Why Am I Reading Bond?

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Not ‘why (you should) read Bond’, but ‘why (on earth) am I reading Bond’?

They’re as dated as you might expect. Bond is a terrible spy, mainly achieving his goals by stumbling into coincidences or being invited to work for the villain (at least once once in an admin role, of all things). Dei ex machina all over the place. The sexism and racism are indefensible, a product of another age maybe, but still appalling. So I should have a pretty solid reason for ploughing through the oeuvre, right? If only.

It’s the covers.

Vintage did a great job with these covers, IMHO – and despite what this guy sez – fulfilling their brief of emphasising the “cool and clever nature of Bond” (hmm but ok).  They work brilliantly as a set.

The designs are plain, the typography fantastically inventive – see the negative space jewel in Diamonds Are Forever or On Her Majesty’s “Secret” masked by “Service”. The influence of Saul Bass is clear.

Those covers had leapt out at me when trawling through Foyles, but I only picked up Casino Royale. But then I stumbled across For Your Eyes Only in a second-hand bookshop, and the damage was done. How could I have books 1 and 8 in a series and not fill in the gaps?

They are an easy enough read, a curious window into the post-war English psyche. They’re packed with lavish descriptions of quality clothing, food and drink. The phrase “and a round of hot buttered toast” will be uttered by Bond at least twice per book. God help me, whenever Fleming turns to driving action, I can’t help but hear the words in the golden tones of broadcaster, Alan Partridge.

The hard part is the attitudes of the time. The sexism is cast in that ancient mode of misogyny-masquerading-as-idolatry. The racism is jingoistic, imperialist, Bond looking indulgently down on black people, all Americans, and Italians alike. Fleming uses the fig leaf of tokenism, always an admirable exception, the worthy Turk who nonetheless slips willingly into sidekick-hood.

(There’s no explaining away these two issues, they do leave a bad taste in the mouth. And this shows me how far my completist nature will push me to a) complete a set and b) finish a book I’ve started. Can’t not be done.)

It’s interesting to note how different Fleming’s Bond is from the movie version, how fallible or human he is, crying with relief, getting drunk (his champagne/Benzedrine hangover seems the worst), even giving up and longing for death. To be fair, that last happens after a giant squid attack – so in *some* ways the movies are more realistic.

This is a cartoonish world where the gangsters are named Billy Ring, Jed Midnight, and “Mr Helmut Springer of the Detroit Purple Gang”. It’s baffling how little time separates these often corny tales of derring-do from the complex physiologies and intricate, all-too-plausible plotting of early Le Carré.

Anyways, gotta go, Penguin just dropped a dope set of classic sci-fi covers

The Surmountable To-Read List

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Nearly all read.

How many books do you have lying around, waiting patiently to be read? Those once-exciting, -intriguing, or at least -mildly interesting titles that for a brief moment in time, convinced you that you had to own (and then read) them.

I like to think I’m reasonably conscientious about clearing my backlog, but over the years there are plenty of books that have fallen through the cracks.

Some of these have been with me for DECADES. The James Joyce bio was picked up second-hand at college, probably 1994/5. DeLillo’s Libra, too, was second-hand, also pre-millenium. Perhaps the new purchases nag to be read that bit louder: “Read me before my edges fade to piss-yellow!”

It’s baffling that some of these have gone unread for so long. The George Saunders collection, for one. I know it’s going to be fantastically entertaining and thought-provoking, and yet it’s sat on the shelf since Christmas. I could play the “busy being primary caregiver to a 1-year old” card, but then it also took me W-A-Y too long to even get my hands on my own copy. By that point I’d already I’d gifted it twice for birthdays.

On the other hand, Will Hutton’s Them and Us is steadily becoming less relevant, and deep in the fug of post-Brexit-clusterfuck malaise, I have a steadily decreasing desire to crack open that one. Still, I can’t admit to myself that I’ll leave it unread… forever.

So can I get through these before I buy more books? The number of hardbacks in the list suggests not. That’s just practicalities. With the one-year old still sleeping in our room, reading lights have to be angled just so not to disturb her oh so precious (to us) sleep.

  • Yes Please – Amy Poehler
  • Them and Us: Changing Britain – Why We Need a Fair Society – Will Hutton
  • All Day Long: a Portrait of Britain at Work – Joanna Biggs
  • Libra – Don DeLillo
  • James Joyce: the Years of Growth 1882-1915 – Peter Costello
  • Beyond Belief – VS Naipaul
  • Moorish Spain – Richard Fletcher
  • For Richer For Poorer -Victoria Coren
  • The Psychopath Test – Jon Ronson
  • The Corner – David Simon & Ed Burns
  • On Inequality and On Bullshit – Henry G Frankfurt
  • The Emperor – Ryszard Kapuściński
  • This Changes Everything – Naomi Klein
  • The Grownup – Gillian Flynn
  • Live and Let Die, Moonraker, Goldfinger, Thunderball, The Spy Who Loved Me, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, You Only Live Twice, The Man with the Golden Gun and Octopussy and The Living Daylights – Ian Fleming
  • Beowulf – Seamus Heaney
  • The Patrick Melrose Novels – Edward St Aubyn
  • Tenth of December – George Saunders
  • Mr Blue – Edward Bunker
  • Purity – Jonathan Franzen
  • Underground – Haruki Murakami
  • How Should a Person Be – Sheila Heti

*LAST UPDATED 9th December 2016*