Ex Libris Online: YA Series for Summer Reading

By Margaret Clay

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It is hard to believe that summer is already beginning to wind down when it seems like Memorial Day was only yesterday. Somehow, there is no slowing down the rapid depletion of these slow days. However, the long dog-days of schedule-less freedom are numbered, and that means limited time to finish summer reading logs. Thankfully, if there are still numerous slots to be filled, Young Adult novel series can be a fast and fun way to knock out multiple books while continuing a story that already engages your child. Who knows, you might even add some of these to your own summer reading log!

You may have read about the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series in the June issue, and if those books connected with your child, good news — Rick Riordan’s YA writing is prolific as he has created many other mythology series for voracious young readers. Two of these series expose children to two other major cultural traditions — Egyptian mythology and Norse mythology.

The Kane Chronicles

Like Percy Jackson, the protagonists of “The Kane Chronicles” (siblings Carter and Sadie Kane) alternatively narrate their tale of discovering their divine heritage. Descended from the two pharaohs Narmer and Ramses the Great, these siblings discover that they are powerful magicians who must contend with the Egyptian gods and goddesses, who still interact with the real world despite most people’s oblivion of them. These books sport Riordan’s typical fast-paced, action-driven plot that will keep young readers on the edges of their seats … all while receiving a lesson on Egyptian mythology. Once the trilogy is finished, fans have the delightful opportunity to read Demigods and Magicians — a series of short stories where the worlds of Ancient Greece and Egypt collide when the Kanes meet “Percy Jackson” protagonists Percy and Annabeth. These magic-wielding teens find they must team up in order to defeat an ancient enemy who is mixing Greek and Egyptian magic to ultimately rule the world.

As a middle school teacher, Riordan was inspired to write this series after completing “Percy Jackson” and discovering that the only subject in ancient history that his students enjoyed more than Ancient Greece was Ancient Egypt.

By these books here.

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard

In the trilogy “Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard,” the titular hero is actually cousins with Annabeth Chase of “Percy Jackson,” thus linking the two series together. In the first book, Magnus discovers that he is the son of the Norse fertility god Frey and is immediately confronted by a fire giant named Surt, who plans to hasten the end of the world by freeing the Fenris Wolf. Magnus must enlist the help of a valkyrie, a dwarf named Blitz, and an elf named Hearth to attempt to foil the giant.

Norse mythology was a major influence in J. R. R. Tolkien’s creation of Middle Earth, and LOTR fans will enjoy a deeper acquaintance with the original folklore that inspired that beloved series. The third and final book in Riordan’s newest trilogy will release this fall.

By these books here.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

For the sci-fi lover in your household, have you discovered Douglas Adams’ “trilogy in five parts,” The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? The wit in these books is classically British — dry and somewhat sophisticated while playing with the ludicrous — making this series probably best suited for a slightly older child who appreciates this droll type of humor. Arthur Dent finds himself to be the last surviving man from Earth (following the demolition of the planet by a Vogon constructor fleet to make way for a hyperspace bypass) when he is rescued at the moment of destruction by his friend Ford Prefect, who turns out not to be a human at all. Ford is an alien writer for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and has been researching the planet Earth for the guide for a number of years. Arthur goes on to explore the galaxy with Ford and learns information such as that the planet Earth was just one big experiment set up by lab rats to study humans, how to use a Babel Fish to interpret other galaxy languages, and the ins and outs of Vogon poetry.

The story combines science fiction with the finest tradition of English humor and was originally broadcast as a radio comedy on the BBC in 1978. Its popularity led to later adaptations into novels, comic books, stage shows, a 1981 TV series, a 1984 computer game, and finally a movie in 2005. The Folio Society has published all five books in their usual fine quality, illustrated by Jonathan Burton.

Buy these books here. 

The Borrowers

For the younger reader, he or she can still enjoy British fantasy storytelling in a more traditional manner with “The Borrowers” series. Have you ever wondered what exactly happens to all the safety pins? Factories keep on manufacturing them, yet there is never one handy when most needed. These five books chronicle the adventures of one small family of “borrowers” — little people who live within the walls and beneath the floors and who “borrow” anything within their grasp. They are a very inventive people as they must cleverly construct human homes and lives for themselves using the over-sized goods that people leave lying about.

The big adventures in which these little people continually find themselves are enthralling, and readers will become enamored with Pod, Homily and young Arrietty… and with the rare few children who are lucky enough to make their acquaintance.

By these books here.

 

Ex Libris Online: The Odyssey

Suggestions for Summer Reading

Review: The Odyssey by Homer

Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that man skilled in all ways of contending,
the wanderer, harried for years on end,
after he plundered the stronghold
on the proud height of Troy.

