Friday, 24 March 2017

The Book Collector - the Ian Fleming special

Ian Fleming was something of a polymath. He is of course most famous for the creation of James Bond, but he had other passions. One of these was books. Apart from being a voracious reader, Fleming expressed his bibliophilia by taking ownership of, and relaunching, the journal The Book Collector in 1952, and in 1935 instructing his friend Percy Muir to build a collection of volumes 'that had started something' in science, philosophy, medicine, technology, sport and so on. Appropriately, this lesser known aspect of Ian Fleming's life is celebrated in the latest number of The Book Collector.
 
The Book Collector, Spring 2017
This special edition is a treasure trove of Fleming facts, many of which will be unknown or only vaguely appreciated by even the keenest of Fleming or Bond fans. Readers are, for example, treated to a comprehensive account by Fergus Fleming of Ian Fleming's involvement in The Book Collector. The author reveals that Ian Fleming was more than a silent partner, taking an active interest in commissioning material for the journal and drumming up sales, and having an occasional hand in editing too.

In an article by Joel Silver, we learn how Fleming's collection of books 'that had started something' was assembled. Fleming's somewhat mercenary attitude to the collection (buy low with a view to selling high sometime in the future) may have disappointed Percy Muir, but Fleming knew his stuff. The collection, now residing in the Lilly Library of Indiana University, has become one of the most celebrated and valuable collections in the world.

Several aspects within the volume particularly caught my eye. One is a letter, described in Joel Silver's article, written by Ian Fleming to David Randall, librarian of the Lilly Library, in 1956. In response to Randall's invitation to Fleming to visit him in America, Fleming wrote that there was no hope of a visit, and besides which, there was nothing left to eat in New York except oyster stew at Grand Central station. Fleming's view of the culinary attractions of New York was evidently unswerving. He repeated it in his book Thrilling Cities (1963, written in 1959), and had Bond express the same view in the short story, '007 in New York'.

Something else that intrigued me concerned Fleming's manuscripts of the Bond novels. Today, there's no question of their enormous value, both financially and culturally, but back in 1956, this wasn't so obvious. In his correspondence with Percy Muir about the Lilly Library acquiring Fleming's book collection, also described in Silver's article, David Randall admitted that he was 'infinitely more interested in Fleming's library' than he was in Fleming's manuscripts. In a subsequent letter, he suggested that the manuscripts were a gamble: James Bond is 'no Sherlock Holmes', he suggested, though, he conceded, Bond 'may outlive his era'.

John Cork's article about how the James Bond books became best-sellers in the United States is no less fascinating. What surprised me was that, contrary to popular opinion, John F Kennedy's list of his favourite books, published in Life magazine in 1961 and including From Russia, with Love, didn't massively increase sales of the Bond books. Sales in fact remained sluggish, but only rocketed some months later with the combination, Cork suggests, of three factors, among them an interview on CBS with Ian Fleming on the U2 pilot Gary Powers.

There are excellent articles on the Queen Anne Press, the novels of Robert Harling, and the 'Printing and the Mind of Men' exhibition in 1963. In addition, an article by Jon Gilbert offers an insight into the history of the collectability of the James Bond books, while Mirjam M Foot's analysis of the cover artwork for You Only Live Twice reminds us of the important contribution Richard Chopping made to the success of the Bond books. (Am I alone in thinking it very curious that two of Richard Chopping's novels, The Fly (1965) and The Ring (1967), mentioned in passing in the article, share their titles with famous genre-spawning horror films?)

In short, this special edition of The Book Collector is essential reading for aficionados of Ian Fleming and James Bond. If there are any copies left (the print-run was limited), go to The Book Collector website and order one now!

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