#68. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emma Orczy (Catharina)

This was originally a play, which was quite successful on the West End stage and thereby got adapted as a novel. Set during the French revolution, the Scarlet Pimpernel rescues individuals sentenced to death by the guillotine. Every time he rescues someone, he leaves behind a card showing a small flower, the scarlet pimpernel. He is clever and inventive with his disguises, not only when he is on a mission but also when he is at home. Taunting the authorities in France, the Scarlet Pimpernel has been called the original “hero with a secret identity”.

I liked it. I can se why it was successful as a play. The story is interesting, the plot fairly intriguing as well as moving at a decent pace. In addition it touches on a real life event and people that dared to go against it and flaunt the system.

In comparison to Bruce Wayne this hero does it without loads of inventions, he just changes his appearance and use his own acting skills. In addition he is not technically getting back at any bad guys, how would he? The whole of France? A bit much for just one hero I would say. He just focuses on saving the condemned.

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#67. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (Catharina)

This is an odd story. I am not certain what it is supposed to pass on? Is it supposed to make you contemplate anything? Mostly it made me feel a little bit awkward.

The main character Gregor wakes up one morning and it turns out he has been transformed in to an insect. I am not sure why, you never get told why and I am not certain if the story is supposed to pass on some type of moral issue you should think about? It turns out though that he has supported his whole family, they have lived quite comfortably. Now he has to deal with being an insect and his whole family being disgusted by him. Although the family quickly runs out of money, they seem to blame the insect (Gregor) for their misfortune. They can’t move out of the house due to the horrible secret they’ve got hidden in a room. Meanwhile Gregor just feels bad for them.

I’m not sure if it is just supposed to pass on that people that are very nice very rarely get paid back in kind?

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# 66. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Catharina)

This is a very short book; it takes a shorter amount of time to read than watching the 2008 movie adaptation, from which you can discern that the movie has been altered substantially from the original plot. The book focus on Benjamin, who when he is born is 70 years old, which his family (especially his father) refuses to accept. He grows younger as the time goes by, much to the dismay of his family.

I felt like the plot focused a lot on the negative aspects of this. Even though there were positive sections and events the most focus seemed to be on the negative side. On how people, mostly family members, get annoyed and frustrated whit this non-conformity to normality. Or maybe I just remember those sections the most?

I suppose that in reality this happens in real life, people have a tendency to focus more on the negative aspects and remember them better than the positive ones. You should conform and be normal, if you are not the relative merits of this non-conformity is often forgotten, instead it leads to a lot of negativity from people around you. Often I think this is due to a lack of empathy or even attempt to understand why a person would act different, or even how they would feel when somebody acts this way towards them.

If you have seen the movie, I would certainly recommend you to read the book. The movie adaptation is not bad, it is different enough and pulls on other strengths enough to warrant it being its own stand alone work. I do not feel like I was cheated in the movie after reading the book, I guess they are just two different version of how a story like this could play out?

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#57: Freaky Green Eyes by Joyce Carol Oates (Katarina)

Freaky Green Eyes (2003) is one of those questionable books on this list of classics, but Joyce Carol Oates definitely belong on it. This book is classified as young adults fiction and revolves around Frankie, whose dad is a famous athlete. They live a luxurious life, but things get complicated when Frankie’s mom moves out and she is left behind to live with her father, half brother and younger sister. At first, Frankie is angry at her mother for leaving them, but then she starts to suspect that something else might be going on. Maybe she shouldn’t just listen to her father’s side of the story.

This book doesn’t just deal with a teenagers problems dealing with her parents’ separation. It also shows with great insight how tabloids and fame can cloud people’s perception of people. It also shows the power parents yield over their children and how they can use it to manipulate them.

Oates is an incredible writer and the plot unravels nicely up until the very end. When it was published, it was said to be one of the best YA novels of that year and twelve years later it still holds its own. Maybe it being a classic can be disputed now, but based on who it is written by, it belongs in the bookshelves of many generations to come.

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# 65. Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne (Catharina)

Jules Verne as usual does not disappoint. Playing on your adventurous spirit this book as usual involves a difficult, if not impossible journey. Can you go to the centre of the earth? There is and arduous journey, an eccentric uncle, great descriptions, weird and fantastic creatures and near death experiences.

