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Tender Buttons

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  5,627 ratings  ·  416 reviews
Before becoming the patron of Lost Generation artists, Gertrude Stein established her reputation as an innovative author whose style was closer to painting than literature. Stein's strong influence on 20th-century literature is evident in this 1915 work of highly original prose rendered in thought-provoking experimental techniques. ...more
Paperback, 96 pages
Published July 10th 1997 by Dover Publications (first published 1914)
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Average rating 3.73  · 
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Mar 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: chicks-dig-it, poetry
Hope in gates, hope in spoons, hope in doors, hope in tables, no hope in daintiness and determination. Hope in dates.

Okay, besides the semaphored helplessness of a giant ‘WTF’, what would be the correct response to these lines, and to Tender Buttons as a whole? Don’t look at me. I have no idea what any of this means, or whether it means anything at all. Maybe this prose poem is just a gourmet word salad, maybe it’s just a series of non-sequiturs to which I’ve foolishly assented. I don’t know. I
Aug 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Some call it nonsense, but if you derive pleasure from reading these vignettes, you can't understand how someone else doesn't.

Here's how I see it: When we were learning our language, we learned how to link the word with the object the word represents. Gertrude Stein seeks to dismantle this link and consequently abstract our common understanding of language. While we learned to easily state, "this equals that," we should not simply place an equal sign between the descriptive word and the actual o
Feb 22, 2010 rated it did not like it

A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The difference is spreading."


Gertrude Stein was once quoted as saying that Ernest Hemingway was "all bullfights and bullshit."

That may be true, but you, madam, are just bullshit. At least Hemingway threw some bullfighting in every now and then.

Read for: Modern Poetry
Paquita Maria Sanchez
Gertrude Stein drops acid and describes items from domestic life using language generally reserved for Georgia O'Keefe paintings. I frequently found myself getting impatient with it in that itchy skin sort of way where I just wanted it to be over, while at other times it felt like I was having a lovely swim in a sea of Stein's sensory perceptions. In short, I'm ambivalent. Here and there, it seemed to border on saying that heterosexual intercourse is sterile and/or inherently violent (without ou ...more
May 12, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics_poetry
This is kind of the literary equivalent of the guy who takes a shit and gets it put into a museum as sculpture, sneezes onto a canvass, etc. I can see the argument that it's "profound" in its implied questioning of "what really is art" but is there a future in it? Does anybody enjoy it?

Well, judging from the reviews, some people do. I don't, but usually when I don't like something I at least have a clue as to why other people do. With Stein, I mean, it's nonsense, not the Lewis Carroll kind, but
Count No Count
May 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If I find myself long on sleep and short on hallucinations I open this little paperback and wait for the words to start pushing crazy around in my brain. Once thoroughly confused, I close the book, satisfied.
Jun 07, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Experimental" but also funny and sexy. Its like pages covered in little droplets of word rain. ...more
Daniel Lomax
Sep 24, 2012 rated it did not like it
"It was a garden and belows belows straight. It was a pea, a pea pour it in its not a succession, not it a simple, not it a so election, election with."

Gertrude Stein's aim in writing Tender Buttons was, in some sense, to reinvent the English language, and the foreword explains that "the reader is forced to question the meanings of words, to become reacquainted with a language that Stein thought had become dulled by long use". In this sense her project is the literary counterpart of Stravinsky's
May 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing
tender: one who tends or waits upon
one who attends or has charge of
a ship or boat used to attend to a larger ship or boat in various capacities
an act of tendering
an offer of money in exchange for goods or services
an offer of anything for acceptance
an offer made in writing by one party to another to execute an order for the supply or purchase of goods or for the execution of work
currency prescribed by law
literal and physical senses
soft or delicate in texture
of the ground, soft with moisture, rott
Jun 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
This reads like a cut-up, that is to say that the words, the words, words and the, have been scrambled or reassembled to create striking instances of imagery juxtaposed in surprising and exciting ways and highly original and fascinating collocations as a result.

This is a book to be appreciated in terms of its wordplay and harmonics rather than in terms of any strict notion of meaning. Just like in cubism, new and incongruous images and ideas are placed alongside more contiguous ones.

If you are
Sexy. But just read this for fun. This is a book that literature classes can't deal with--and will make literature classes something you can't deal with. ...more
J.G. Keely
Oct 27, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: poetry, reviewed
Mostly a collection of self-pleasuring on the topic of difference for its own sake. Some ear there for sound and concept, but mostly ringing as an overbearing attempt to be new. Stein's hatred of punctuation strikes one as an affectation, but then so do most of her opinions or ideas. I suppose Hemingway's sense that she was 'always right' stemmed from the lacking of his imagination (beyond that which bolstered his sense of self, and perhaps in that their true connection). Stein's importance to l ...more
Jun 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone.
Shelves: poetry
My copy of this book is permanently tucked into my messenger bag. I carry it everywhere I travel--in the city, outside of the country--and is one of those rare books that actually inspires me to write each time I open to any one of its pages. I love this most tender of buttons, in spite of the occasional racist phrase inside it. "Act as if there is no use in a centre"? Gertrude Stein 4-ever. ...more
Nov 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Stein continues her experiments with a "continuous present" in this classic work written in 1912, emphasizing sounds, rhythms, and repetitions over and against "sense." To live in this state is "to begin again and again," to "use everything." She sums it up best: "The teasing is tender and trying and thoughtful."
Recommended by Jack,
Dec 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
I echo Stein's sentiments: "All this makes a magnificent asparagus, and also a fountain" (Stein 52). ...more
Sara Jovanovic
Jun 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Don't get me wrong, I haven't got a clue what most of these (or is it shameful to say any of these?) poems actually mean. I suppose no one but Gertrude does. Which is okay. After all, avant-garde was all about experimental, radical works of art which were made with intent to be edgy and unexplainable.

