Stranger Things

Stranger Things Title Card
Image via Lowtrucks, Wikimedia Commons

I think I was about a week later than just about everyone else in starting Stranger Things. I finished it today after not having a lot of time to watch Netflix over the last week or so. There is a lot to like in this series, and if you were an 80’s kid like me, you definitely need to watch it. There are, of course, ubiquitous (and finely parsed—Google search it) nods to 1980’s books, movies, music, and pop culture all throughout. I was actually shocked to learn the Duffer Brothers, creators of the series, were born in the 1980’s instead of teenagers because they really captured the era. Who didn’t know boys like Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will? I went to middle school with those guys, I swear it. Actually, it’s set in 1983, which is exactly when I would have been their age.

I understand this series was rejected by anywhere from 15 to 20 networks, all of which are probably kicking themselves hard right now. I don’t know anyone who isn’t buzzing about this series. Well, anyone my age, anyway. Some of my favorite things:

  • All the “see if you catch them” references. I love that the title card looks like a 1980’s Stephen King novel. That’s only one among many a Stephen King reference. Lots of nods to IT, Firestarter, and The Body (aka Stand By Me). Actually, I think that the actress who plays Eleven, Millie Bobby Brown, looks like she could be Wil Wheaton’s kid. He played Gordie LaChance in Stand By Me if you forgot or haven’t seen it (you should really see it if you haven’t—it’s probably one of the better Stephen King adaptations).
  • The child actors. They’re actually really great. All of them.
  • Winona Ryder as a mom character. I know she was Spock’s mom in the Star Trek reboot, but you know what I mean. We first really met her in the late 1980’s when she was a teenage actress. It seems appropriate that she’s the mom.
  • The kids’ amazing science teacher. He’s geeky, but man, with all the complaining folks do about education and teachers today, it was refreshing to see such a recognizable, honest, and positive portrayal of a teacher. He actually reminded me a bit of my middle school science teachers.
  • Barb. Because if you grew up in the 80’s you either were someone like Barb or knew a Barb. She is perfect. For the record, I my personality as a teenager resembled hers, but I didn’t have her compelling glasses and mom-jeans look.
  • The storytelling. It’s paced well, and for some crazy Stephen King/Steven Spielberg (think E. T.) type stuff, the characters sell it all and make it completely believable.

I actually think my husband’s description of the binge-worthy nature of this series is the best one I’ve seen.

We didn’t get our stuff together to actually watch it together. I totally recommend watching it with a friend. Particularly a friend who was about your age in the 1980’s—if, you know, you are like me and grew up then. If not, find a friend who did grow up in the 80’s and watch it with that friend.

I volunteer because I kind of want to watch it again and see what I missed the first time.

Here is the trailer if you want to check it out.

Sunday Post #43: Unfilmable Books

Sunday Post
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but my AP Literature students are reading both Mrs. Dalloway and The Remains of the Day this year. Knowing there are film versions of both books (and that The Remains of the Day in particular was well regarded), I decided to watch them this weekend and see if I want to use any parts of either film in class.

The first thing I thought after I finished watching Mrs. Dalloway, which had a great cast—Vanessa Redgrave is Clarissa Dalloway and Rupert Graves is Septimus Warren Smith—is that some books are just unfilmable. The movie stuck to the plot well enough. In a book where not a lot happens, at least on the exterior, that’s not to hard to do. What is nearly impossible to do is to capture the interior monologues of both Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Warren Smith. I thought for sure perhaps some brilliant cinematography would capture the breathtaking imagery in Mrs. Dalloway, but not really. I was particularly disappointed in the scene in which Clarissa buys the flowers. In the book, it’s a master class in imagery that leads directly to memory, but in the movie, it’s a brief scene that is stripped of almost all of the punch it packs in the book. I might show clips of the film precisely so students can discuss why it isn’t filmable or how they might have filmed it instead.

On the other hand, The Remains of the Day was brilliant in all respects save one: the ending. In the book, you see a slightly different ending when Stevens realizes how he has spent his life, and it crashes over him. His stiff upper lip barely quivers in the film. To me, that’s a pretty substantial change, and I don’t like it at all. As to the acting, though, brilliant, of course (what would you expect out of Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson?). The scenery and sets are absolutely gorgeous. I thought more than once of Downton Abbey and the passage of all those old manor houses. I suppose many of them are now basically open for tours and are sorts of historical monuments to another time. This book, as it turned out, was quite filmable, or at least resulted in a really good film. You probably knew that, though, because I think I’m the last person to see that movie.

In other bookish news, I’m wondering what is wrong with me for not really liking Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun much. I’m going to finish it, I guess, because I’m pretty far in, and I do sort of want to see what happens to everyone. I’m really annoyed by how long the chapters are. I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere when I’m reading because the chapters are so long. So many people I know have loved this book. I am just sort of bored with quirkier-than-thou teenagers, erudite and intelligent beyond their years. John Green is responsible for this trend, and I think I’m going to complain about in the march #ShelfLove entry on tropes I’m sick of in literature next month. After John Green made it so lucrative, it seemed like every other YA author had to copy it. I know plenty of smart teenagers. I’m not saying kids like these kids don’t exist. I just… don’t think I’m the audience for these books anymore.

