Tuesday, September 10, 2013

In Which, Thank Heavens, You Can't Tell a Book By Its Cover

Agatha Christie in the Middle East
Photo source: The British Museum
In preparation for my research paper on Ladies in the Field, female archaeologists of the Victorian era (here), I began reading Come, Tell Me How You Live by Agatha Christie.

It was published in 1946 and recounts the adventures with her husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan, in Syria and Iraq in the 1930s.

Although I have read many of Christie's mysteries, my knowledge of her life is spotty at best, so I am getting to know her a bit.

I am surprised at how funny the writing is and am so enjoying it. Ms. Christie, although not formally educated in archaeology, nevertheless is fascinated with the findings at the digs - pots, jewelry, and sometimes bones - long buried in the sand. She helps out by cleaning pieces in between murdering characters on the page at her typewriter.

It is written more in the form of a journal and the immediacy of that style is very appealing. There is more about the people and the culture and the mishaps than any sort of long-ago history of the places they stay. It is quite an eye-opening account into the area and I can't imagine putting myself in the middle of the desert with its many hardships - which she seems to take very well...most of the time. She does reach her limit with mice, though.

My big complaint is that the physical book is absolute junk. The text looks as if the publisher (William Morrow) simply photocopied the pages in an original edition and printed them. The words are fuzzy on the page. There are some black and white photographs included and they are pretty much just a blur. Not at all helpful.

The paper itself is so soft and woody that my pencil pushes through it when I underline or mark any place names or particular descriptions for my research. (That is another thing - I hate marking in books but I see no way around it this time!)

The cover is of that smooshy sort - soft and flimsy. It is creepy to hold it feels so, well, smooshy.

I am very disappointed in the quality of the edition. The cost of the book should have been four dollars instead of fourteen!

Shame on you William Morrow.


  1. I had no idea Christie was so into Archaeology. Very cool fact about a great mystery writer.

    1. She was quite adventurous! I don't know that I could have put up with the sand and the bugs and the poor food that went along with the digs!

  2. I've read this book (though a while ago) and found it fascinating. (Her full autobiography is interesting, too, probably because she herself was interesting.) It's frustrating to have to cope with a poor edition, though--I feel for you. Interesting subject you're writing your paper about.

    1. Now that I am reading this, Kathy, I am tempted to tackle her 600-page autobiography...maybe! I see that William Morrow is the publisher of the 2012 paperback reprint. I certainly won't be buying that! Maybe I can find a nice used hardcover edition somewhere or else download it to my Kindle.

  3. Her autobiography is excellent - although she is not as kiss-and-tell as modern readers might prefer (I quite like her reticence - after all, it is her story).

    1. Thanks for the recommendation, Vicki. Kiss-and-tell is not for me so lack of it gives me even more incentive to read the book!