He saw the townlands
and learned the minds of many distant men,
and weathered many bitter nights and days
in his deep heart at sea, while he fought only
to save his life, to bring his shipmates home…

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The second oldest piece of surviving Western literature, Homer’s Odyssey exemplifies the timeless power of the written word. Within it lie the seeds of the traditions, atmosphere, and style in today’s literature and art. Its influence on both historic and modern culture in the West cannot be overestimated, with its monstrous creatures living on in a variety of modern guises.

While most people study The Odyssey in high school, I happened to miss it as I changed my allegiance as a Highlander to a Skyhawk; Heathwood scheduled for the 9th grade curriculum while Hammond planned it for the 8th grade. A couple of years ago, I decided to remedy this deficiency and, considering the original poem was composed and preserved in the oral tradition and was thus originally intended to be heard rather than read, I bought a copy on Audible in preparation for a long trip. The rhythm of poetry and the beauty of the descriptions swept me far away to the foreign lands of Ancient Greece, yet the plot was surprisingly relevant. This year, I returned to this classic for a more modern, conventional experience and obtained a physical copy of the text. This Folio Society edition did not disappoint!

Zeus about to loose a lightening bolt at Odysseus’ ship.

Through Robert Fagles’s lyrical translation and Grahame Baker-Smith’s stirring images, I was again enraptured as Odysseus, king of the island of Ithaca, struggled against the monumental supernatural forces to return home to his family. While most people have not faced a succession of fantastical monsters and hazards – from the Lotus Eaters to the Cyclops, the Sirens, and the fearsome crags of Scylla and Charybdis – many can relate to the passionate need to return home and reunite with family against all obstacles … whether separated by war, jobs, or other individual circumstances. Bernard Knox’s introduction to this edition discussing the history, the language, and the nature of Odysseus as a hero was fascinating, and the index in the back listing all the characters was a very handy reference for keeping all the Greek names straight.

Odysseus tied to the mast as the sirens sing.

If you have read Ex Libris in the current June issue on “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” reading The Odyssey is also a wonderful way to follow up with your children on the actual myths surrounding many of the characters in the novel series.

A seminal classical text, The Odyssey certainly remains as essential and as entertaining as it ever was, with Odysseus standing as a refreshingly complex figure, full of cunning and pride.

 

As Memorial Day passes by this week, heralding summer’s official launch, I highly recommend returning to this ancient classic, or experiencing it for the first time, as the perfect commencement to summer reading.

Buy this book here.

Ex Libris Online: Chinese Fairy Tales & Fantasies

SUGGESTIONS FOR SUMMER READING

Review: Chinese Fairy Tales & Fantasies 

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In honor of summer reading, we will again this year be focusing our book reviews on fiction, for both children and adults, during these upcoming months. A book that I recently enjoyed with potential for any age group is The Folio Society’s beautifully illustrated edition of Chinese Fairy Tales & Fantasies.

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Illustrated by Victo Ngai

My younger sister, Helen, was obsessed with mythology and fairy tales as a child … especially those from foreign lands that offered different types of magic and stories than the traditional ones we grow up knowing in American culture. While Chinese Fairy Tales & Fantasies are primarily suited for adults, there are selections that would please advanced young readers, or especially young adult readers, who are interested in foreign folklore. Each magical tale in this collection, whether depicting a wise judge, a poor family struggling to outwit a corrupt bureaucrat, or an insect coming to the aid of a human, offer both entertainment as well as insight into Chinese culture. Interweaving the lives of mortals with the animal kingdom and the realm of gods and ghosts, they range from fables to stories of enchantment and magic.

CFT_14129410982Spanning two millennia of storytelling, these stories illuminates the beliefs and traditions that have shaped Chinese society, and each reflects one of their three core philosophies: Confucianism, Taoism and/or Buddhism. Many of the stories themselves are the works of great philosophers, such as the venerable P’u Sung-ling, who opposed the rigid orthodoxies of Confucianism. More than 20 are by the Taoists Chuang Tzu and Lieh Tzu, who believed that all things are created equal, rejecting the hierarchical worldview of Confucius.

The Buddhist stories espouse compassion towards all living things, perceiving human and animal forms as fluid and interchangeable. In ‘Three Former Lives,’ the errant scholar Liu is reincarnated as a horse and then as a dog before finally, having atoned for his ills, being reborn as a man.

CFT_14129410980The Confucians, conversely, view social order in terms of inherited status. The imperial family occupied the highest stratum, women, children and animals the lowest. Tales such as ‘A Clever Judge’ reinforce this doctrine, illustrating that stability and justice is achieved when social obligations are properly assigned and fulfilled.