My book club is reading The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, and all I can say is holy heck! How did this guy get me interested in something I have zero interest in? That is one helluva trick. The writing is fantastic. I’m not too far in, just about 50 pages so far. I can really see the people he’s describing. They are real, flesh-and-blood people, and I already care a lot about them, and even though I know they won the Olympic Gold in 1936, it’s still unfolding like one of those mysteries, where you can’t see how it will turn out in the end. That is another neat trick. Plus, two interesting connections already: Brown mentions rowers practicing at Lake Quinsigamond, which is literally right where I live. My attention was caught immediately. But then, he delves in the background of one of the rowers, Joe Rantz, who grew up poor and down on his luck in Spokane, WA., which is where my grandfather was born. The family stories were so similar in some ways, I found myself immediately rooting for Joe Rantz. What a great book! And see, only about 50 pages in, whereas with I’ll Give You the Sun, I’m about halfway through and still not really sure how I feel.

I’m still working on Antonia Fraser’s biography of Marie Antoinette and dipping into other books here and there. I bought myself two books. I couldn’t resist. Neither of them has been on my TBR list very long, but I do really want to read both of them.

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything set in Papua New Guinea before (Euphoria), and after reading both A Room of One’s Own and Mrs. Dalloway, I fell in love with Virginia Woolf.

In other news, I was quite sad to hear of the passing of Harper Lee, though it is true she hasn’t been in good health, and she was advanced in years. I wrote about her influence on my decision to become an English teacher on my education blog. To Kill a Mockingbird remains one of my favorite books to teach. Sad, too, that Umberto Eco has died. I have a copy of The Name of the Rose, I haven’t read it yet. I have seen a film adaptation, though, and really enjoyed it.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t share our own exciting news. My husband has written a book tie-in to the show Better Call Saul (a spinoff of Breaking Bad) called Don’t Go to Jail!: Saul Goodman’s Guide to Keeping the Cuffs Off. I’m really excited for him. This book is the realization of a lot of really hard work (I know—I was there!), and it’s something he’s dreamed about doing for some time. It’s available now for pre-order, and it will officially be released on April 5, so run out and get it! You will love it, especially if you like the show already.

So that is how my reading week is going. How about yours?

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news, recap the past week on your blog, and showcase books and things we have received. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme. Image adapted from Patrick on Flickr.

Review: As You Like It, William Shakespeare

I read William Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It as my selection for the Renaissance era in the Literary Movement Reading Challenge. I had been wanting to read it ever since reading James Shapiro’s excellent book, A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599.

For those not familiar with the plot, it’s one of Shakespeare’s cross-dressing comedies. Rosalind is the daughter of Duke Senior, the rightful duke. Duke Senior’s younger brother, Duke Frederick usurps his older brother’s dukedom. Frederick allows Rosalind to stay when he exiles his brother to the Forest of Arden because his daughter Celia loves Rosalind so much. Frederick arranges a wrestling match that is supposed to end in defeat for Orlando de Boys, but Orlando is victorious. He captures Rosalind’s heart. In a fit of pique, Frederick banishes Rosalind. However, Celia decides to leave with Rosalind as the two are close, and Celia cannot bear to see Rosalind exiled without her company. They decide to disguise themselves, Rosalind as a boy, Ganymede, and Celia as Ganymede’s sister Aliena, and they also decide to take the fool Touchstone with with them to keep them company. They plunge themselves into the forest, where they find Orlando has been carving Rosalind’s name on trees.

While in the forest, they encounter shepherds who help them find shelter. The shepherd Silvius is in love with a woman, Phoebe, who falls in love with Ganymede, not realizing Ganymede is Rosalind in disguise. Meanwhile, Orlando is hiding from his brother Oliver, who wants him dead. Orlando rescues Oliver from a lion in the forest, which leads to Oliver’s decision to change his ways. In typical Shakespearean fashion, everything works out in the end with a bunch of marriages. Oliver is further transformed by love for Celia and no longer desires Orlando’s destruction. Orlando and Rosalind find happiness. Rosalind manages to set Silvius and Phoebe together in a problematic marriage, and even Touchstone marries Audrey. Duke Frederick experiences a religious conversion and sees the error of his ways.

As Shakespeare goes, it’s not my favorite. I much prefer A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a comedy. However, I do see maturity in his characterization of Rosalind that had me wondering greatly about the boy actors in his acting company at the time he wrote the play. It would have taken a strong actor to pull off that part. I found her to be a refreshingly smart character, and in control of so much of the action. I liked her very much. As You Like It is perhaps most famous for Jaques’s speech “All the world’s a stage.”

I waited to watch the film version directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Bryce Dallas Howard as Rosalind before reviewing the book. She is a wonderful Rosalind. The cast is great: Celia is played by Romola Garai, Touchstone by Alfred Molina, the Dukes by Brian Blessed, Orlando by David Oyelowo, Jacques by Kevin Kline, Audrey by Janet McTeer, and that’s just a start. Set in feudal Japan, the story begins as Duke Frederick and a bunch of ninjas take over Duke Senior’s palace and send the rightful Duke and his men into exile in the forest. The setting change was interesting and still worked despite the importance of the Forest of Arden as setting in the play. The costumes were beautiful. The actors were fine. But I still didn’t like it, and I don’t know why. I liked parts of it, but as a whole, it was just sort of boring. I kept picturing how my students might respond to it if we watched in class, and I kept picturing them nodding off. I wonder if the issue with this play is that in order for this story to remain compelling, the action needs to move a little more quickly? I can’t put my finger on what was wrong with it, as I liked the elements separately. They just didn’t cohere for me. Your mileage may vary if you decide to watch it.

Rating: ★★★★☆
Film Rating: ★★★☆☆

Set in Warwickshire, this book will serve as my entry for that county in the Reading England Challenge and will serve as my Renaissance selection for the Literary Movement Challenge.