Friday, October 29, 2010

More thoughts on Bond.

For most of my young life I was a chronic hero-worshiper. I have been half-heartedly trying to determine if I was excessive in this and if I am still prone to it. Naturally, my heroes these days are more diverse. But when I was young they were fairly common and shared a number of traits in that they were all strong, erudite and principled men. These days, I number my mother, my wife and my children among my heroes, as well as men and women that are very simple in their heroism in that they don't conquer worlds so much as behave with consistent kindness, love and endurance.

I've written about this in the past but when I was a teenager I was madly in love with the idea of James Bond. As I said, I wanted to be like Bond - except for the womanizing part; I wanted to be admired by women and have relationships with a woman but not prolific in my use of them the way Bond was. Maybe it's because I've been making a lot of "your 15 favorite" lists on Facebook but I thought I'd dash off a few more thoughts about what for me was an important influence and what remains a beloved literary figure.

The Bond novels are all delightful and present a more complete and complex picture of the cardboard god the movies have made him out to be. If you're only going to read one Bond novel to get a feel for these works I'd have a hard time narrowing it down. My finalists would include You Only Live Twice because it captures almost everything one loves about them - the sense of getting inside the foreign and exotic that Fleming brought so naturally to the setting, the sex, martial arts and gunplay, the bizarre (perennial bad guy Ernst Stavro Blofeld is in his element here as a reimagined Japanese warlord on a private volcanic island of poisonous flowers) and the tender (the novel's coda in the fishing village is Fleming reaching beyond pulp into artistry). I'd also have to consider On Her Majesty's Secret Service for the same reasons and the depth it brings to Bond through his association with the woman he would actually marry, Tracy (she's gunned down shortly after) and The Man With the Golden Gun because it is a tight, well characterized tough guy novel with Fleming;s gift for characterization and character background amply displayed. I'd also have to throw in From Russia, With Love for its cleverness (Fleming unfolds the tale with multiple perspectives, Bond's but also the Soviets and the femme fatale, Tatiana Romanova).

But for the movies, for my favorite, I'd settle quite comfortably on the film version of From Russia, With Love. I must have watched this on VHS a hundred times when I was a kid, always consciously (and hopelessly) copying Sean Connery's stride and attitude. I had an enormous crush on Daniella Bianchi, who played Tatiana. Most people when they pick a favorite Bond film quickly realize the Connery years were among the best and zero in on Goldfinger because it was seamless and nearly perfect as a Bond movie - and with good reason. But I'll take the ambiance and darkness of From Russia over the slickness of Goldfinger any day - I think without From Russia, With Love, there'd be no Portishead (no doubt this band also loved the Len Deighton novels and movies and more, too, but you get my point).

The Moore years were wasted ones and the years that turned the Bond movie franchise into a ridiculous mess, although my attitude toward Moore has softened - he recognized the Bond silliness for what it was and played it for laughs, appropriately; they become clever self satires in his capable hands. But the other Bond movie I liked and watched a lot as a teenager was The Living Daylights. For one brief moment there the movies looked like the novels. Everything about Timothy Dalton, Maryam D'Abo, the setting, the soundtrack (The Pretenders!!) was right.

Monday, October 25, 2010

I haven't been blogging, but I have been reading.

I suspect many of you have been anxiously wondering why I haven't updated the blog in a while. I mean, with everything going on in the world and your life, no doubt one of the priorities in your thinking has been, That guy that blogs excessively about spy novels and sports stories, what is he up to? I must know!!

A bulleted list, if you don't mind, of a few things in my stew.

-As titled, I haven't been blogging but I have certainly been reading at my usual voracious clip and in the usual genres, spy novels, adventure tales, history and sports.

-Robert Littel, the spy novelist. I'm not sold on him after Legends but I will give him another try with The Company or other work. One annoyance: why does the protagonist of Legends get recognized at every airport he goes to? Intrigued by this writer, though, great plotter, interesting characters, terrific realism; I'm not liking him as much as, say, Charles McCarrey, though.

-Steven Pressfield, Gates of Fire, which certainly would be a no brainer for a reader like me in that this historic fiction about the battle of Thermopylae is on a list of required reading for the Marines and other branches of the military, thrilled me in some ways but seemed long winded to me in others. Maybe coulda been tighter for me personally, but otherwise a very good read, very good.

-John Irving. Sadly, I put down A Prayer for Owen Meany after a hundred some pages because I just couldn't get into it, couldn't get into the characters, couldn't muster the enthusiasm for the story. This is surprising to me for a number of reasons. One, I read The World According to Garp at least twice, loved it. Also The Hotel New Hampshire. So why couldn't I get into Meany? Is it Irving's changing style in this one of his later works or is it me, as a reader? I suspect the former. Two, I was surprised at this because Meany frequently makes people's short lists of Irving's great works.

-Bo, autobio of U of M football coach Bo Schembechler co written with Mitch Albom. Great read - I'm not normally an Albom fan - and an excellent companion to another great read, John U. Bacon's co-written, with Bo, sports/business book, Bo's Lasting Lessons. Everything you want in a sports book. But, you know, as I read it's a reminder about why sports is such a great creator of literature and content. Longer post on this later but sports as a lifestyle, a past time and as literature provides a ready made context for the conflicts that drive men; men in short love to compete and sports gives them a context that's safer to do it than war. The language used by men like Bo and OSU coach Woody Hayes, on display in this book, is couched in terms of warfare, but the critical difference, obviously, is that in football when you "kill 'em," they get back up and do it again. It's safe. I'm not knocking this - I'm a fan, too - I'm just pointing it out, probably redundantly for most of you.

More to come, got to get back into the habit of regularly blogging for all seven of my loyal readers.