Judging A Book By Its Cover/Book Review: DK’s New Bond Set
The holidays are just around the corner (if you can believe it), and while we may not have a new James Bond movie to look forward to this year, that still means some new merchandising from DK. The publisher has made the most of its Bond license, publishing not only specific movie tie-ins like Bond On Set: Filming Quantum of Solace (review here) and Bond On Set: Filming Casino Royale, but also staggering those with a new James Bond Encyclopedia (review here), which has already been revised once, and frequent updates of their trusty warhorse James Bond: The Secret World of 007 (review here), which is certainly the best first book on 007 for young Bond fans today. (It also appeals to those of us older fans who never matured much beyond 11 and still get a kick out of cutaway drawings of gadget-stocked vehicles). Their latest offering is physically (if not content-wise) the most ambitious yet: a set of four matching hardcover volumes, each exploring a different aspect of 007's mystique: Bond Cars and Vehicles, Bond Girls, Bond Villains and The Book of Bond, the latter (not to be confused with Kingsley Amis’ must-have tome of the same name) focusing on the famous secret agent himself. Bond Girls and Bond Villains both hit bookstores last week.
from time to time to flout the storied axiom and judge books by their covers. To me, not only what it looks like, but how a book feels and even smells often provides as much pleasure as actually reading it. (Clearly, I will never abandon my tangible library even as literature at large becomes reduced to ephemeral bytes on a Kindle or iPad.) Yet I do generally keep these physical book reviews separate from the ones in which I evaluate books' contents. With DK that’s almost impossible. The presentation is the point. How the page looks is at least as important and (clearly in this case) often even more important than the words that are printed on it. Therefore, I will combine my traditional book review with my “Judging A Book By Its Cover” review, and address both aspects at once.
an entire, fantastic volume to just one particularly famous Bond car (and another to all of them, but only in miniature form!), but no one has yet written about all the marvelous Bond cars together. I was hoping this would be it. Sadly, it’s not. You will learn nothing new about your favorite Aston Martin or Lotus, and in fact you won’t even see them all covered. (GoldenEye’s BMW Z3 is a shocking omission in a book called Bond Cars and Vehicles!) You won’t even get any of DK’s famous cross-sections. (I had imagined the book would be mostly comprised of those!) Instead, you get lots of photographs, accompanied by rudimentary text (“A slap with his machine pistol–and boom!–one dead henchman and another Bond car totaled. Would Q regret fitting that burglar protection system in Bond’s Lotus?”). They are, however, very pretty photos, and I must admit I’ve bought other books and magazines before simply for pretty photographs of Aston Martins. And while most of them looked familiar, a few pictures were even new to me. Where else can you see a lovely two-page spread of Mr. Big’s pimped-out ‘71 Cadillac Fleetwood 60 Special by Dunham, parked in front of Harlem’s Fillet of Soul restaurant? (Of course, the car frustratingly isn’t identified, but it’s still a very nice picture. Once again: presentation without information.) The all-photo format keeps this volume of a piece with its companions, but I sincerely hope that DK will one day revisit this subject with more of the childlike glee usually on display in their books, focusing on cool cutaways and schematics–and the makes and models of every vehicle pictured.
The Book of Bond is even less essential on its own. The text (credited to Alistair Dougall) is kind of odd: it’s written like a children’s book (“A shock was waiting for Bond before he left for Nassau to investigate Strangways’ fate. M announced that instead of the Beretta Bond had used for ten years, he would be taking another gun, a Walther PPK.”), like one of those old Bond annuals from the Sixties, or the A View To A Kill storybook, but it’s not a narrative. From a narrative standpoint, it glosses over crucial turning points, like the murder of Tracy. The chapter on OHMSS concludes its recap with, “M, Q and Miss Moneypenny wished the happy couple good luck and Mr. and Mrs. James Bond truly believed that they had all the time in the world.” Accompanying that Disney ending is a full-page picture of the smiling bride and groom. There’s no mention of what happens next, just vague foreshadowing. Yet the omission isn’t to spare younger readers the shock. No, that comes bluntly on the next page with, “Bond avenges Tracy’s murder by drowning Blofeld in a pool of mud in a Cairo clinic.” What murder? If you don’t know, you’ll be confused, and if you do then there’s really no reason for you to read this recap. The loose narrative depends on the reader having a knowledge of what happens in the movies. It’s kind of like the narrative you get on the back of trading cards. This sort of narrative might have had a place back in the Sixties and Seventies before home video, but now every kid who likes the movies enough to own this sort of book probably has them all on DVD and can watch for himself.
Bond Villains is, like its companions, a picture book, but it’s a picture book on a subject for which we haven’t had one before.
Bond Girls, as 007's women have already been the subject of The James Bond Girls by Graham Rye (mostly pictures, like this one), The Bond Women: 007 Style by Tim Greaves (all text, and very informative text at that, making up for what it lacks in its picture-free presentation) and Bond Girls Are Forever by Maryam D’Abo and John Cork, which offered the best of both worlds, combining the pretty pictures of the former book with informative text of the latter in a beautiful oversize volume. But DK’s book on the subject still manages to bring its own spin to the material. Of all the aspects of the James Bond movies, the Bond Girls are probably the most suited to this sort of photo book. The layout is once more superb, and serves these beautiful actresses to their fullest advantage. Four whole pages are devoted to Ursula Andress in her bikini, and why shouldn’t they be? They’re all fantastic images. And just check out that title spread of Daniella Bianchi: