Thursday, August 19, 2010

For the Love of English

I was recently perusing my "Suggested Shops" on Etsy (thank you, Bittersweet Blonde, for pointing out this feature), and came across the Beanforest and the Calamity Collective shop. Their specialty is humorous buttons/magnets, including many witty English-related references. Here are some of my favorites:


And my favorite non-English related button, because it describes me so well:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Make an Appointment with Death

I just finished reading Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie (I know, big surprise there, huh?). I have to say that this story is one of my favorites top picks of her crime stories.

At the time of publication, this book received mixed reviews. Some critics cited it as being brilliant and among her best, whereas others claimed that it is lacking in plot, and too full of psychology. This last complaint is perhaps the reason why I ranked it among my top favorites, (excluding her Westmacott novels).

The story takes place in Petra, Jerusalem, which to me is neither here nor there, as the setting itself doesn't really play any essential role in the story. The first half of this book, Part I, focuses primarily on the Boynton family. It is essentially a psychological glimpse, or character sketch, of a family who is governed by a sadistic matriarch. The other members of the Boynton family, including three step-children, one daughter-in-law and one daughter, all ranging between ages 17-30, are entirely dependent on Mrs. Boynton, both financially and psychologically. They are all stuck at home under their mother's thumb; she limits their contact with the outside world and controls their every move as though she has them hypnotized. Christie's description of Mrs. Boynton as a domineering tyrant is haunting, and the torment that her children are put through is worthy of anyone's pity.

I enjoyed the first half of this book because of it's focus on the family and their influence on the people who are outside looking in, the unknown observers. The second half, however, was exactly what I would expect any of Christie's crime novels to be; it was both predictable and unexpected at the same time. Part II ran like a typical Hercule Poirot novel. The pattern, the tone, and the plot are characteristic of a Christie story. Poirot as a character is his usual egotistical, over-confident self. He pulls his clues and his solution seemingly out of nowhere, and sets up his dramatic reveal at the end as he always does. He gathers everyone in a room and goes through his process step-by-step until he finally reveals the murderer, who really has nothing to do with the speech and clues that he has just spent a hundred hours spewing out. 

After reading as many of her novels as I have, (over 40), some solutions are starting to become a little too obvious. I had a sneaking suspicion as to who the murderer would be revealed to be, but I doubted it because it seemed a little too obvious, as it was the character least likely to be the murderer. But as most of Christie's novels turn out, it often IS the least likely character.

I would recommend reading this novel only if you are bored with her regular crime stories, and enjoy the ones that delve into the psychology of the characters.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

I ♥ Agatha Christie

When I find something that I really enjoy, or take an interest in, I have the (bad?) habit of becoming completely consumed by it, basically to the point of obsession. For example, when LOST first came on television, and the real mysteries of the island started to develop, I had to read EVERYTHING  about the characters, the featured books, the hidden references etc. that I could get my hands on. I was obsessed and drove my sister nuts with all of the "outside" information that I was trying to drag into our weekly conversations dissections of each episode. And like most of my obsessions, that one slowly fizzled out with each new season, and I stopped trying to read into everything and just let the show's mysteries unfold on their own, (which sometimes they did, and sometimes they didn't). But I digress.

My current obsession is Agatha Christie, and as far as my infatuations go, this one has probably lasted the longest (with the exception of the Anne Rice-phase I went through in high school and college, and my unwavering infatuation with my fourth-grade crush). I "discovered" Agatha Christie a little over a year ago when our local library ran out of books on my "Books to Read" list. (I realize that I could have ordered them through inter-library loan, but I never remembered to do so before my weekly visits, so I just picked up whatever I could find on the shelves). I needed something to read, so I decided to read And Then There Were None again, (the one Agatha Christie book that I had read while I was in high school). I really enjoyed this story; it reminded me of an adult version of The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, which I LOVED when I was in sixth grade.

I decided to check out another "well-known" Agatha Christie book, (it was most likely Murder on the Orient Express, but I forget now exactly which one it was), and pretty soon I was hooked. I quickly worked through the selection at my own library, and started requesting them through inter-library loan. When I find an author I enjoy reading, I try to read all of his or her novels; I like to be thorough and complete with my obsessions. (Prior to this I made it through all of Jane Austen's works, minus one). That's when I discovered exactly how many pieces of work Agatha Christie has! Over 80 novels, short story collections and plays, which has not deterred me in the slightest. I have made a list of each piece of work, organized them by decade written and I am proud to say that I have made it past the halfway point! I have read at least 45 of her novels or short story collections. (Her website actually has a nifty list of her books in publication order to avoid any spoilers while reading, and of course I just discovered this ten minutes ago, AFTER I wrote up my own list months ago!)

 As a stay-at-home-mom, I need books that I can put down and pick back up two hours later without a second thought. I need to be able to continue reading a story right where I left off without having to go back and reread the whole chapter. Believe it or not, Charles Dickens does not fulfill this requirement, and I've tried several times. (I've been reading Our Mutual Friend-thanks to my obsession with LOST-for two years now). Agatha Christie, however, passes with flying colors. Although really well-written, her stories are pretty straightforward, an effortless read. All of her mysteries basically follow the same pattern, so once you have read a few, you can zip right through the rest. Despite their similarities, each story she tells sucks me right in; I have a hard time putting them down. Usually I think that I know how the story ends, that it's so obvious, but in most cases I have been wrong, with the exception of one book that I called the ending on halfway through. She must have been having an off year with that one. The surprise solutions to her mysteries oftentimes leads to a sense of disbelief, of skepticism, because they seemingly come out of nowhere. I, however, do not mind so much; the reason I'm reading her pieces is primarily for entertainment and to pass the time.

My favorite novels so far have actually been the ones written under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott, especially Unfinished Portrait and Absent in the Spring. These six novels have been dubbed "romances", but are a far cry from what we think the typical romance is these days. They are more along the lines of character studies, or psychological profiles, bittersweet stories that get right to the heart of human nature. Christie has an impeccable grasp on the psyche that motivates people's behavior, which is one of the reasons I love her writing (that and the fact that they are "quintessentially English" and I am also obsessed with all things English since my grandmother's family hails from England).

Long story short, ("Too late!"), I ♥ Agatha Christie and I am currently obsessed with reading all of her 80+ stories. Wish me luck!

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