Sunday 7 November 2010

James Bond's library

If we want to live the James Bond lifestyle, then we could go skiing, drive Bentleys, consume foie gras, drink champagne, and wrestle a giant squid. Or we could read the books on Bond's bookshelf.

Kingsley Amis (writing as Bill Tanner) thought that Bond's bookcase was sparse. Bond was not a great reader. This assessment seems a little harsh. Why should Fleming include a catalogue of Bond's bookcase in the novels? And we surely do not expect Bond's adventures to involve trips to the library or descriptions of Bond getting through a couple of chapters each night before lights out. If Ian Fleming wrote a novel about Bond resting between missions, then we might have seen a different side of Bond – reclining in the armchair, feet resting on the pouffe, engrossed in the latest blockbuster.

But from the few references we do gain from the novels, we know that Bond did have a varied library. Bond liked a good thriller. He read Eric Ambler's The Mask of Demetrios on the plane to Turkey, and turned to the hard-boiled detective stories of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlow and Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. Bond read key sporting manuals – Ben Hogan’s Modern Fundamentals of Golf, Tony Armour’s How to Play Your Best Golf All the Time, and Scarne on Cards. Politics are covered by JFK’s Profiles in Courage and Allen Dulles’ The Craft of Intelligence. For travel, Bond reads, Patrick Leigh Fermor’s The Traveller’s Tree (although this was on M’s recommendation). Bond’s copy of The Bible Designed to be Read as Literature may have provided Bond with spiritual comfort, but really it was simply a place to hide his gun.

Inevitably, James Bond’s choice in books mirrors that of Fleming’s. Some of the titles were undoubtedly shared, and it is a fair assumption that Fleming had read all the books he gave to Bond. He had certainly read The Traveller’s Tree. Fleming quoted extensively from it in Live and Let Die and, in a footnote, regarded it as one of the great travel books. We know that Fleming had read Philip Marlowe’s adventures, because Fleming admitted that the style of Raymond Chandler’s thrillers influenced his own.

Fleming also had a copy of The Craft of Intelligence; Allen Dulles sent him a draft. By referring to Profiles in Courage, Fleming was able to return the compliment that Kennedy gave Fleming when the president put From Russia with Love at number nine in the list of his ten favourite books. Fleming was a keen golfer (obvious from the battle of golf between Bond and Goldfinger) and we would expect Fleming to be up on the latest manuals.

It may seem asinine to say that Ian Fleming was well acquainted with the books that Bond reads, but there is an important point. If Fleming used books to create character, then the character was Fleming himself

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