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January 31, 2012

Book Notes - Hanne Blank - "Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality"

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, and many others.

Hanne Blank's Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality is a cultural history of heterosexuality, thoroughly researched and persuasive in its arguments. This important examination of sexual identity is always entertaining, eye-opening and thought-provoking.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"The author uses wisdom and wit to substantiate her contention that love and passion are not definable by biology."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.


In her own words, here is Hanne Blank's Book Notes music playlist for her book, Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality:


One of the things you realize when you start working on a book about the concept of heterosexuality is just how damn pervasive it is, and how relatively rare it is, for example, to come across a song that isn't in some way about some aspect of heterosexuality. Love songs, breakup songs, oh-god-I've-got-it-bad songs, songs about the one that got away, lust songs, biographical songs, and that isn't even touching the love-story song. Even songs that don't appear to be about anything relating to relationships between men and women in any way at all will so often suddenly reveal themselves as part of the whole inescapable matrix with throwaway phrases, stray metaphors, little suspended expectations that only work if you fill in a heterosexual premise.

These songs are thus not really chosen on the basis of whether or not they have something to do with heterosexuality. So many songs do. Rather, these are plucked from what ended up in a folder on my computer entitled "WRITE FASTER," a sentiment with which most any working writer can empathize.


1. Janelle Monáe, "Tightrope" from The ArchAndroid

So infectious, so danceable, so driven. Monáe’s voice and manner make me realize what’s missing in so many other young singers I hear these days: direction and self-awareness. Her imagination, too, puts her in a league of her own, with her spectacular science-fictional worldbuilding and her exploration of the relationship between narrator and context.


2. Andrea Eccheverri, "A Eme O" from Andrea Eccheverri

This is a glorious little upbeat song about what it feels like to be in love, but from a deeply female, utterly embodied perspective. Colombian singer/guitarist Eccheverri somehow makes you feel the wriggling excitement of being so alive in your body that every tube and duct and internal organ seems miraculous.


3. Emm Gryner, "Pour Some Sugar On Me" from Girl Versions

Holy crap is this a great cover. I know, I know, Def Leppard as a torch song doesn’t sound like it should work, but God almighty does it ever. I was skeptical when a friend turned me on to this, because honestly the original tune leaves me cold and stiff as last night's pizza. But Gryner’s from-the-tips-of-the-toes singing and thoughtful piano make something completely seductive, wrenching, and absolutely compelling out of it.


4. Florence & The Machine, "Lover to Lover," from Ceremonials

Anthemic, hooky, and compulsively listenable. The transitions between pop-operatic chorus and oddly fragile bits of verse initially drew me in, but the keyboards and the sweeping scale of the thing keep me coming back. I secretly suspect that Freddie Mercury visits this woman in shamanic visions.


5. Rufus Wainwright, "Going to a Town" from Release the Stars

This post-9/11 elegy has anger in all the right places, combined with a weary longing for a nation that no longer exists and maybe never did. Wainwright’s nasal ennui plus the Schubertian simplicity of phrase somehow combine to create something brutal, strong, and true.


6. Amanda Palmer (and friends), “Map of Tasmania”

When is a goofy song about letting your pubic hair grow out not just a goofy song about letting your pubic hair grow out? When it’s "Map of Tasmania." Letting your own personal freak flag fly is one of Amanda Palmer’s specialties, and in this song she makes it seem like a ludicrous amount of fun. If you haven’t seen the video, you owe it to yourself.


7. OK Go, "White Knuckles," from Of The Blue Colour Of The Sky

You can keep your LOLcats. This song, and especially the video for this song, make my heart sing. Even better, when you’re a writer, is realizing just how much work went into making something that looks and sounds so joyous and effortless and fun. Helps keep things in perspective, you know, and there are days when that’s no small thing.


8. Compay Segundo, "Yo Vengo Aquí" from Yo Vengo Aquí

Cuban legend Compay Segundo, singing (and playing) a gorgeous close-harmony lovesong, classic for good reason. Like a cup of sweet strong coffee, with a smooth spicy, sophisticated finish. Tu me a robado el Corazon, indeed.


9. Over The Rhine, "Poughkeepsie," from Good Dog Bad Dog

A hymn of resilience and resistance, arcing and glorious, fine-boned and sweet. Sometimes you just need to be reminded of how it should be done.


10. Jane Siberry, "Writers Are A Funny Breed," from Jane Siberry

I've been listening to this song for a quarter of a century and she's right, you know. We are. Thank goodness there are people who get it, and love us anyway.


Hanne Blank and Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality links:

the author's website

Kirkus Reviews review
New York Times review
Publishers Weekly review
Urbanite review

Feministing interview with the author
Haaretz interview with the author
The Jewish Daily Forward interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Virgin
Salon interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

List of Online "Best Books of 2011" Lists
List of 2011 Year-End Online Music Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists


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