As was common in the Victorian era, the main adventurous clearly have a bit of money. Otherwise they would never be able to afford to go off on a journey like this for months on end. There’s also an obscure fascination with rocks, I guess that helps if you want to go to the centre of the earth. I suppose it does not contain as many fascinating inventions as the others book do. It does capture your imagination though.

I listened to this on audio book. In a sense I think this greatly improved this book, as the main characters are supposed to be German, and the person reading the book had a very strong German accent. It made the character of the book a bit stronger.

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Filed under 61-70, Adventure Fiction, Catharina, Young Adult

# 64. The Art of War by Sun Tzu (Catharina)

This ancient Chinese book on war strategy was a surprisingly good read. I say surprisingly, because I do not have an army, I am not in charge of an army, and I do not intend to be. So why would a very old book detailing war strategy be a good read for an everyday person? I will confess that my everyday use of wisdom such as “War is bad, avoid when possible” or “If you have to get to war, do it quickly as a long war is very costly” is fairly limited. In addition I now know things about how to attack in what type of terrain, its probably not that useful. In the literally sense that is. As I said earlier, I do not have an army to command.

What I do have to navigate though, is everyday life. If you instead of reading the book as a pure war strategy book but rather as an aid to how to get through life it is vastly more interesting and useful. Unfortunately, we all have to engage in our own private wars at times. “War is bad, avoid when possible”, very true, outright war with competing colleagues, another company or even family members will certainly make my life much harder (although I suppose it might make it more entertaining at times?). I do certainly agree that if you have to get into arguments, rather then letting it fester forever it is better to get it all out in the open and put the issue at rest. In the long run it takes much less energy even though it might seem more difficult to do in the beginning.

The terrain section actually does teach you something valuable, that it is better to take a step back and sound the terrain. What is the lay of the land? If you are going to engage in a confrontation ensure you know what you are doing. What will the possible outcomes be? Is it better to just let it be as the cost incurred will be too high even if you do win? Or do you need to ensure you gain a certain vantage point and plan your where to engage your arguments to ensure maximum effect?

I certainly think the book got me to think a little bit extra. Hopefully I’ll remember the most important bits of it for a long time to come.

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#56: The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough (Katarina)

Now, when I was reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez a while back, he happened to die during that time. If it happens once, sure, it is creepy, but he is a famous author and someone was bound to be reading one of his books at that very moment. However, as I was reading The Thorn Birds (1977), Colleen McCullough died. At this point, I freaked a little bit more. What if my choice of books leads to the authors dying… I know, it sounds ridiculous, but I still thought twice about what I read next. Luckily, Joyce Carol Oates is still alive and breathing.

The Thorn Birds is a family saga that takes place mainly in rural Australia, but also in the Vatican and London. The Clearys leave a poor existence in New Zealand and move to a relative at Drogheda station in Australia, a property they later on inherit. Well, kind of at least. It ends up in the hands of the Catholic church, but they are allowed to stay and live off it as long as a Cleary is alive. The priest ordered to look after Drogheda is Ralph, who has a complicated relationship with the family, especially to Meggie.

Having loved Australia since I was 6-years-old, it is a bit surprising that I have not read this book until now. However, when i found it in a bookshelf at my parents’ house, i could not resist it. My dream was once to have a station in the Australian outback and have lots of sheep. However, even though my romanticized version of life in the Australian outback (which I am sure I share with many) is helped along with this book, I also know that it is a harsh reality for many. Even though this book depicts the life of people in the outback quite well and realistically, Drogheda is still a bubble that only exists in an imaginary world. And I am sure it has lured many people to travel Down Under to experience that life. I know it made me miss the country I saw as my home for a year. The setting gets under my skin the same way as the red dust of the land seemed to permanently stick to my shoes.

Now, this epic family saga is definitely worth a read, but back to the beginning and me possibly being responsible for the demise of two famous authors. I know it probably is not my fault, but it made me realize something. Both Marquez and McCullough left something really special behind. They wrote these incredible books that, to this day and many years forwards, will be read and loved by people of different nationalities and walks of life. They left a legacy. They may be gone, but their words are still very much alive and that is one of the wonderful things about books. They are little capsules holding a piece of the writer’s soul alive for as long as there are books and people read. So, instead of feeling like it was due to me reading their books that they died, maybe I should look at it all from a different perspective. Maybe I was with them in those last moments through the words they had strung together years before.

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Filed under 51-60, Fiction, Katarina