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June 21, 2019

Susan Rudnick's Playlist for Her Memoir "Edna's Gift"


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 Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Susan's Rudnick's Edna's Gift is a moving and thought-provoking memoir that examines the author's relationship with her developmentally disabled sister as well as her own personal challenges.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Rudnick’s debut memoir examines her complicated relationship with her developmentally disabled sibling as well as her own tumultuous path to self-acceptance and fulfillment. . . . Rudnick is a talented writer, often displaying a keen ability to capture emotional intensity through concise prose."

In her own words, here is Susan Rudnick's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir Edna's Gift:

Music, and singing in particular, threads through my memoir. In my story of growing up with Edna, my mentally and physically challenged sister, singing folk songs was a way we stayed connected throughout our lives, even on her deathbed. The book is about how she was my greatest teacher, especially when I discovered my own invisible disability. Ultimately, it’s about the voyage from shame and inadequacy to self-acceptance.

1. My book begins with a quote from Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah,” about it not mattering whether you choose the holy or broken hallelujah. My story is about how brokenness and wholeness are always interconnected. My playlist includes two versions of the song: one by Leonard Cohen and one by K.D lang.

2. A shout out to the Fireside Book of Folksongs, which is not downloadable on a playlist, but which contains songs like “Oh Susannah”, “On Top Of Old Smoky,” and “Twelve Days of Christmas,” songs that my sister and I sang over and over.

3. Joan Baez, “Copper Kettle” As a young teenager I idolized Joan, and when I taught myself to play folk guitar, “Copper Kettle” was a hit in my repertoire. Being a musician was a huge source of self esteem, and an antidote to feelings of inadequacy.

]4. I came of age in the sixties, watched the Beatles on Ed Sullivan in my dorm, and slept in a chicken coop at the Woodstock Festival. I wore out the Sgt. Pepper album, but “A Day In The Life,” most of all.

5. “City of New Orleans,” Arlo Guthrie. When Edna was older, she left the spiritual community, where she lived most of her life, and moved to a nursing home in Great Barrington Mass. She led a surprisingly independent life there. One day she called me and said she had called a cab and gone to an Arlo Guthrie concert by herself. She had especially loved “City of New Orleans.”

6. ”The Water is Wide,” a Scottish song dating from the 16th century, was the last song I sang to Edna in the hospital, when she was dying. At the time I didn't know it was the last song I would sing, and I’m so grateful I was able to. James Taylor has a gorgeous version.

7. “Let It Be” by the Beatles, hands down one of the most comforting songs I know. I play it to write, and to cry, when I need to remember loved ones I have lost.

8. “Wagon Wheel”, Old Crow Medicine Show. This song is so infectious, my body starts rolling and I start writing. “Rock me momma like a wagon wheel “ gets me into an altered state, where creativity can slide in.

9. As well, Motown in general and Marvin Gaye, in particular, get me there. Especially “Ain't No Mountain High Enough,” “Sexual Healing,” and “What’s Going On.” I write with my whole body. There’s something about a steady rhythm I can rely on, that allows the words to come.

Susan Rudnick and Edna's Gift links:

the author's website

Kirkus review

Deborah Kalb interview with the author
New York Times essay by the author
Pleasantville Examiner-News profile of the author
Spiritual Media Blog interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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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

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