All I know for sure is that none of the poems are about objects. Or food. Or rooms. But I wouldn't get ahead of myself trying to explain what I thought they meant individually or as a whole. To be h
andreea.  (paperrcuts)
This is utter nonsense, no doubt about that, but it was the most comforting experience of defamiliarization, so intense and grounded in the small "moments of conciousness" of objects; their existence outside of our experience of them (and Woolf's explanation of phenomenology in To the Lighthouse: "Think of a kitchen table, when you're not there").
Dunno, I might just be going insane, liking this as much as I did. But anyways, I will refer to Stein's technique in this book from now on as lesbian
Adrian Alvarez
Nov 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Well this isn't for everyone but like some of the others here on Goodreads I have an unjustifiable love for Tender Buttons. Is it just a small selection of modernist gibberish? Maybe. Is there a great key that can be used to unlock significant meaning from Stein's famous tome of word salad? Maybe not. I don't really know. Keeping in mind her project (to paint with language like an artist... just the words, not the grammar... sort of) gives one at least some way to talk about the unusual poems he ...more
Jan 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry

Why did it take me so long to read this? Dumb dumb dumb. It seems impossible to think about latest manifestations of insistence on new kinds of sentences, genrelessness, etc without starting with Stein as the modernist G-mother.

Wondering about the use of "is," assertion of total exchangeability of objects and sensation in the heart of the Western domestic space. Invites one to see every object as a commodity in an economy of universal exchange? And/or every word as changeable in an economy of E
Jul 10, 2011 added it
Shelves: poetry
I read Three Lives ages ago and found it to be modernism at its most sweethearted. This is modernism at its coldest.

Sometimes Stein's peculiar linguistic juxtapositions serve her cause, but other times, it feels without purpose. At the height of the cubist era, after 150 years of miserable sentimental novels, this was probably a total breath of fresh air.

I was really into Dada when I was a sniveling little punk-rock youth. I would have liked it more then. Now so many of these haute-moderne langu
Leo Robertson

I'm just gonna put the following link here without further comment:
Vincent Scarpa
Dec 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"A table means necessary places and a revision a revision of a little thing it means it does mean that there has been a stand, a stand where it did shake." ...more
Jan 20, 2018 rated it did not like it
i really have no idea what the point of this was and what was being talked about and i’m just SO GLAD that i have a 30 minute presentation on it in two days :)))
Caspar Bryant
Sep 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
All sorts of strangeness & obscurity. So experimental, yet so early - it has been suggested that this experimental masterpiece was ignored due to Stein's being a woman.

I'm sure anyone that tries to read this will blink at the first page and question whether it is worth pursuing. It's undeniably a difficult work, crab-like in such a way that reminds me of Derrida's 'diagonal prose'. A possible key to this book is to (attempt to) read it rhizomatically. It is centreless.

I was reminded at times of
Surprise, the only surprise has no occasion.

Surprise is a feature of verbal cubism and Stein delivers the experience without occasion but with grace, humour, and sharp edges. The three sections Objects, Food, and Rooms present nominally different experiences, but the overarching idea remains: phrases are fractured across hereto unseen lines, yielding a curious blend of sense and nonsense, which is very different to that of surrealism. At no point did I have the impression that I was reading a d
Apr 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Jeff by: National Poultry Month
Shelves: poultry
Sugar is not a vegetable.
In a bit of a reading funk, not sure what to dip into next, finding all my crossword puzzle books filled out, last night i went back to this small handful of electrons on my Kindle. It has sat there for god knows how many dogs' years. I've loved the title ever since i first heard it, probably in 1989 or '90, but never read it.

Stein got (through) to me. You, however, might feel her pushing you away. I don't know why it words so well for me, maybe because i dabbled in this
Matthew Wilder
Apr 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I reread Stein for the first time since college, when I obsessively directed a bunch of Stein plays. It is clear that she is an essential, almost geological, teleogical figure in the history of literature. She constitutes an alternate universe. Each sentence is as stout and hardy as a seventeenth century Connecticut preacher. Like Emily Dickinson she derives from the language of the primer and the pulpit. But what is inside a Stein sentence is both incantatory and resembles a painting that conta ...more
Jun 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

A charm a single charm is doubtful. If the red is rose and there is a gate surrounding it, if inside is let in and there places change then certainly something is upright. It is earnest.
Staci Miller
Apr 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, 2013-reads
Lovely. Just lovely. The poems are a joy to read and Congdon's illustrations are gorgeous. Congdon's Esty shop is closed at the moment but when it reopens I hope to purchase a print from the book to hang in my guest room. This book would make an excellent gift for poetry lovers. ...more
Aaron Belz
Jan 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Gertrude is the iron rooster of Modernist poetry and one of its foremost visual artists as well. This book just doesn't get old. ...more
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Tender Buttons is by Gertrude Stein 1 6 Mar 13, 2014 05:17PM  

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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 an ...more

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