There is something immensely pleasurable about winter evenings and comfort reading. I should be working through the pile of “hard” books that tether untidly next to my bed, but instead, I find myself reading for perhaps the 5th or 6th time one of the many Agatha Christie paperbacks that have their own shelf ( the rather nice 60s Fontana editions, with the good illustrations, if anyone is interested) in my sitting room.
Agatha Christie was my first foray into “proper” books, books that were read by adults and kept in the main library, not the children’s room.
In an era when teen fiction simply didn’t exist, Agatha Christie or more accurately the borrowing of them from my local library, was a rite of passage.
At 12 or 13, the librarian, and this was long before the days of Interactive learning zones, multi media or libraries in shopping centres, would decide that you were old enough, sensible enough to be unleashed into the adult section and Agatha Christies were the books we were gently but firmly pointed towards.
I knew of course that there were other adult books, books i had heard of, wanted desperately to read, but I knew better than to even consider trying to borrow them from my local red brick Carnegie library.
Although I can remember the dizzy joy of discovering copies of The Joy of Sex, The Diceman and Memoirs of a Borstal Boy by Brendan Behan under my mothers’ bed, my weekly library loaning, in that Saturday gap between confession and helping my mother with the big weekly shop, mostly consisted of Agatha Christie and Norah Lofts (just for the racey bits)
I read them all, was bored by the ones that included any archeology, puzzled by the Tommy and Tuppence Beresford series, enjoyed the Hercule Poirots and was actually scared in at least Miss Marple novel.
Agatha Christe novels had everything I needed at age 12 or 13. They could be read in one evening and in the days when families had one television and the television had 3 channels and bedrooms where places we went to sleep, not to live parallel teenage lives, a book that could occupy a whole evening was a treasure.
Agatha Christie’s characters lived in a world I knew nothing about, but recognised even as a suburban teenager that they belonged to quite another time, but was happy to drift along in her world while in the real world, I was drifting too.
Her books were safe, yes, there was some mention of romance,but fat, awkward and convent schooled, there was nothing to make me feel anxious, uncomfortable.
For the nights when I wanted to push myself, pretend a level of sophistication,there was always the books underneath my mothers’ bed.
I have of course read and re-read these books over the years, most often in rented holiday cottages, piled up amidst the Jackie Collins, the Andy Mcnabs and the current must read amongst the sort of people who rent cottages in Norfolk or remote parts of Wales, one year we found 6 copies of Captain Corellis mandolin in 2 different locations.
Secretly, I always hoped for at least one truly wet day, a day when even the most optomistic could not look out of the window and suggest it might clear up later.
Then, with a clear conscience, I could take myself to a sofa and bury myself in small village crime.
So, last night I re-read Agatha Christie, chewed chocolate covered toffees and remembered my 13 year old self.