Features

A Love of Reading

Poirot Reading
Illustration by Bob Al-Greene from the 2023 graphic novel adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express

What comes to mind when you think of Agatha Christie? Perhaps you think of an author, a playwright or maybe some of her most famous characters spring to mind. Either way, we can all agree that Christie was an incredible storyteller and so it comes as no surprise that she also had an affinity for reading (which I'm sure many people here can understand). Her love of books began at a very early age when her Grannie started gifting her fairy stories for birthdays and Christmases.

The Yellow Fairy Book, The Blue Fairy Book, and so on. I loved them all and read them again and again. Then there was a collection of animal stories, also by Andrew Lang, including one about Androcles and the Lion. I loved that too.
Agatha Christie, An Autobiography

She delighted in reading these stories over and over but her favourite book as a child was Four Winds Farm by Mrs Molesworth. However, upon rereading it as an adult Christie said she simply couldn't understand what drew her to it. Regardless of why she had such a love for this book it was clear that a life-long passion for storytelling began in early childhood.

Not yet five, but the world of story books was open to me. From then on, for Christmas and birthdays I demanded books.
Agatha Christie, An Autobiography

Despite this, Christie's mother Clara didn't want her learning to read until she was eight years old. Not that this stopped Christie; something drew her to stories and by the age of five she had taught herself to read.

Reading story-books was considered slightly too pleasurable to be really virtuous. No story-books until after lunch. In the mornings you were supposed to find something ‘useful’ to do. Even to this day, if I sit down and read a novel after breakfast I have a feeling of guilt.
Agatha Christie, An Autobiography
Neg 818 Christie Reading in France
Agatha at Cauterets, France, 1924 © The Christie Archive Trust

Christie's love of reading translated to the page, as many of her characters could often be found enjoying some light escapism in the form of a novel too.

Well, I have read every detective novel that has been published in the last ten years.
Tuppence, 'A Pot of Tea'

Not only is Tuppence a keen reader of mysteries, Christie used the Beresfords as a means of exploring the authors she admired from that time period. Partners in Crime is a collection of short stories, each parodying a different famous detective or author, including Sherlock Holmes, Dorothy L. Sawyer, and even Hercule Poirot himself!

The Hound of the Baskervilles. I wouldn't mind reading that again some time.
Tuppence, 'The Affair of the Pink Pearl'

A love of reading is also explored in some of her most famous titles such as Murder on the Orient Express. In the passage below two characters are engaged in a conversation about the novels they are currently reading.

‘And what, may I ask, are you reading?’ he inquired. ‘At present, sir, I am reading Love’s Captive, by Mrs Arabella Richardson.’ ‘A good story?’ ‘I find it highly enjoyable, sir.’
Masterman (to Hercule Poirot), Murder on the Orient Express

Though perhaps not mentioned as frequently as some of his other traits such as his love of symmetry and aversion to disorder, Poirot does enjoy indulging in a spot of reading from time to time. This particular hobby of his was brought to life in the graphic novel of Murder on the Orient Express, adapted and illustrated by Bob Al-Greene.

I, too, enjoy a good story.
Hercule Poirot, Murder on the Orient Express: The Graphic Novel

As we've come to know with Poirot, order and method are always at the forefront of his mind, and that includes the way in which he organises his books. There are a couple of occasions where he can be found insisting that his good friend Hastings is rearranging books in a less than suitable way...

Let us not confuse the mind. And observe that Peerage—how you have replaced him! See you not that the tallest books go in the top shelf, the next tallest in the row beneath, and so on. Thus we have order, method, which, as I have often told you, Hastings— “Exactly,” I said hastily, and put the offending volume in its proper place.
Hercule Poirot (to Hastings), 'The Adventure of the Western Star'

But when he is not being disciplined by Poirot for his somewhat chaotic organisation of bookshelves, Hastings too, can be found indulging in a good story.

I remembered having seen an old edition of Shakespeare there. Yes, here it was. I looked through Othello.
Captain Hastings, Curtain: Poirot's Final Case

Ariadne Oliver, another character who accompanies Hercule Poirot on several cases is often described as Christie's fictional alter ego. It comes as no surprise then that Ariadne, as well as being a successful writer of detective fiction, also enjoys getting lost within the pages of a compelling novel.

One does read all sorts of things in books.
Ariadne Oliver, Elephants Can Remember

We also asked the cast of the BBC TV adaptation of Murder is Easy which book they felt their characters would read. Find out what they all said in the video below.

Can you remember what started your love of reading? Do share your memories with us via our social media channels.

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