Profile Image for Nara.
221 reviews10 followers
June 5, 2007
Only Gertrude Stein would have the sheer balls to write a book with this title. Oh, Ms. Stein, the issues I have with your attitude are legion, but you sure can write. I find Stein's non-fiction more compelling than her fiction; the authorial chutzpah of it all is part of what interests me. And this is an interesting book full of name-dropping and puffery and Stein's usual fabulously pell-mell circuitous circular prose.
Profile Image for George Ilsley.
Author 12 books216 followers
November 12, 2019
Stein was not amused by the success of "The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas", which she felt was not her best work. However, this did not prevent Stein from attempting cash in with a follow-up bestseller, "Everybody's Autobiography". This follow-up fails to recapture some of the lighthearted magic of the earlier work. It plods at times. Stein's ambitions are never on better display than in the title of this book.
Profile Image for Derek.
128 reviews6 followers
July 23, 2008
This is the bk where she supposedly says "there's no there there" about Oakland. She's actually referring to the house she grew up in.

The bk describes her coming back to Oakland and discovering that the house she grew up in has been torn down. That's what she is referring to. Read this bk and I bet you can figure it out.
Profile Image for Stewart.
707 reviews9 followers
March 7, 2016
The fascinating sequel to "The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas" in which Gertrude revels in her new-found celebrity, gives a famous lecture tour in America, and hob-nobs with the greats of the day, proving that all the world is her salon. Full of wonderful expatriate insights about America, and vastly entertaining.
Profile Image for Keleigh.
90 reviews51 followers
August 31, 2007
Philosophy, psychology, politics, history, literary and artistic criticism...all packaged in a seemingly endless stream of "linear" observation and amiable, anarchic writer-to-reader conversation. Simply a delight.
446 reviews1 follower
May 22, 2016
A little too self-righteous, constantly praising her own unique genius status. Whilst Gertrude has some interesting observations and reflections, and her stream of consciousness writing style is certainly unique, the story has little substance to merit such a long read.
Profile Image for Kristan.
3 reviews
May 8, 2007
This book was unique in that it talks about a lot of the famous people of the time and is written in a very unique way.
104 reviews3 followers
July 10, 2013
Eh. This wasn't as fun as the Autobiography of Alice B Toklas - it got a bit much. It was less about the gossipy doings of her circle and more and more about the nature of art and genius.
Profile Image for Victor Hugo.
18 reviews
June 12, 2020
Let me organise 'em, the ideas upon this book, so that I may write 'em. I read The autobiography of Alice B. Toklas there are I suppose three years now and, inasmuch as some reminiscences of that reading came to me whilst reading the other autobiography, this one of everybody, they were raving helpful.

Well, I am supposed to say that – despite knowing more or less what to expect – the preface let me a bit dizzy; names and names and even more names were displayed simultaneously and so did facts and events.. indeed: atounding. Still worthy to mention that the book is separated, and I am not quite sure that's the correct word, in five parts in order to, somehow but not completely (and is this splitting infinitives? If so I love it), mark different narrative events. Now, it's necessary to say the book hasn't become particularly cherished to me; at first not due to its narrative – sharp and challenging –, but due to its content: I just didn't care, I wasn't sympathetic at all, characters but Stein (whose quasi-fictionality cannot be denied since, yes, she is a character) weren't acquainted with me; it seemed, wholly, an enormous and impersonal diary of people whose existence meant nothing to me.

