Speaking of summer reading, my summer reads (and flicks too, apparently!) have demonstrated the uncanny trend of featuring the work and life of a single character: Gertrude Stein. Without knowing anything about the book except that it was recommended to me by multiple people, I started reading Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt. I’m about four chapters into the novel, and have just begun to realize that the mysterious “Mesdames” referenced obliquely throughout the introductory chapter are none other than Alice B. Toklas and, as she is called in the book, “GertrudeStein.”
I had also planned to read Juliana Spahr’s Everybody’s Autonomy: Collective Reading and Collective Identity (University of Alabama Press, 2001) later this month, and when I flipped through it a few days ago — lo and behold, the title of chapter one? “There Is No Way of Speaking English: The Polylingual Grammars of Gertrude Stein.” Spahr goes on to consider such figures as Lyn Hejinian, Harryette Mullen, and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, but, as far as I can tell, grounds most of her inquiry in the groundwork Stein laid for future generations of poets in Tender Buttons and other influential writings.
But last night’s movie is what really convinced me that something the universe has been orchestrating a grand conspiracy to get Stein on my mind. Friends had warned us to walk into Midnight in Paris without any expectations or previous knowledge about the film, so we had no clue what the movie was about — or into whose home the main character would stumble after wandering into 1920s Paris. I won’t spoil the (admittedly very thin) plot, but suffice it to say, I got the message.