...a skilled and evocative contribution to a genre that has long frustrated definition by critics and practitioners alike ... Chew-Bose’s collection bristles with slow and tender inquisitiveness, carefully wrought anecdotes and character studies, devotion to detail, and nuanced structure in which form engages with content ... In Too Much and Not the Mood, language is playful and liberating, a tool with which to investigate thought and expression ... With a cinematographer’s eye, Chew-Bose stills time to detail and interpret minutiae, imagining the burnished interior states that might correspond ... As in the best essay collections the stories, scenes, insights, and observations are individual and specific; but they are also analogies for a certain kind of looking, spending time and attention, as well as bestowing care and devotion on the animate and the inanimate alike.
Across 14 playful and peripatetic essays that touch on everything from the pleasure of watching movies in the summertime to the alienation of being a lone adolescent brown girl in a throng of white girls, Chew-Bose shows us what such ambitious porousness might look like. Her strange, challenging, and sometimes frustrating prose is personal but only in the most attenuated sense ... The book converts miniaturization into an unexpected aesthetic opportunity, a lens that refracts one’s self in the most blissful ways possible. The result is a book that substitutes a giddy openness in place of the stark political polemics that characterize so many contemporary essays on gender and race...It’s not that this collection is apolitical—it’s just interested in the nuance of experience that many essays on race and gender so often forget to account for ... Her writing wants to retrain our attention on the various textures and pleasures that comprise lived experience ... This itinerancy makes Too Much a disorienting and challenging read. That disorientation doesn’t always feel worthwhile. Chew-Bose’s arabesque prose is sometimes lyrical to a fault.
Across all 14 essays, nearly each page contains at least one gemlike moment of visual-verbal synesthesia ... Chew-Bose is never not thoughtful, though the insights on offer are largely of the wayward-whimsical variety — a personal memory that kindles an observation, then meanders along before stumbling, albeit gracefully, onto the next ... Presumably, linguistic maximalism is meant to stand in for the momentum of a well-built argument or narrative arc. But unlike her heroes Agnès Varda or Wong Kar-wai, she hasn’t yet learned to make the idiosyncratic miasma of memory, feeling and observation sustainably cohere.
Too Much and Not The Mood comes as a welcome reprieve at a moment when personal essays are often cloyingly concrete. Chew-Bose offers something looser, more abstract, a window into process, almost as if we are walking inside of the body of the writer as she thinks through things, doubles back on her ideas, and leaves some of them unfinished. To be thought through again later. I’m sure this approach could and will frustrate many readers who desire answers and pointed points, but for many, this book will provide a refreshing antidote to the tidy amuse bouche conclusions so often trotted out. Instead, Chew-Bose’s writing complicates and unravels takeaways.
...this sharp and astute debut essay collection reveals a young author who is wise beyond her years and whose keen eye moves beyond tired tropes about identity struggles ... Her ample talent and keenly observed essays will surely win her followers, especially at a time and place when authenticity is a rare and much-valued currency.
Possibly taking her cue from Chris Marker’s great documentary Sans Soleil, Chew-Bose seems bent on creating an essay ['Heart Museum'] that charts a surprising and compelling course despite having no obvious destination. Instead, it becomes an increasingly fetishistic ramble that flies off on various tangents ... Chew-Bose is an intense observer and cataloger of sensations, but this type of literary impressionism, where self-discovery becomes self-absorption, wears thin.
The collection is composed of 14 essays of varying lengths, and many of the most insightful observations in it are about the difficulty of making language match up to lived reality. The most interesting pieces in the book consider language in conjunction with identity … In what is a fairly radical gesture these days, the author often places her predilections above the reader’s ease. At times, the lack of hard structure coupled with free-floating lyricism feels self-indulgent. Chew-Bose almost certainly knows this … When the world seems to be on fire, intuitive essays that focus on miniature aspects of the ordinary-everyday can serve as a balm. Chew-Bose turns all her associative musings into a melancholy self-portrait of the highest order.
Durga Chew-Bose’s first essay collection, Too Much and Not the Mood, is a ranging, intricate work crowded with lush detail. Her prose blends commentary on pop culture with the precision of literature … Not only does Chew-Bose welcome life’s minutiae into her writing, she delights in it, a fact that lends even her densest and most tangential prose charm. No object or observation is too mundane to elicit wonder … Too Much and Not the Mood can be read as a manual for how to write: pay close attention, and write about what captures.
Twists in language and heady cultural references elevate Chew-Bose’s debut above the recent crop of personal essay collections by young writers ... The collection reads like a writer’s notebook, mixing the intimacy of a personal journal with formal experiments. Random memories—a dead squirrel in the yard of her childhood home, a past conversation with a friend—lead way to grander topics, such as marriage, death, or 'the dicey irreparableness of being.'”
In Too Much and Not the Mood’s fourteen essays, an almost compulsive use of imagery doesn’t come across as literary garnishment. The opposite is true: These descriptive details are what Chew-Bose notices first … Such details lead readers through a variety of memories: of the end of her parents’ marriage, the frenetic worship of the coming New York City summer, the freedoms and punishment of living alone, the answers that live in the pauses before we speak … Chew-Bose invites readers to reject the binaries inherent in decision making.