Also my birthday month.
Agatha Christie, Queen of Mystery, and the most widely read author in the world besides God and Shakespeare. To be fair, I haven’t always enjoyed her work. It took me a lot of false starts when I was younger to really get into her style of writing, coming off the back of a childhood reading Enid Blyton’s calibre of mystery, Christie was just too incomprehensible. Today, of course, I pick up her books over and over again, always enjoying the puzzle, and in the latest rereading appreciating her humour that I had never previously realized existed.
I often wonder, if I have to hook someone into Agatha Christie, what is the first book that I would recommend to them? It’s the Doctor Who Dilemma if you will. I would never subject the uninitiated to the first season of Doctor Who, so I always recommend starting with Blink since Sally Sparrow is the perfect character to help a new watcher understand who The Doctor is, the complexity of Time, the magic of Space, the coolness of The Tardis, and of course, the best villains in Who: The Weeping Angels. Once there, I usually recommend skipping ahead to the Eleventh Doctor (Series 5, Episode 1) for the amazing River Song arc of course with an optional viewing of Silence In the Library along the way.
For Christie, the same principle applies, you want to get a taste of how good it can get without reading the best or the worst as the very first book. I still haven’t figured it out, though I would keep my personal favourites Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None for later so that their denouements can be most impactful (it’s how one doesn’t watch A Good Man Goes To War or The Angels Take Manhattan before getting familiar with The Doctor).
The brief interlude from my Christie-binge was Hemingway. Yeah, I don’t know what’s wrong with me either. The Sun Also Rises is a classic and like all classics, seems much more polarizing than most modern books. Some people hate it, “it’s so boring!” and others love it, “it changed my life!” I… waffled. At some point I thought I was bored, but I couldn’t stop reading, at other points I thought I was swept up in wanderlust, but I couldn’t get over the descriptions of Robert Cohn (how Jewish is he?!) and Brett Ashley (what an intimidating creature a sexually independent woman is!). The best I can say about Hemingway is that I’m conflicted. He reminded me of my mixed feelings with The Sirens of Titan, a legendary writer, but also a product of his time some of whose prejudices haven’t aged well. I always wonder – does that mean we should stop reading these books? And I answer myself, no, we shouldn’t, but it does seem extremely important to consider other books by historically under-appreciated authors to the fore and consider them our classics too.
After being entrenched in fantastically written but obviously biased twentienth century American and British authors, I think next month needs to be more international.