"Tender Buttons" by Gertrude Stein
I just read this book for the first time -- in the Dover Books edition, I'm proud to say. Dover prints the cheapest versions of public domain classics, in Mineola, Long Island. This one has nice big print, and a serviceable, though vague -- and unsigned -- introduction. The cover, by Frank J. Moore, shows the title reflected as if in a pool of water, subtly suggesting the fact that "tender buttons" may be read backwards. (In case you're too lazy to work it out, it's "snot tub red net.")
(I myself am too miserly even to spend $4.95 -- plus tax -- on a book, but I borrowed my daughter's copy.)
Stein believed in the Law of Threes, at least in this work and in Three Lives, her first published book. (As well as in Four Saints in Three Acts.) Tender Buttons is divided into three parts: "Objects," "Food," and "Rooms" -- in that order. Each is unique. "Objects" closely resembles Cubist painting:
A cool red rose and a pink cut pink, a collapse and a sold hole, a little less hot.
(Can't you picture the Juan Gris canvas that this perfectly describes?)
"Food" is funny:
A white bird, a colored mine, a mixed orange, a dog.
That's from the section entitled "SUGAR." It sounds like the beginning of a joke:
A white bird, a colored mine, a mixed orange and a dog walk into a bar...
"Rooms" is novelistic:
The cases are made and books, back books are used to secure tears and church.
It's about the psychology of furniture.
Gertrude has wonderful titles. My favorite is (as I've otherwise noted) Wars I Have Seen, with its weary pride. Everybody's Autobiography is another beauty. In fact, I can't think of a bad Gertrude Stein title. She was, in a sense, a one-woman advertising agency.
A rose is a rose is a rose
is a successful "tagline" -- right up there with "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should," or the one Lew Welch wrote when he was still an advertising man in Chicago:
Raid Kills Bugs Dead.
And what was Gertrude advertising? Tender Buttons is an ad for lesbianism.
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