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March 1, 2012

Book Notes - Erin O'Brien - "The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts"

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.

I first read Erin O'Brien in the short fiction anthology Santi, where her story "Skywriting with King Tut Down at the Little Egypt" impressed me. Her new essay collection The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts is bold, honest, and hilarious.

Michael Heaton of the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote of the book:

"Erin O Brien is no angel. But she writes like one. Her new book, The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts, is her wonderfully exuberant and outlandish look on life that is whip-smart, heart-felt and subversively funny enough to cause unsuspecting readers to choke on their guffaws. This book reads like it was written by the redheaded, bastard child produced in an unholy union between Erma Bombeck and Hunter S. Thompson."

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 Erin O'Brien's Book Notes music playlist for her essay collection, The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts:


"Pass the Hatchet" by Roger and the Gypsies (from the Desperado soundtrack)

The Irish Hungarian plays out in any number of venues, including the über-suburban environs of Cleveland's Southside. Such mundane surroundings tend to dull one's edges, particularly when cruising the aisles of the discount grocery. In order to keep myself from slipping into a Stepfordian daze, I imagine this song playing in the background as I peruse the produce bins, condiment aisle or (heaven help us) the damnable closeout department. Invoking the verbal thrusts and groans à la Roger and the Gypsies straightens my spine and pumps up my swagger. Bring it on, mother effers! I think as I drop a 99 ¢ insulated tumbler festooned with daisies that I absolutely do not need into my gleaming cart.


"Pleasant Valley Sunday" by The Monkees

The Monkees recorded this bubble gum hit in 1967, the same year our humble home was erected. Just like the song says, our classic split-level is one in a row of "houses that are all the same." But hey, how many of the ladies living in "status-symbol land" have a suitcase full of marital aids under their bed?


"The Battle March Medley" by the Pogues

Let there be Irish in The Irish Hungarian, and nothing makes the green in my name glitter more vibrantly than this 1988 effort from Dubliner Terry Woods & Co. Within these four minutes I transform from mild mannered housewife to regal Celtic goddess, complete with heaving bosom, fine strong calves and a wavy mane of fire-red hair.


"Hora/Moskowitz Medley" by The Klezmer Conservatory Band

As soon as the Pogues relinquish the stage, my Hungarian blood wells up and gives way to the mysterious dancing gypsy woman I conjure from these frenetic bars. She looks a lot like the Celtic chick except the hair is walnut and an ankle bracelet jingles beneath her colorful skirts. She's maybe a little dirtier than her Irish counterpart (in both senses), but men have more desire for her (although they don't admit it). So it goes until the timer goes off and I have to go putter around with whatever pot bubbles on the stove.


"Alice's Restaurant Massacre" by Arlo Guthrie

Welcome reality. Gone are the ethnic seductresses with their strands of shimmering beads and smoky eyes. Here stands Erin before the 18-year-old gas range, garbed in ill-fitting jeans and a droopy gray sweatshirt. Armed with a spatula, she shovels it out old school, from cold meatloaf sandwiches to hot Hungarian lecho, day in and day out. The quaint politics of this song notwithstanding (although I do recommend listening to the entire monologue), the assertion: You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant defines my life. Hell yes, the recipes are in the book and I've left in all the messy details you won't find in any of those candy-ass cookbooks.


"I Touch Myself" by the Divinyls

A person has to do what a person has to do, particularly when she's waiting for the rinse cycle. Although the following tip is not in the book, we're here and frankly, nothing could be more appropriate. Says Tantus Toys of its 100% ultra-premium silicone products, for convenient cleaning, "Toss on top rack of dishwasher."

Now now then, stand down. For while I find this recommendation fascinating for a host of reasons, even I have my limits.


"The Entertainer" by Scott Joplin

To the esteemed readership of Largehearted Boy, I apologize, but this is the best I could do. "The Entertainer" is mentioned in a chapter from The Irish Hungarian titled "The Music of America," which was lifted from an LP Ron Popeil's flagship company Ronco offered up in the year of our Lord, 1976. This musical tribute to Uncle Sam on his 200th birthday features stirring renditions of all-American favorites such as "The Halls of Montezuma" and "Chattanooga Choo Choo" as performed by The Richmond Strings and Mike Sammes Singers (think slightly more vapid than Lawrence Welk's Musical Family). Over the last 20 years, this is the only musical selection my husband has purchased for himself, moving it into a mythic realm this liner note cannot cover, hence the chapter. Suffice it to say that the story of "The Music of America" includes whiskey sours, the Ohio Turnpike Commission, and individuals known as Poops, Ye-Haw Bobby, and Hiroshima. Some things just have to be gotten through.


"Never on Sunday" by Pink Martini

My mother-in-law's given name was Aphrodite, but she went by Pat out of modesty. First generation Greek Americans, Pat and her sister Stella float through the book courtesy of a bevy of unruly lobsters that plot elaborate escapes, fly through the air and mock me with their disdain. The story of the lobsters is certainly not pretty, but ironically, this lush offering from Pink Martini couldn't be better suited to it.


"Brand New Key" by Melanie

Feeling the sexy flirty vibe Melanie delivers in this classic is easy when you've just said "I do." The real question is: will you still be showing off your (ahem) brand new pair of roller skates in front of his (ahem ahem) brand new key when the "brand new" portion of the proceedings is 15 years old?


"A Dream Goes on Forever" by Todd Rundgren (from Back to the Bars)

For Clevelanders of a certain vintage, Rundgren's sweet ballad will cause their shoulder blades to unfurl into feathered wings. If my book has done its job, you'll sprout your own set of wings by the time you get to the last page. Both The Irish Hungarian and Rundgren's Dream are testimony to what propels my every word: when you wish upon a star, the magic isn't in the star.

The magic is in the wish.


Erin O'Brien and The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts links:

the author's website
the author's blog
excerpt from the book

Cleveland Plain Dealer review

Around Noon 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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