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Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice Paperback – September 16, 2008
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Top Customer Reviews
Over the next few years, Malcolm wrote a few more article for "The New Yorker," whetting my appetite even more, so it was with great joy when I saw this book was finally ready.
The wall of reality was hard.
True, I have nobody to blame but myself for my expectations but this book is little more than the three "New Yorker" articles put together. There isn't much here that I hadn't read before. Once I swallowed my disappointment, I'm happy to have the book. It's easier than trying to dredge up the old magazine articles again; I've no idea where I even put them.
The book is well written and readable, possibly one of the most accessible biographies ever written about Stein and Toklas in Malcolm's friendly prose. Malcolm's biography also reveals some very unsavory things about Stein that may change one's perception of her. Is Stein a feminist, lesbian hero or a right-wing figure who just falls short of being a collaborationist? Malcolm gives us the facts and we have to be the ones who make of them what we will. After I read the book, I only had one real question, one that cannot be answered by Malcolm: what exactly DID Hemingway hear Toklas screaming at Stein? We may never know.
Janet Malcolm's book does not attempt to go over this well-trod ground. There are no stories about the banquet for Rousseau in which all the leading lights of modernism were doing homage to the grand old man of primitive art, no tales of how Picasso's portrait would one day look like Stein, the words "lost generation" are never uttered. There is no meditation on Alice's unconventional brownies recipe. Instead, Malcolm is attempting to do something different.
This is mainly a biography of the reputations of Stein and Toklas and how scholarship and memoir has shifted overtime.Read more ›
"I know that in daily life we don't go around saying 'is a . . . is a . . . is a . . .' Yes, I'm no fool; but I think that in that line the rose is red for the first time in English poetry for a hundred years."
No fool, indeed. To have made a lasting contribution to literature with one line? That takes a fool's fool, or rather, the kind of fool Shakespeare used in his plays. The man who could talk to the moon and tease the king at the same time.
Gertrude Stein had the fool's charm to speak as she pleased and to throw her literary comments every which way, but it almost seemed she didn't care to be read. Maybe heard. But not necessarily read.
Very few people I know have read Stein's big book The Making of Americans.
The biographer of this many-faceted book, Janet Malcolm, says she couldn't read The Making of Americans until she solved the problem of the book's weight and bulk by cutting it up with a kitchen knife into six readable, and also portable, sections. In this way she made a discovery -- "It's a book that is actually a number of books."
She also says: "If you listen to the book's music, you will catch the low hum of melancholy. If you regard it as an exercise in whistling in the dark, you will understand its brilliance."
Malcolm is right. The music of a book is often the point of the book, and should be read as if one were listening rather than reading.
But the great brilliance of Malcolm is that she writes sympathetically about the genius, Stein, and her cohort, lover, best friend, mate and savior, Alice B. Toklas. Their lives are intricately interesting, more so than Stein's prosody perhaps, but then, as Gertrude might've said: You get what you get and that's what you got.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is going to be a different book depending on whether you approach it as a Gertrude Stein fan or as a Janet Malcolm fan. Read morePublished 3 months ago by ojc
This is not a biography of Stein nor of Toklas.
The book is essentially:
an exploration of the collaborationist/anti-Semitic misadventures of Bernard Fay;
the... Read more
Though I use the Toklas cookbook (her recipes for bouillabaisse and for omelets can't be beat), and I liked The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, I couldn't bear Stein's... Read morePublished on July 31, 2013 by Evalyn F. Segal
Didn't like the writing style. Just doesn't read like a biography...It's more like an analysis of Stein's writing style. Boring.Published on December 22, 2012 by Elisabeth Eckert Roper
I love just about anything Janet Malcolm writes. You learn almost too much from this book. Great people aren't always so nice, but we know that.Published on November 22, 2012 by Charlie
Janet Malcolm writes about herself as a writer, about other writers, and about the subjects of her research. Read morePublished on October 27, 2012 by Margaret L. Lemberg
Wonderfully entertaining: it's an account of Gertrude Stein's and Alice B. Toklas's long stay in France during WWII, at what would have been a big personal risk, given that they... Read morePublished on November 23, 2010 by MZ
At the December 2008 meeting of the NYC LGBT Center book discussion group, the consensus was that almost everyone liked "Two Lives" and appreciated learning more about Gertrude and... Read morePublished on December 5, 2009 by H. Williams