Sunday, October 2, 2016

Unlocking Curiosity’s Door: Stranger Things Podcasts #StrangerPodcasts

If there’s one thing about me, it’s that everything reminds me of podcasts. I consume them like auditory popcorn, my appetite for captivating stories unable to be sated. My curiosity knows no bounds. Memories of podcasts invariably pop up during random conversations and reader’s advisory sessions, compelling me to make connections and share recommendations. I am a librarian, after all… So as I binge watched Stranger Things, (some of it with the sound off and my finger on the fast forward button, just in case), my mind instantly went into the realm of podcasts, the audio Upside Down. I considered the hidden worlds within ours, character-driven, fascinating, beautifully designed, sometimes macabre, maybe even nostalgic stories. Stories that might make our skin crawl at times, but we are utterly transfixed, offering humor within terror, bravery in the dark, magic beside monsters. After all, the world we know often has stranger things than we can dream of… so here are some of my podcast recommendations for Stranger Things fans who are now waiting with bated breath for Season 2. 

With its slogan “movies for your ears,” The Truth offers immersive and dramatic short stories that linger within your mind. You will need to listen with headphones on to fully appreciate their exceptional production and sound design that takes storytelling to the next level. Surprising twists and turns are the hallmarks of The Truth episodes - but you’ll never see them coming. You will probably gasp in surprise while you’re riding the train and strangers will give you disapproving looks, but really they’re just jealous of the delights inside your ear drums. My absolute favorite episode of The Truth is Sylvia’s Blood, which is based on Philip K. Dick's short story "Upon the Dull Earth,” about a woman who has a connection with angel-like creatures who are not as they appear to be. If you enjoyed the nostalgia of Stranger Things and the continual D&D references, Chaotic Neutral, an episode about a game of Dungeons & Dragons gone awry is a great place to start. Ever think about the possibility of worlds underneath our feet in the subways of the past? Then you’ll love In Good Hands. The Truth has just released one of their creepiest, spine-tingling episodes yet, Sleep Some More, about Dan’s college roommate who talks in his sleep about authorial intent and blood. It’s perfect for back to school! You will also definitely want to check out The Truth’s new series, Songanauts.  The basic premise is “Doc, Penny, & Jojo had a band that was going nowhere...Until they found a drum machine that transported them into their songs.”It’s sort of a musical Upside Down as the band travels into another dimension and has to battle anti-music for the sake of mankind. It’s meta, humorous with an 80s cartoon flair, with great, catchy songs! Also, there are ducks and cookies.

I heard about Cthulhu on Here be Monsters and then Cthulhu followed me on Twitter; that can’t be a coincidence. The real world can be infinitely stranger than what we imagine in our fiction. Here Be Monsters dives into the unknown, into our deepest fears, to the darkness within and without. The experience can be unsettling and jarring like any jump into uncharted territory. Encountering people who live and think differently is one of the best parts of the podcast revolution and is the hallmark of Here Be Monsters stories. My favorite episode, Flaming Sword of Truth, is about Patti Negri, a witch who uses astral travel/astral projection during her sessions. The lines between journalist and subject blur during this episode in unexpected ways. Listening to Here Be Monsters often feels like astral projection into other worlds and reveals how much there is still to know about each other. Here Be Monsters has something to satisfy everyone’s curiosity from a tales of a girl who pretends to be dying to a Satanic Prayer Hotline to an Etsy Witch to crow funerals. You will never be the same after giving Here Be Monsters a try.