Don't get me wrong, I don't mean that the book has nothing to say, neither that hasn't he said anything to me. Indeed, I mean that, although it has a lot to say and has a few said to me,  it hasn't said to me what was necessary so that I could be fond of it. Some passages really marked me (as much as I could write them down in a sort of reading diary I've irregularly kept), such as Stein's sensations when she discovered Picasso had started writing poetry (and her rejoice with his "failure") and her fear of her writing, something of her, that builds her identity, being stolen; the reflexion upon the harshness inherent to continuity since it is originally aimed at emulating the irrecuperable magic and originality and bright of the former action, whose unfruitful results misfortune us (and the application of these thoughts to Art, specially paintings); another reflexion, now upon what's in and what's out of us wherein the author afirms that, when we start being recognised, what's outside us becomes what's inside us (and here one may see Gertrude's identity question – possibly promoted by the outcomes of her fame – which is retaken when she says, as she sees an strange phenomenon, if she is herself because her dog knows her or if that knowledge says more about the dog's identity itself than about hers); besides all that, her impressions on Paris' changes and on how's the world full of people everywhere anywhere were also of some remark for me. Upon the language, I must mention that in order to achieve some sort of impersonality that leads the Autobiography towards an arid style, Gertrude Stein uses impressive skills, markedly the non comma's use: enlarging orality in a book that claims for the differences between what's oral and written, what's read and heard; giving it fluency (as much as Stein's works can be) – I must reinforce that language wasn't a hindrance, nay it was one of the most dashing characteristics of the work (but still not enough to instill me cherishing thoughts upon it)

