What Are Master-Pieces and Why Are There So Few of Them – an Essay by Gertrude Stein that I DNF’d…

The Card: ♠4♠ Four of Spades

The Suit: For my version of Deal Me IN, this year, Spades is the domain of Clotho, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato’s Republic sings of “the things that are.”

The Selection: “What Are Master-Pieces and Why Are There So Few of Them” –  from my book “The Best American Essays of the Century.”

The Author: Gertrude Stein –  Born in Pittsburgh, but spending most of her life in Paris and was famous for her being a part of a circle of Lost Generation-y luminaries including Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Picasso to name just a few.

This essay was my 27th Selection of Deal Me In 2017.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

What Are Master-Pieces and Why Are There So Few of Them

I’ve been doing Deal Me In for six and a half years now, and this is the first time I’ve abandoned a story/essay.  It was virtually unreadable, and I can’t understand how it found its way into a volume titled “The Best American Essays of the Century.”  The following “sentence” may help you understand why I feel this way:

“I talk a lot I like to talk and I talk even more than that I may say I talk most of the time and I listen a fair amount too and as I have said the essence of being a genius is to be able to talk and listen to listen while talking and talk while listening but and this is very important very important indeed talking has nothing to do with creation.”

Yes, she has something against punctuation! Thank God at least the . has survived her wrath! I notice the title of this essay is a question, but you have to identify it as such by reading rather than seeing a question mark at the end.  I’ve always found writers who intentionally make it harder for readers to read to be annoying and pretentious. I don’t know much about Stein’s other works, but I am unlikely to explore them after giving up on this one before I’d finished three pages. I was naively looking forward to reading this essay too, as I found the title so promising, but alas…

♫♫ Personal Notes: I think I read a little of Stein before, as I was forced to read (or was at least supposed to read) her “Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” in college. I likely abandoned that attempt too if it was anything like this one. And how’s that for pretentious, by the way, writing someone else’s autobiography!?

What about you?  Can you help me “get” Gertrude Stein?  What am I missing?


  1. N@ncy said,

    July 19, 2017 at 9:12 am

    I was always hesitant to read G. Stein…know I’m sure she is not on my TBR list. I had a similar experience with Joseph Brodsky’s essay. It was absolute rubbish…and way below a Nobel Prize winner’s niveau.
    Great review….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jay said,

      July 19, 2017 at 9:26 am

      Thanks! Yeah, this one was a real disappointment. On to the next one! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. paula cappa said,

    July 19, 2017 at 10:47 am

    Jay, you are not alone in having trouble understanding Stein. The little I’ve read of her I found to be flat. I think she might be one of those writers that is an acquired taste.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jay said,

      July 19, 2017 at 12:43 pm

      A funny thing, too, when I was looking for a picture of her to include in my Deal Me In “Masthead” I couldn’t find any of her looking very happy – the one above, from Wikipedia, is the ‘best’ one I could find. She seems like a real sourpuss, and the few pages of this essay I did read seem to support that.


  3. hkatz said,

    July 19, 2017 at 9:16 pm

    I’ve heard of Gertrude Stein but haven’t ready anything of hers yet. The excerpt you posted doesn’t really make me want to any time soon 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dale said,

    July 20, 2017 at 4:06 pm

    As much as enjoy some of the other Lost Generation authors, I have never had an interest in reading anything by Stein and now I still don’t – but kudos for trying!

    Liked by 1 person

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