From Page to Screen: What to Watch (and Skip) this Summer

Although I tend to choose my Kindle over my remote control, I still appreciate the fact that I am living during the Golden Age of Television. I am always looking out for the latest books-turned-movies or television series, and this year an entire treasure trove of stories are being released on HBO, Netflix, and, as always, at the movie theater.  Here are my thoughts on the shows and movies that have recently been released or are about to come out:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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It’s science and faith. It’s social commentary and medical ethics. It’s Rose Byrne and FREAKIN’ OPRAH WINFREY.

I read this incredible investigative journalism book for an interdisplinary seminar for dental school, and it completely wrecked me. Henrietta Lacks was a woman who died of cancer. Her cells were taken in the name of research without her permission, and discoveries from her DNA have literally changed healthcare. Yet she received no credit, monetarily or in name…it is absolutely astounding. This story made me want to go into healthcare journalism and public health. Seriously, read the book AND watch the series. If you’re in any way, shape, or form associated with medical care, research, or have friends or family members who have undergone experimental cancer treatment, you need to know this woman and her family.

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One of the few times I will actually say “the show is better than the book.”  Liane Moriarty’s smash hit suspense novel was a page-turner, but at times I found it trite and predictable. However, Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, and Jean-Marc Valle transformed the story into a deep exploration of  marriage, friendships, social class structure, and child-rearing blanketed by the mystery of a kindergarten bully.  I am typically not a “show binger,” but this one had my hand glued to the “next episode” button. The scenes were performed with such subtlety and realism that I felt like I was a part of Reese and Shailene’s clique. Watch it now if you enjoy suspense or shows that delve into the “behind the scenes” of family life and rich people problems.

(Trigger warning for those of you sensitive to scenes of domestic violence).

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This YA Netflix series has gone viral the past week. I have not read the book or seen the series, but I feel like I have from all the media coverage on this thing.  Some critics say this series glamorizes suicide, while fans believe it draws attention to mental health issues that are often ignored. The show was also produced by Selena Gomez and her mother, so it has the celebrity factor to boost its ratings.

Personally, I will be skipping this one. I tend to avoid books (and, now, Netflix shows) with suicide as its central theme –  although I think depression and mental health is an important issue and I appreciate books that use this theme to bring about important conversations as a part of several themes and messages, I simply have too many nightmares over it when it is the sole focus of the story line and instead of inspiring me to take action to help others, my emotional response gets locked up at “crying buckets of crocodile tears over the state of the world.” So instead I’ll have to live vicariously through y’all. For those of you who have seen this series: what are your thoughts? And, if you’ve read the novel, how does the show compare? I’d love to hear in the comments.

The Handmaid’s Tale

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I. AM. SO. EXCITED. Hulu is releasing a series version of The Handmaid’s Tale, one of my favorite books, starring women (and, ok fine, some men too) from some of  my favorite shows: Elizabeth Moss of Mad Men glory, Alexis Bledel AKA Rory Gilmore/Baby Blue Eyes Porcelain Doll, and Joseph Fiennes AKA dreamy Shakespeare.

Margaret Atwood’s literary masterpiece is a spec fiction novel set in the near-future New England. Ruled by a fundamentalist Christian government formulated by the “Sons of Jacob,” it places women in Old Testament-style subjugation and oppression. They can’t read, they can’t lead, and, because of the society’s increasing prevalence of STDs and disease, a class of women are created purely to be used by men for “reproductive purposes.” Atwood wrote this book in the 80’s as a social commentary on what American society might look like if a fundamentalist Christian government was established (and many find this series particularly timely given our current, cough, “leadership.“).

One of the famous quotes from this story is, “Illegitimi non carborundum: Don’t let the bastards grind you down,” which has become one of the most bad-ass feminist mantras I’ve ever heard. This series is going to be dark, its going to be fierce, it’s going to be girl-powery and all kinds of awesome.

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Neil Gaiman is a literary celebrity, especially among the sci fi/fantasy set. I typically am not a major fan of this genre (confession: I’ve only watched two seasons of Game of Thrones because it’s difficult for me to get truly deeply interested in the show. No, I don’t know what’s wrong with me either, but I don’t think it’s contagious).  However, Mr. Gaiman is such a genius that even I can’t deny the greatness of this story. Part road-trip, part American commentary, this book covers everything from the addiction of technology to the meaning of life (and death). I’m hoping the husband lets us subscribe to Starz for a month just so I can get this series in once it’s released!

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A movie I am beyond excited for! Dave Eggers is one of my favorite writers (his writing for Zeitoun, about a Muslim family in the during and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, will shift your worldview in powerful ways), and this examination of a social media-driven society is especially timely and mysteriously relevant to real life (who’d have thought?).  Plus it stars my surrogate father Tom Hanks and my one-sided BFF Emma Watson. It comes out this week!

The Lost City of Z

The real-life Lost City of Z is a city rumored to be hidden in the Amazon Jungle and was named by an early 20th century explorer, Percy Fawcett, though he never actually found this city (that we know of). After researching a document called Manuscript 512 in Brazil, he went off exploring the Mato Grosso jungle for the ruins of this supposedly majestic city with his son…and never came back. Other expeditions attempting to find this mysterious city have led to several deaths and disappearances, but no discoveries. An investigative book of the same name by David Grann (which is an excellent page-turner and reads like a novel, by the way) was published a few years ago exploring the possible locations of this mythical civilization.

I just found out that this movie was already released, but it has solid reviews so I’m hoping to see it while it’s still in theaters. I hear the movie version takes some artistic license with the ending, so I’m hoping they did a good job.

A classic high quality mystery story, starring a collection of high-quality actors! Agatha’s Christie infamous train ride mystery is a book I have read multiple times because it’s such a lovely page-turner, with plenty of twists and turns and just enough suspense to make you want to keep reading. This movie isnt coming until the fall, but I already can’t wait to see it!

What are your favorite literary movies or television shows? I want to know what I should add to my Netflix cue :).

6 thoughts on “From Page to Screen: What to Watch (and Skip) this Summer

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