In honor of Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible, a retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in modern-day Cincinnati, Ohio, I wanted to make a list of my favorite similar projects. I know I’m going to leave off some great stuff–I’ll be up front and say I don’t watch a lot of movies, so A Serious Man isn’t on here–but, yeah. I’m waiting for the great modern retelling of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. That movie doesn’t count. I’m also not addressing works like Jesus Christ, Superstar, though it is something close to my heart. It’s an adaptation, but more of a reimagining, which is a pretty different subgenre. Also, no Ulysses, because I’m not a smart enough person to begin to summarize the relationship between it and The Odyssey.
5. Ten Things I Hate About You
This movie is so ’90s it hurts a little. I’m placing it on the list above Clueless because they fulfill similar niches, although Austen’s Emma (the basis for Clueless) and Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” (Ten Things I Hate About You) aren’t exactly the most alike things in the world. The idea of replacing nobility with high schoolers and literal abuse from the Shakespeare play with Frankie Valli is just genius. Although, so is replacing a close family friend with step-brother Paul Rudd. Maybe I’ll call it a tie.
4. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs
Maybe this one is a little loose because it’s only vaguely a “modernization” compared with the others. But there’s glasses and a newspaper and a bowtie, which definitely weren’t present in the Brothers Grimm’s time period, and the whole sensibility of the story is definitely modern, so I’ll allow it. I loved this book as a kid, and it’s one I’m going to be buying for all of the young people in my life, primarily due to the fact that it teaches the valuable lesson that stories are yours for the molding.
3. Spec Ops: The Line
Adapting a book into a video game is a pretty questionable start to any project, which is not to downplay the artistic achievement that is The Great Gatsby for NES. Spec Ops: The Line, though, manages to do a lot of cool stuff while remaining tightly connected to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. While Conrad was commenting on the savagery of so-called civilized people, Spec Ops brings Heart of Darkness into the present day Middle East and in the process asks its audience to reconsider not just the implications of American military actions but also the medium of shooting games at large.
If I’m going to include Fables, a comic book series that brings the classic fairy tale characters into modern-day NYC, I guess I also have to mention Neil Gaiman’s amazing work, American Gods. Fables feels a little more like a true retelling to me, whereas American Gods was a cool story that used old Gods in neat ways, Wednesday’s character was only distantly connected to the mythic Odin, for me, and much of the book’s focus was on non-mythological characters. Though I have to admit, I’ve only read a couple of issues of Fables and played the spin-off video game, The Wolf Among Us. The Big Bad Wolf becomes Bigsby, sheriff of the fairy-tale community in NYC, Fabletown, where they’ve been forced to relocate after an EVIL EMPIRE kicked them out of their original homelands. Fairy Tales who can’t pass as human are sent off to live at a farm up-state. Gepetto is a jerk.
1. A True Novel
The very first book I chose to review for The Rumpus was Minae Mizumura’s A True Novel. I chose it because it sounded cool, it was translated, and I had a Japanese translator friend I could turn to for questions. I made a mistake though (one I haven’t repeated): I didn’t look at the page count. When the two book, 900 page novel arrived, I was a little terrified, but I also felt an obligation since this was my shot at continuing to write for them. I reread Wuthering Heights, which it’s based on, then I tackled the book. It’s now one of my top five favorite books of all times, and I’m pretty sure it’s my favorite book I’ve read written in the 21st century. It pulls Emily Brontë’s work into mid-20th-century Japan and keeps the layered narrative. Heathcliff is instead Taro Azuma, a wartime orphan from Manchuria. But the book moves past the original material, with just tons of layers and intense emotions constantly oscillating off and on the pages. This should be your summer read.