Therefore, Everybody's Autobiography isn't, at all, neither good nor bad but indeed average. I've read already two G.S. autobiographies and, even though I don't collect so good experiences, I'd like to read other works from her – something at least strange but that may prove some of Stein's genius (that comment was made less for truth's sake than for my wish to try to explain so strange a will of mine).
Profile Image for Shan.
206 reviews6 followers
December 16, 2020
Dopo l'"Autobiografia di Alice Toklas", che non era un'autobiografia ma una biografia scritta dalla stessa Stein, compagna di vita della fedele Toklas. Gertrude Stein scrive "Autobiografia di tutti", ed anche qui il titolo è menzognero, perchè non è un'autobiografia di tutti, ma l' anelito di poter conoscere la vita di tutti, forse la spiegazione del titolo è nelle sue parole e parte da un suo scritto precedente "The Making of Americans è una cosa molto importante e tutti dovrebbero leggerlo tutto o in parte, e ora sto cercando di farlo di nuovo di dire tutto su tutto, però allora volevo scrivere la storia di ogni individuo che mai esista o sia esistito o esisterà ed ero persuasa che questo si potesse fare e lo sono ancora ma ora qualunque cosa individuale riferita a qualsiasi altro individuo non mi riesce più interessante. In quel periodo non capivo che la terra è completamente coperta di tutti. In un certo senso allora non lo era perché ognuno era in un gruppo e un gruppo era separato da ogni altro, e così il carattere di ognuno era interessante perché erano in rapporto ma ora dal momento che la terra è tutta coperta non vi sono veri rapporti fra nessuno e così se questa Autobiografia di tutti deve essere l’autobiografia di ognuno non è per essere una connessione tra l’uno e l’altro perché ora non ce n’è. [...]... si potevano fare diagrammi e descrivere ogni individuo uomo e donna che mai sia esistito o esista o stia per esistere e poi dopo averlo tanto fatto in The Making of Americans decisi che poiché non si poteva fare a che cosa serviva farlo, e comunque una volta si deve sempre interrompere di fare qualcosa.". La copertina del libro ha una sua storia, la Toklas, dopo la morte della sua compagna, consegnò a Fernanda Pivano il disegno di una rosa cerchiata dalla tripla tautologia "rose is a rose is a rose" e da allora è rimasta.
Il racconto invece, è quello di un viaggio di andata e ritorno (negli Stati Uniti dalla Francia e dagli stati Uniti verso la Francia e poi una tappa nel Regno Unito). E' un saggio, un po' autocelebrazione. E' stato scritto nel 1937, quando lei , la Stein, aveva63 anni , le leggi razziali naziste in Germania furono emanate proprio nello stesso anno, mentre nel '36 in Germania era stato già vietato l'uso delle professioni per gli ebrei. Eppure la Stein, ebrea, sembra non essere preoccupata dal preoccupante stato delle cose in Europa, viaggia da uno stato all'altro, da un continente all'altro, ma sembra possedere un tempo tutto suo, è scandalizzata da come gli Stati Uniti abbiano perso alcuni attributi formali ma non è disgustata dal fascismo. Mi sono chiesta il perchè , rimozione? Forse lo reputava talmente meschino da non avere l'onore della menzione. Parafrasando un libretto d'opera, la Stein visse d'arte: pittura, teatro, letteratura, cinema, politici illuminati, queste erano le sue strade preferenziali. Una frase della Pivano, sua traduttrice italiana, da molti riportata è “Ama l’eterno presente della vita come ama l’eterno presente della narrazione”., vale a dire che non vive realmente il presente ma solo ciò che può meritare l'eternità, e la sua vita è una cernita di ogni cosa che merita, una scelta anarchica e aristocratica al tempo stesso. Molti sono i personaggi che incontra in America e con tutti l'intesa è quella che si instaura fra vecchi amici, la mecenate incontra i suoi miti, e gli artisti riconoscono in lei un'intelligenza unica, acuta, creativa più di quella degli artisti stessi, e probabilmente fu anche molto sarcastica e ironica. Chaplin, Picasso, Dalí, Roosevelt, Sherwood Anderson, Hammett ( amava i racconti polizieschi) eran tutti amici suoi, come non si può invidiare una virago così!
Il flusso del racconto non ha soluzione di continuità, eccetto che per la fine del viaggio e dell'inizio, spesso non vi è punteggiature, ho immaginato che nella vita parlasse alla stessa velocità della sua scrittura, chissà se fu così. Fu una delle avanguardiste che predilessero la scrittura automatica e probabilmente questa tecnica corroborò il ritmo personalissimo di quest'opera, che Laura Lepetit, paragona alla musica pop di Bod Dylan. Prendo l'aggancio della scrittura automatica per inserire, senza un nesso logico con il corpo precedente, alcuni appunti che ho stilato durante la lettura (non semplicissima) per esempio è molto interessante la discussione con Dashiell Hammett, l'autore del "Mistero del falco" e della micro serie de "L'uomo ombra", il nocciolo riguarda il "perchè negli anni trenta gli uomini scrivano solo di stessi come facevano le scrittrici vittoriane nel secolo precedente " "Tutti gli uomini scrivono di se stessi, sono sempre se stessi forti o deboli o misteriosi o ardenti o ubriachi o autocontrollati ma sempre se stessi come facevano le donne nel diciannovesimo secolo. Ora anche voi fate sempre così come mai. Lui disse è semplice. Nel diciannovesimo secolo gli uomini avevano fiducia in sé e le donne no ma nel ventesimo secolo gli uomini non hanno più fiducia in sé e così devono descriversi come voi dite più belli più complicati piú tutto quanto e non possono descrivere altri uomini per non perdere la presa su se stessi dato che non hanno alcuna fiducia in sé. Ora continuò ho perfino pensato di fare un padre e un figlio per vedere se in quel modo riuscivo a descrivere un altro. È interessante dissi.".
Conclude il romanzo da vera detentrice del tempo, il tempo che la circonda, il tempo che le dedicano gli altri e quello che lei dedica a loro, il tempo come spazio, come epoca, e quell'epoca poteva chiamarsi senz'ombra di dubbio "Steineriana" ( parafrasando Foucault con Deleuze) E poi andammo in qualche posto e incontrammo tutti e mi piace sempre essere un leone, mi piace sempre di piú, e cioè una gran pace ad avere successo.
E mi piace essere a Londra e mi piace avere un Balletto a Londra e mi piace tutto ciò che hanno fatto al Balletto di Londra e mi piace il modo in cui è piaciuto il Balletto di Londra e poi ritornammo a Parigi e ritornando vidi l’unica cosa spaventevole che abbia mai visto da un aeroplano un largo strato di nebbia sull’acqua che attraversava il centro del Canale, non so perché ma fu spaventevole e lì raccogliemmo tutto e partimmo per Bilignin. Questo era una cosa naturale, forse io non lo sono anche se il mio cagnolino mi conosce ma comunque mi piace ciò che ho e ora è oggi.
. E l'oggi è sempre eterno per Gertrude Stein.
Profile Image for Jack.
452 reviews45 followers
May 27, 2022
Reading Gertrude Stein is like attempting to domesticate a feral cat.
You feed it, it scratches you. You give it milk, it shits in the bowl.

