In breaks between assignments, and leaving aside for a moment his favourite newspaper, what books does James Bond prefer to read? This is one of the fascinating questions posed in a recent article in the Sunday Times (13 September), when the newspaper was able to speak to a second-hand and antiquarian book dealer who was given the job of stacking 007’s shelves in his flat (which will be seen at one point in SPECTRE).
The Sunday Times spoke to Stephen Foster, who runs a small second-hand bookshop in Chiswick, located in the leafy suburbs of West London, and who has helped choose various volumes for the bookshelves seen in a number of major Hollywood movies. This has included the 007 franchise. Forster chose the books for M’s flat in Skyfall, for example, and he was asked by the art director on SPECTRE to also help choose the books seen briefly in James Bond’s flat in the new 007 adventure (a key scene involves Miss Moneypenny visiting Bond in his flat and handing him a certain item salvaged from the ruins of Bond’s ancestral home in Scotland, destroyed in the climax to Skyfall).
Foster was apparently asked by the art director on the latest 007 movie to include works by Patrick Leigh Fermor because he had written books about the West Indies, a location so beloved by Bond author Ian Fleming, and also – intriguingly – because Fermor had served in the wartime Special Operations Executive (SOE).
Another author chosen was John Arlott, because Fleming went to school with his uncle. A Philip Marlowe adventure will also appear on Bond’s shelves, because Marlowe was mentioned in Fleming’s book Goldfinger, when Bond purchases ‘the latest Raymond Chandler’.
Similarly, as they are mentioned by Fleming, works by Eric Ambler – who is often seen as one of the fathers of the modern espionage novel and was a dining companion to Fleming – will also appear, while some books about luxury watches and Aston Martin cars will also play to Bond’s familiar tastes.
According to the Sunday Times, depending on how SPECTRE is edited, cinema audiences might also catch a glimpse of The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides by James Boswell and the histories of some Scottish regiments. Foster told the newspaper: ‘I had to give some real thought to who this man is and what books he would have’.
We know that one book will definitely make an appearance: Birds of the West Indies, by the ornithologist James Bond. The book, which was also glimpsed in Die Another Day (2002), was seen in one of the official SPECTRE clapperboards. As many Bond fans know, Fleming ‘appropriated’ the name from one of his favourite books when he began writing his espionage thrillers. At one stage Fleming was even visited by the real-life James Bond and his wife, who remained rather bemused about what had become of his name.
Did You Know?
A careful reading of the original Ian Fleming James Bond novels can provide a number of clues about 007’s reading habits. Apart from the newspaper The Times (‘the only paper Bond ever read’), James Bond apparently had a sitting room lined with books.
We are told that Bond had read John F. Kennedy’s Profiles of Courage, some Raymond Chandler stories, some Eric Ambler thrillers, The Traveller’s Tree: A Journey Through the Caribbean Islands by Patrick Leigh Fermor, plus some technical manuals on golf and card-playing.
Ian Fleming himself was a devoted book collector, and he also purchased the famous but ailing magazine The Book Collector, saving it from going out of business.