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January 20, 2015

Book Notes - Emma Hooper "Etta and Otto and Russell and James"

Etta and Otto and Russell and James

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, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Emma Hooper's splendid debut novel Etta and Otto and Russell and James is crisply told and moving.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Drawing on wisdom and whimsy of astonishing grace and maturity, Hooper has written an irresistibly enchanting debut novel that explores mysteries of love old and new, the loyalty of animals and dependency of humans, the horrors of war and perils of loneliness, and the tenacity of time and fragility of memory."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Emma Hooper's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel Etta and Otto and Russell and James:


"April Showers" by Judy Garland

This is Owen's song. The one he sings by the fire the night before he is killed, and the one that goes on to haunt Otto with his memory. Owen isn't one of the quartet of primary characters in the book, but he would have loved to have been. He is to Otto as Russell is to Etta, impossibly and, even, given the era and situation, dangerously, in love with him and unsure of how to handle it. The naïve hope of this song, matched with the almost desperate nature of Garland's voice reflects the character perhaps better than my words can.

"I'll Be Seeing You" by Frank Sinatra

This song at once captures the sentimental sound of the book's wartime setting, and its larger theme of place as the root of memory.

"Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree" by The Andrews Sisters

I love how this one group, The Andrews Sisters, managed to make the simple musical phenomenon of close three-part harmony so synonymous with the 1940s, and World War Two specifically. This song, with its theme of lovers displaced by war is especially fitting.

"Sing, Sing, Sing" by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra

Etta and Russell take each other to dances as often as they possibly can during the period when Otto's away at war. The frantic sound of this tune, especially, captures the wild energy of the need of this era's youth to escape, though dance or whatever else, the somber and mature issues of the time.

"Tennessee Waltz" by Emmylou Harris

Etta and Otto and Russell, dancing. Just that, so perfectly, in this song.

"Bury Me Not On The Lone Prairie" by Johnny Cash (The Legend version)

Saskatchewan, while less well-known and harder to say than Texas, is very much cowboy country, is very much the lone prairie, the home of endless wheat-fields, hot-dry dusty summers, gigantic open skies, and lonely coyotes, like James, who sings this very song.

"The Maple Leaf Forever" by Alan Mills

Similar to the Johnny Cash song, the instrumentation here is basic folk, vocals and guitar. The difference is that this, "The Maple Leaf Forever," is a very Canadian song. Written for the country's confederation, it served as an unofficial national anthem for quite a while. It's unabashed nationalism particularly highlights the huge and diverse nature of the country, things particularly relevant to Etta as she walks across it… .

"One Day I Walk" by k.d. lang

I love that k. d. lang has been called "Canada's sweetheart", as she positions herself so much in opposition to the "sweetheart" stereotype. There's something about her authenticity of both self and song that just fits and resonates especially with Canadians. The songs on this album aren't her own, they are written by other Canadian artists (like the famously covered-by-everyone "Hallelujah"), but sit comfortably, if not possessively, on her shoulders. This sort of analogy seems to make sense for Canada too, made up of so many cultures so relatively recently, and so often confused or juxtaposed with our American neighbours, we are just what we are, even if that doesn't fit neatly into any specific pre-cut category. Also, the song's about walking, so that works.

"Lewis Takes Off His Shirt" and "E is for Estranged" by Owen Pallett

This album, Heartland, by Owen Pallett, is one I listened to over and over and over again whilst working on the book. Its lyrics, its carefully-crafted-but-not-shy arrangements, its melody lines folding in and out of each other all inspired and motivated my writing.

"Summer 78" by Yann Tiersen

The soundtrack to my writing Etta and Otto and Russell and James was probably about 50% Owen Pallett, as above, and 50% this, the Good Bye Lenin soundtrack. Not surprisingly, film (or video game…) soundtracks make great soundscapes to write to.

"When We Were Kids" by Cajita

While the Tiersen and the Pallett were the soundtrack to my writing of the book, these next tracks were the soundtrack to my life more generally over that period, music and musicians I was involved with one way or another. This one, Cajita, is an amazing friend and musician. We played together at an amazing, beautiful hall in Bremen, Germany, and I've been hooked on his music ever since.

"All Is Not Lost" by Nuala Honan

When I decided that I wanted to do the writing thing for real as much as possible, it meant that I had to cut back somewhat on my musical endeavors. In short, I had to stop saying ‘yes' to every gig that came my way and, instead, choose a few favourites to be loyal to and keep playing with. Playing viola with/for Nuala has long been one of my favourite musical gigs. She's an Australian singer-songwriter with both amazing talents and impeccable organization, a combination somewhat unheardof… . This song is from her most recent album The Tortoise, and I'm there in the background, having a great time on viola.

"Walking to the Shore" by Duotone

Duotone is another favourite colleague project of mine. Beautiful indie-folk spun out on cello and vocal harmony. This song, "Walking to the Shore," is, of course, for Etta.

"Ankylosaur," "Mosquito," and "Stickbugs" by Waitress for the Bees

Well. This is me. It seems a little bit wrong to have myself here, on this list, but, at the same time, my own music certainly did/does make a significant portion of the soundtrack of my and the book's soundtrack; it's what I'm singing and practicing and polishing at the same time as the words in the book. "Ankylosaur" is from my first, scratch-produced album Albertosaurus and "Mosquito" and "Stickbugs" are from the second, Cicadanthem, composed and crafted at the same time as the book.


Emma Hooper and Etta and Otto and Russell and James links:

the author's website

BookPage review
Bustle review
Chicago Tribune review
Kirkus review
Macleans.ca review
Publishers Weekly review
San Francisco Chronicle review
Toronto Star review

BBC Radio 4 interview with the author
The Bookseller interview with the author
Publishers Weekly essay by the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

List of Online "Best of 2014" Book Lists
Essential and Interesting 2014 Year-End Music Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)


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