Like Here Be Monsters, Lore exposes the underside of reality, but it is the tales of the past that intrigue creator, Aaron Mahnke, who crafts creepy, artfully polished tales about the darkness within mankind. Told like the best traditional tales (add your own digital campfire app) by a natural storyteller, Mahnke uses haunting musical scoring and exceptional writing (as the author of supernatural thrillers would) to weave his truly frightening tales from folklore, myth, and history. Simplicity is key in Lore; with just his voice, Mahnke transports listeners deep within the woods, off the beaten path, and into the shadows. They are made all the more gruesome by Mahnke’s detailed research that creates an auditory painting that awakens the senses. I appreciate the way Mahnke draws conclusions at during each episode about the nature of the tales and our drive for scary stories, especially within the context of the society and history. Why are we obsessed with tales of the undead and keep retelling them (I'm looking at you, Twilight)? Why do we tell our children stories like Hansel and Gretel and other macabre cautionary/traumatizing tales and why are the woods so darn appealing? (Curious about the origins of the term "step" as in stepparents or stepchildren? Check out The Allusionist with Helen Zaltzman, where Aaron Manhke stops by to share how this terminology evolved.) Lore offers insights to these questions and more, leading us inevitably to even more questions.

With the tagline, “storytelling with a beat” Snap Judgment stories are provocative, humorous, engaging and moving - and also terrifying, chilling, unbelievable and weird. They do it all. The synthwave score of Stranger Things definitely matches the style of Snap Judgment. They know how to create musical cues that make you feel all the things. The host, Glynn Washington, always starts each episode with a story of his own that frames the entire episode and shows how to tell compelling personal stories. You never know what curious things you’ll encounter on an episode of Snap. Some recommended episodes to get started include Monsters, Superheroes: Origin Stories, Crossing Borders and Tales from the Library. Each year Snap Judgment produce a very special Halloween episode called “Spooked” that is perfect listening to fill your horror stories fix. Get ready for Spooked VII, which is purported to be the scariest one ever! You should also check out Campfire Tales I & Campfire Tales II for more creepy tales. You will also probably want to leave the lights on afterwards. You’ve been warned. 

We’re all nerdy about something, whether it’s D&D, Goonies, E.T., Buffy, The X-Files, or science fiction shows on Netflix that we binge watch way too late at night (hypothetically). Nerdette Podcast hosts Tricia Bobeda and Greta Johnsen help us embrace our inner nerds and fuel the fire by talking to some of the most interesting people on the planet, from scientists, comic book creators, comedians, writers, musicians, the works. (They also host the delightful Nerdette Recaps Game of Thrones with Peter Sagal Podcast that is worth listening to.) The Venn diagram between the interests of Stranger Things viewers and Nerdette Podcast guests is probably a straight up circle. If you love Eleven and the ways gendered tropes are subverted, you’ll love their Great Lady Nerds of History segments and their plethora of awesome nerdy women guests. Pick a person you admire and chances are the Nerdette Podcast has interviewed them, so it’s easy to start listening now. You can also be part of the show by sharing your Nerd Confessions. With the Nerdette Podcasts, you can most definitely fill the void with other wonderful nerdy things until Season 2 - and then after Season 2 and so on. 

What I loved most about Stranger Things was the nuanced character development. I couldn't stop watching it because I cared about the characters who were facing incredible odds and almost unsurmountable challenges. How much more so when those stories are true and extraordinary lives are captured on tape. Lea Thau, the creator and host of Strangers, produces powerful, intimate conversations with people that feel like you're with friends, listening in. Strangers stories are "about true stories about about the people we meet, the connections we make, the heartbreaks we suffer, the kindnesses we encounter, and those frightful moments when we discover that WE aren’t even who we thought we were." Oftentimes people can even be strangers to themselves and we join them on the journey of self-discovery, which makes for incredibly compelling radio. Some of my favorite episodes include the first episode, A Father's Story -- Then and NowHenry and Jane, The Teacher Who Couldn't Read, and Falling Slowly. I also appreciate Lea's willingness to be vulnerable, sharing her own tales of heartbreak in the Love Hurts series. Strangers is a catalyst for empathy, a window and mirror into worlds unknown, a dose of human connection.  Is there anything stranger than the way we're all not so different after all? 

And because I am a librarian, I must share some Stranger Things read-alikes.

