Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Female Instinct

My father was a big fan of the James Bond movies, so I was introduced to Ian Fleming’s Agent 007 early. Probably too early for it to have had a favorable affect on my psyche. I was a bit young to have sat through the first-run theater openings of any of Sean Connery’s Bond escapades. However, I remember watching Dr. No (1962) on my family’s tiny black-and-white TV set, probably with my mother rolling her eyes in the adjacent room. (She never did appreciate Fleming’s male sex-and-espionage fantasies.) I believe the first franchise installment I went to a movie house to see was Live and Let Die (1973), which starred the suave Roger Moore and the then-seductive Jane Seymour. Since that time, however, I’ve watched all of the 007 flicks as they have been released, and gone back to watch those I missed on their initial showings.

My association with Fleming’s original novels has been less thorough. In fact, it was only a few years ago, during a travel-writing assignment to Barbados, when I ran short of reading material, that I finally picked up my first Bond book: Diamonds Are Forever. I found a paperback copy of that 1956 thriller in the library of the hotel where I was staying, along with several less interesting (at least to me) volumes by Colleen McCullough, Tom Clancy, and Jackie Collins. During my free time between dinners out and sitting beside the pool, surreptitiously glancing at bikini’d women through my extra-dark sunglasses, I devoured Diamonds, which finds 007 trying to infiltrate a gem-smuggling ring that’s bringing African riches into the United States. It was terrific escapist fare, I thought, though rather less propulsive in its storytelling than the films.

Even now, I haven’t read all of the Bond novels, just three or four. But my interest in tackling the remainder is definitely whetted by Penguin UK’s decision to re-release them all in stylish new hardcover editions on May 29. As Penguin senior copywriter Colin Brush explains in the publisher’s blog, artist Michael Gillette--Welsh born, but now living in San Francisco--“was commissioned to paint fourteen iconic covers. The books were numbered on their spines so it’s not hard to read them in order (if you’re traditionally minded). The blurbs, adapted from earlier Penguin editions, were themed around the new unified concept. Fourteen book biographies, one for each back flap, replaced the usual author biography (which is found on page one). A short extract from each book graces the back cover. They were made into demi-format hardbacks to be not so much collectible as bloody irresistible. Having worked on the Bond novels on and off for eight years--and these are the fourth set Penguin have done in that time--I can attest to their enduring appeal. And you won’t find a safari suit in sight.”

Instead, Gillette uses curvaceous women--always a standard element of the Bond yarns--as his connective design element on these new jackets. That’s not exactly an original decision; artist Robert McGinnis exploited the female form to its fullest in his promotional poster for the 1967 David Niven film version of Casino Royale, and Richie Fahey and Roseanne Serra used women in revealing situations on the covers of Penguin’s most recent paperback Bond series. But that doesn’t mean its not a good decision--it certainly is that. The resulting new hardcover series, distributed just in time for this month’s centenary of Ian Fleming’s birth, is, from what I’ve seen of its so far, remarkably handsome. Just the sort of thing any Bond lover needs for his or her bookshelves. You can see the full set here.

Oh, and if anyone’s wondering what to get me for a present, well ...

(Hat tip to The Book Design Review.)

READ MORE:The Man Behind the New Bond Girl Gallery” (GalleyCat); “Another Look at Fleming’s Centenary Editions” (K1Bond007); “Charlie Higson’s Top 10 Bond Villains” (The Guardian); “For Your Eyes Only,” by Ali Karim (The Rap Sheet); “Bond Babes Invade Berlin,” by J. Kingston Pierce (The Rap Sheet).


Randy Johnson said...

I read all the Bond books before I ever saw the first film. I know they've taken a critical savaging over the years, but for a young man coming of age, they were just the thing. They fueled many fantasies about women, being a spy able to fight, shoot, and generally handle himself, just the sort of thing a young male longed to be. But of course probably never would to that degree. It's been many years since I read one of the Fleming books and I'm sure they wouldn't hold up to a more sophisticated reading palette these days. But, you know, I don't care. I'd probably still love them.

Paul Davis said...

If you have not yet read "From Russia With Love," I strongly recommend the great thriller.

This is the best of Fleming's Bond novels, I believe, and it was also the best Bond film.

Paul Davis