Too Much and Not the Mood

On April 11, 1931, Virginia Woolf ended her entry in A Writer’s Diary with the words “too much and not the mood.” She was describing how tired she was of correcting her own writing, of the “cramming in and the cutting out” to please readers, wondering if she had anything at all that was truly worth saying.

The character of that sentiment, the attitude of it, inspired Durga Chew-Bose to collect her own unconventional work. The result is a lyrical and piercingly insightful cluster of essays-meet-prose poetry about identity and culture.

Informed by Maggie Nelsons Bluets, Lydia Davis’s stories, and Vivian Gornick’s exploration of interior life, Chew-Bose mines the inner restlessness that keeps her always on the brink of creative expression. Part memoir, part cultural criticism, Too Much and Not the Mood is a lush, surprising, and affecting examination of what it means to be a first-generation, creative young woman working today.

Book + coffee + sunshine = happy place #bookstagram #belletristbabe #summer #sundayfunday

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I read a lot of essay collections written by women. I treat them like instruction manuals for life; I return to them over and over and over again when I need to scratch a particular emotional itch.

You probably know the one I mean.

But in all the collections that line my bookshelves there is nobody quite like Durga Chew-Bose. It makes sense to me that she named her collection after a Virginia Woolf quote because Too Much and Not the Mood flows, bounces and draws up short in a stream of consciousness style that is distinctly Woolfian.

I was thrown off balance as soon as I started reading, finding the first essay, ‘Heart Museum’ (probably the most experimental of the collection) was 93 pages long. It’s Chew-Bose at her most whimsical. You don’t so much open the door into her world as tumble, Alice in Wonderland-style endlessly down into her interior life, wondering, all the while, how she managed to paint the inside of her brain in a way that makes introversion feel big instead of claustrophobic. The essay meanders through anxiety, writing, your woman friends who make you feel more connected than anybody else, so called ‘nook’ people and the purpose and beauty that can be found in, as she calls it, intentionally digressing.

In Too Much and Not the Mood, Chew-Bose is preoccupied by her childhood and her relationship with her parents in particular. In another standout essay, ‘D as In’, she writes about her experience of being a first-generation kid, and how being a woman of colour comes with ‘an assumption that I owe strangers an answer when they inquire’ but where are you from from? It is a beautiful piece about finding your identity while living in a society that so often imposes a limited one on people from minorities.

My copy of the book is filled with dog-eared pages. Durga Chew-Bose’s writing is like unwrapping a gift or sinking into a hot bath after a long day. There is something luxurious about existing in the interior space that she creates. A great example of this is the piece ‘On Living Alone’, which she writes of as an exercise in getting to know the person she’s spent her whole life avoiding: herself. She writes: ‘Living alone, I soon caught on, is a form of self-portraiture, or retracing the same lines over and over – of becoming.’

There were so many moments while reading that I had to put the book down and quietly wonder at her writing. There were other times I had to wave the book in the air and read out passages to the nearest friend or family member I could grab hold of. I took photos of quotes and sent them to my friends, to confused responses mostly. Chew-Bose has such a poetic way of cutting to the heart of a feeling in a way that made me catch my breath.

In the final essay of the collection ‘My Least and Most Aware’, she recounts meeting up with an ex, and the way that all of the old resentments she thought she’d moved past came rushing back to the surface. She writes:

 ‘We laboured, he and I, over niceties. Listening to him felt like work. It was as though we were both trying to retrieve a mutual tenderness that had fallen from our hands and rolled into a storm drain.’

I already know this is one I’ll be reading over and over.

 

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Birthday Book Haul

On my birthday (November 9th), I woke up to several messages that looked something like this: ‘Happy Birthday! OH GOD DON’T CHECK THE NEWS!!!’ Despite the good intentions of my friends, as we have all had the horrible experience of learning: Trump is impossible to ignore.

According to every good story ever, hate doesn’t win*. How long are we supposed to wait for that outcome, exactly?

Times like this – like when my country voted for Brexit – it is very easy to feel distant from the rest of humanity, to start seeing the whole thing as nothing more than a mass of hatred and misunderstanding.

This is a bad road to go down. Even though I know that – even though we all do, really – it still feels like a cliff I am forever scrambling up the edge of. For me, the footholds are often my books.

Fortunately for me, on November 9th I acquired some new books. (courtesy of my mum – thanks, mum!)

My reading list for the next few weeks is as follows:

After Alice – Gregory Maguire

after-aliceWhen Alice fell down the Rabbit hole, she found Wonderland as rife with inconsistent rules and abrasive egos as the world she left behind. But how did Victorian Oxford react to Alice’s disappearance? 

Gregory Maguire turns his imagination to the question of underworlds, undergrounds, underpinnings – and understandings old and new, offering an inventive spin on Caroll’s enduring tale. Ada, a friend mentioned briefly in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, sets out to visit Alice but arrives a moment too late. Tumbling down the rabbit hole herself, she embarks on an odyssey to find Alice and bring her safely home from this surreal world below the world. 

 

The Death of the Moth and Other Essays – Virginia Woolf

the-death-of-the-mothA while back I read an essay from this collection called ‘Street Haunting’. It is about that moment when you feel compelled, for no particular reason, to abandon Netflix and wander the cold streets alone, creeping in the windows of random houses and imagining the lives of the strangers living there. This is the sort of thing I do all the time, so I thought I should ask for the book in order to find out what else Virginia and I have in common.

If you haven’t ever read a Virginia Woolf essay, please do. They are almost always absolutely wonderful.

 

The Pedestrians – Rachel Zucker

As I’ve recently written, I’m having a poetry moment. I found Rachel Zucker on Stephanie Danler’s instagram.

The only real life I know. 🏙 From The Pedestrians by Rachel Zucker. #mypoets #currentlyreading #bookstagram

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*J.K. Rowling has a lot to answer for, honestly.