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All Things Are Too Small: Essays in Praise of Excess

de Becca Rothfeld

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"A glorious call to throw off restraint and balance in favor of excess, abandon, and disproportion, in essays ranging from such topics as mindfulness, decluttering, David Cronenberg, and consent. In her debut essay collection, "brilliant and stylish" (The Washington Post) critic Becca Rothfeld takes on one of the most sacred cows of our time: the demand that we apply the virtues of equality and democracy to culture and aesthetics. The result is a culture that is flattened and sanitized, purged of ugliness, excess, and provocation. Our embrace of minimalism has left us spiritually impoverished. We see it in our homes, where we bring in Marie Kondo to rid them of their idiosyncrasies and darknesses. We take up mindfulness to do the same thing to our heads, emptying them of the musings, thoughts, and obsessions that make us who we are. In the bedroom, a new wave of puritanism has drained sex of its unpredictability and therefore true eroticism. In our fictions, the quest for balance has given us protagonists who aspire only to excise their appetites. We have flipped our values, Rothfeld argues: while the gap between rich and poor yawns hideously wide, we strive to compensate with egalitarianism in art, erotics, and taste, where it does not belong and where it quashes wild experiments and exuberance. Lush, provocative, and bitingly funny, All Things Are Too Small is a subversive soul cry to restore imbalance, obsession, gluttony, and ravishment to all domains of our lives"--Dust jacket flap.… (més)
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All Things Are Too Small, by Becca Rothfeld, is a thought-provoking and fun look at the perils of believing too strictly that less is both more and better. Before you start, adjust your idea of excess to be much broader than just "stuff," though admittedly that is part of it.

I'm not sure why some expected a how-to on organizing or decluttering but I read the book description before reading and understood what the book was about. Don't panic, this isn't a tribute to capitalism run rampant and the excess discussed here is far more nuanced than simply more for the sake of more. From possessions in your home to sentence lengths in novels to filmmaking, the thread running through the book (and it does run through it) is critiquing minimalism taken to the extreme rather than as a concept that has some specific uses.

Like any collection, some of the essays will speak to you more than others, such is the nature of collections of small self-contained writings. On the whole, I found something to think about in every essay, though because of my interests I was more engaged when discussing books and film. Rather than try to restate the ideas Rothfeld offers, I want to give a couple of examples of my personal takeaways. This is both because I would fail miserably at restating her ideas since she does so quite well and because this will give you an idea of how the essays can make the reader consider, or reconsider, certain topics.

Since stuff, actual physical stuff, opens the book, I will start there. I admit to never even considering being a minimalist as far as my living space. That is not the same as saying I buy all kinds of things just to have them. Since books seem to be one of the common sticking points with various methods of "decluttering," I will give my thoughts on that. My books, both those I've read and those I haven't yet, are my friends. No, not my only friends (I also have my vinyl) but dear friends just the same. If I chose not to keep most of the books I buy I would certainly be able to move more often with less hassle. But my concern is not for that contingency but for having a living space that makes me feel comfortable. Being surrounded by friends, humans and pets in the sentient realm, books and music in the non-sentient realm, helps me to feel more grounded and much happier. It is not a moral or ethical flaw in me any more than feeling comfortable in a bare living space is a flaw in those people. Wanna be ready to run at a moments notice? Go minimal. Wanna enjoy where you live? Find the right mix of stuff and space.

Since I love books and reading, that is another topic I thought a lot about while reading this. Even though I am not really part of Sally Rooney's target demographic (I am old for starters) I have loved her books so far, so I was curious about what Rothfeld had to say in this area. My thinking went beyond just Rooney, which points to a successful essay since I took some kind of big picture view from it. I agree that a lot of writing can be very minimal, and not all of it works for me. But when done in ways that let me become a bigger part of creating the story (I believe every novel is a collaboration between writer and reader, some more some less) I generally appreciate it. I want, maybe need, enough guidance from the writer to know the general direction we're going. Unfortunately there is a lot of writing now that is so short on description, so devoid of (for lack of a better term) poetic writing, that it does seem like little more than an outline of a story to be written. Those rarely work for me. When they do I tend to really enjoy them because it allows my creativity to have a larger role. Novels that are primarily emails and/or text messages are becoming more common now, and they are very hit or miss for me. I like filling in the gaps, but leave too much gap and what I fill in, justifiable based on what I was given, won't fit with what the writer later gives, which makes for a disjointed read since I have to "rewrite" my part of the story. I'm not talking about mysteries where such things are expected and quite welcome.

Okay, I know my opinions don't really mean a lot to you, but what I hope you took away was that this collection of essays will offer you many ways to think about all kinds of topics related to excess and minimalism writ large. Use Rothfeld's ideas as a springboard to form or fine tune your own. Wrestle with where you agree and disagree with her. And take the new perspectives with you when you're finished.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley. ( )
  pomo58 | Jan 19, 2024 |
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"A glorious call to throw off restraint and balance in favor of excess, abandon, and disproportion, in essays ranging from such topics as mindfulness, decluttering, David Cronenberg, and consent. In her debut essay collection, "brilliant and stylish" (The Washington Post) critic Becca Rothfeld takes on one of the most sacred cows of our time: the demand that we apply the virtues of equality and democracy to culture and aesthetics. The result is a culture that is flattened and sanitized, purged of ugliness, excess, and provocation. Our embrace of minimalism has left us spiritually impoverished. We see it in our homes, where we bring in Marie Kondo to rid them of their idiosyncrasies and darknesses. We take up mindfulness to do the same thing to our heads, emptying them of the musings, thoughts, and obsessions that make us who we are. In the bedroom, a new wave of puritanism has drained sex of its unpredictability and therefore true eroticism. In our fictions, the quest for balance has given us protagonists who aspire only to excise their appetites. We have flipped our values, Rothfeld argues: while the gap between rich and poor yawns hideously wide, we strive to compensate with egalitarianism in art, erotics, and taste, where it does not belong and where it quashes wild experiments and exuberance. Lush, provocative, and bitingly funny, All Things Are Too Small is a subversive soul cry to restore imbalance, obsession, gluttony, and ravishment to all domains of our lives"--Dust jacket flap.

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