I've always found it difficult to know whether or not I genuinely enjoyed her writing, or if it was just the pretension of a young man diving into Modernism -- I love her style, but find her content totally insipid. Every so often there are poetic flashes that appear in the most wonderful, personally pleasurable way, because her circuitous style gives way to a kind of understated insight into the heart of all things. Or that's how it seems. If she was less egoistic perhaps she could have moved people with her writing, but often she is simply tedious.

I've come across a problem in that I still, despite this tortuous read, want to try The Making of Americans. Passages float around the internet and are always superb. At 1000 pages it might be better a novel to skim than to read, and in that sense Stein is an utter failure as an artist and a charlatan. Most writers are at least one of those things and often both but when they are both they are not worth reading and that is that. Well anyway I'll read something good.
Profile Image for Drew.
Author 10 books19 followers
February 18, 2018
In this memoir recounting the glory years that followed the success that was "The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas," Stein makes observations that are deep and refreshing and witty then other times shares a thought that is so "out there" that you wonder if she really believes what she's writing or is just committed to not putting any filter between her brain and the page. I was often delighted, periodically disturbed, and ultimately reaffirmed in my belief that's she's consistently one of the most interesting writers I've ever read.
Profile Image for Melanie.
9 reviews6 followers
July 30, 2021
Even though I didn't enjoy the book, and I found the writing style exasperating, I am glad I read it. I like the time period in which she lived as well as some of her contemporaries. It's interesting because after reading this book, I have no desire to read anything else by her, but I would like to read biographies about her even though she came off as quite boring. Hard to explain. Oh, and in case you miss it in the text, she knew Picasso... :)
10 reviews1 follower
September 23, 2016
Um livro pode ser boa literatura sendo politicamente horrível?

A autobiografia de todo mundo me mostrou que talvez sim. Tinha lido a outra biografia e me apaixonei pelo estilo de Stein em todo espelhamento que a A autobiografia de Alice B. Toklas propõe. A segunda biografia, porém, me colocou um milhão de pés atrás. O livro tem vários episódios racistas (o que se explica mas não se justifica pelo contexto histórico), um elogio a fascistas e uma referência quase que simpática a Hitler - a publicação é de 1937 e Stein (lésbica e judia) devia estar completamente mal informada. Stein tem certeza que é um gênio e repete isso ao longo do livro, o que não me irritou - ao contrário de suas reclamações de 'como é impossível encontrar bons empregados hoje em dia'. Ao contrário, me lembrou que os que se consideram gênios vanguardistas podem o ser em alguns aspectos e em outros ser o total fruto do que há de pior em seu tempo.
Deixando o caráter político de lado, o livro é bem escrito. A parte mais longa é sobre um tour pelos Estados Unidos que contém anedotas interessantes. Mas o melhor é o problema da identidade que Stein aborda o livro todo (eu sou eu porque meu cachorrinho me reconhece - uma ótima alternativa ao Cogito?). A emblemática frase "there is no there there" passa batido porque é intraduzível, mas a ideia está lá - não existe acolhimento e a memória da infância é memória de algo que não existe. Tem uma observação antipatriarcal interessante quando Stein fala da própria família. A cumplicidade entre ela e Alice continua e é ótima.
O livro é bom se estética não tem nada a ver com política. É bom pelo fluxo, pelo estilo, por como usa o presente e porque Stein sabia e muito escrever como queria. É bom pela auto ficcionalidade. Pretendo ler sua obra de ficção, mas não consigo deixar de me incomodar com como uma mulher lésbica podia ser tão conservadora em plenos anos 30.
Profile Image for Nicole.
34 reviews4 followers
Want to read
July 30, 2020
It is funny this knowing being a genius, everything is funny. And identity is funny being yourself is funny as you are never yourself to yourself except as you remember yourself and then of course you do not believe yourself. That is really the trouble with an autobiography you do not of course you do not really believe yourself why should you, you know so well so very well that it is not yourself, it could not be yourself because you cannot remember right and if you do remember right it does not sound right and of course it does not sound right because it is not right. You are of course never yourself.

Gertrude Stein, Everybody’s Autobiography
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