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste is one of my favorite books to booktalk to encourage students to read without walls. I have hesitated to read suspenseful, scary books but once I read The Jumbies (at the recommendation of a young voracious reader - always trust kids' reccs), basically in one sitting, hooked and unable to turn the lights off at the end of the night, I knew that I had foolishly limited myself from experiencing incredible worlds and wonders. In The Jumbies, Corrine does not believe in the folklore on her Caribbean island about the fearsome creatures who reside in the forest - until she comes face to face with a jumbie with an agenda of her own, one that may change Corrine's life forever. Suspenseful, riveting, engaging, thought-provoking, and delightfully creepy and spine-tingling. 

I wish I could give The Order of Odd-Fish by James Kennedy to Lucas, Dustin, Mike, and Eleven, as well as the young actors playing these characters. I think they would appreciate the outrageous fantasy that dances a tightrope between humor and horror with rapid-fire literary wit. It has at times been associated with Lemony Snicket, Roald Dahl, Douglas Adams, Hunter S. Thompson, Eddie Izzard, Douglas Adams, J.K. Rowling, H.P. Lovecraft, Monty Python, Franz Kafka, and Lewis Carroll. The story revolves around an awesome, 13 year old heroine who is labeled as dangerous. Seriously. Sound familiar? Jo Larouche is left in her Aunt Lily’s laundry room with a note on her blankets: “This is Jo. Please take care of her. But beware. This is a DANGEROUS baby.” Through a series of strange events, Jo leaves home for otherworldly Eldritch City and “there, Jo learns the scandalous truth about who she is, and she and Lily join the Order of Odd-Fish, a colorful collection of knights who research useless information. Glamorous cockroach butlers, impossible quests, obsolete weapons and bizarre festivals fill their days, but Jo’s dream turns to nightmare when she learns that instead of a hero of Eldritch City, she may in fact become its destroyer.” The Order of Odd-Fish defies quick summarization, but once you start, not even a demogorgon will tear you away from its pages. There is the Belgian Prankster. Apology guns. An apocalypse prophecy. A Dome of Doom. Aznath, the Silver Kitten of Deceit. There are parfait-like layers here for readers curious enough to dare to unlock them. 

Set in the 80s. Check.
Bikes. Check. 
Mystery only kids can solve. Check. 
Sharp Dialogue. Check. 
Otherworldly creatures up to no good. Check.
Here's the premise of Paper Girls: "In the early hours after Halloween of 1988, four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls uncover the most important story of all time. Suburban drama and otherworldly mysteries collide in this smash hit series about nostalgia, first jobs, and the last days of childhood." 

Enjoy stories with a great ensemble cast, people taking friendship to the max, mysterious supernatural goings-on, and bewildered adults? Then you'll love Lumberjanes! Jo, April, Molly, Mal and Ripley are campers who encounter strange creatures at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiquil Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types and work together to solve mysteries. The Lumberjanes are the heroes our young readers need and deserve. 
"It came from the woods. Most strange things do."

Truly terrifying graphic (in both senses of the word) horror tales that are beautifully creepy and unforgettable. These dark fairy tales are sure to satisfy your craving for scary stories, but maybe don't do what I did and read it right before going to sleep. And by that, I mean the night of no sleep. But that's the sign of a good book staying with you...literally. 

Neil Gaiman's 2009 Newbery award winning book, The Graveyard Book, is perfect for Stranger Things fans. Actually, his entire collected works is certain to satisfy readers eager for tales of otherworldly realms within ours, beautiful, heart-expanding writing, and characters you carry with you. So go read that, too. The Graveyard Book is about a boy, Nobody "Bod" Owens, who is adopted by the eternal residents of the graveyard and grows up among the headstones and crypts. The Graveyard Book has everything our crooked hearts can dream of (and some things we can't): murder, dancing with ghosts, a witch, friendship, folklore, coming of age, and exceptional prose. As a master storyteller, I highly recommend listening to the audiobook read by Neil himself. You can also check out the Audie award-winning full-cast version. And don't forget to explore the beautiful graphic novel, illustrated by P. Craig Russell. This and also this may delight you. 

Other fabulous people have created reading lists that I have compiled here. 
Betsy Bird's booklist for adults and kids 

What would you recommend to Stranger Things fans? 

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