According to translator Moss Roberts, this collection of stories serves two purposes: it gives readers some sense of how imaginative fiction reflects each of the three teachings of Chinese civilization (Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist); and it shows how fairy tales, or as the Chinese call them, supernatural tales, give voice to the injustices inflicted on subordinated and exploited groups, namely, children, women, animals and foreigners. The boundary between the human and the animal is the boundary between the civilized and the barbaric, an issue of the utmost importance in Chinese culture.CFT

Whether an adult wishing to expand his or her knowledge of Chinese culture, philosophy and folklore, or a child entranced by unusual exotic tales of magic and enchantment, these stories are sure to please!

Buy this book here.
BINDING ILLUSTRATION AND ILLUSTRATIONS BY Victo Ngai FROM THE FOLIO SOCIETY EDITION OF Chinese Fairy Tales & Fantasies.

Ex Libris Online: Medieval Monarchs

Review: The Deeds of English Kings by William of Malmesbury and Richard III: England’s Black Legend by Desmond Seward

ex Libris MC (2)After so thoroughly enjoying Eleanor of Aquitaine, I was eager to learn more about the royal consorts ruling medieval Britain. Thus The Deeds of English Kings by William of Malmesbury made for a wonderful follow up as it laid the foundation of the monarchs and events building up to Eleanor’s time.

Even more interesting is that the author was Eleanor’s relative contemporary– the librarian of Malmesbury Abbey in the early 12th century– and at Queen Matilda’s prompting (Eleanor’s mother-in-law), he embarked on the ambitious task of compiling a history of the English kings from the first arrival of Saxon invaders up to the contemporary monarchs.

Ethelred the Unready. MS Cotton Claude B VI c.1220. (© The British Library Board)
Ethelred the Unready. MS Cotton Claude B VI c.1220. (© The British Library Board)

William had a unique perspective on British history as his father was Norman and his mother English, and the Norman Conquest of 1066 was still a recent event in the minds of many at the time. His work involved extensive first-hand research, and he did not hesitate to include some incisive disapproval of several Norman kings, an audacious move in that time.

In his introduction to The Folio Society edition, Peter Ackroyd notes that William was a great historian because he was also a great writer; he believed that history should be written with “a competence and splendour that would engage the spirit as well as arouse the mind.” In my opinion, it would do well for more historians today to take this approach! William writes, “I began to get the itch to write myself, not to show off my more or less nonexistent erudition but in order to bring forcibly into the light things lost in the rubbish-heap of the past.”

Genealogical scroll (detail) showing royal lineage, c.1308. MS Royal 14 B VI. (© The British Library Board)
Genealogical scroll (detail) showing royal lineage, c.1308. MS Royal 14 B VI. (© The British Library Board)

Deeds was first published in five volumes in 1125 and is considered to be the finest historical work of 12th-century England. He writes in both a patriotic tone, which was a reflection of classical Roman historiography, as well as a religious one. For example, in his account of the Norman Conquest, both of these assumptions are evident as the pious Normans win the victory, and English defeat results from their own sinfulness. However, couched in classical rhetoric are still laments of Britain’s loss of freedom under the Normans.

Moving into the relative modern era, in comparison with the kings examined by William in Deeds, I then turned to a biography on Richard III, outlining the life of the controversial leader who was both the last king of the House of York and the last of the Plantagenet dynasty, as well as one of Shakespeare’s famous villains.

Richard III’s skeleton. (University of Leicester)
Richard III’s skeleton. (University of Leicester)

Known as the ‘Heathcliff of English Kings,’ Richard III has always been the subject of passionate debate, especially since the discovery of his skeleton in 2012 brought his name back into the public eye. As Desmond Seward writes in this insightful biography, Richard casts ‘a strange spell’ on academics, authors and the popular imagination. The author himself is no exception, writing in the preface to this edition that he had been “enthralled by him” since he was young. While initially drawn to the revisionist view, which lessens or negates Richard’s alleged crimes, Seward finally became convinced of the truth of the traditional version of Richard’s ascension to the throne.

There are two conflicting views of Richard III– one is the traditional view of Shakespeare’s malicious antihero who murdered “The Princes in the Tower” and was of one of the most ruthless adventurers in all of English history. The other is the revisionist perspective of a handsome hero who did no such thing but was vilified by Tudor propaganda.

Born at the dawn of one of England’s bloodiest eras – the Wars of the Roses—Richard was a “thin and pale” man with a famously deformed spine that did nothing to curb his ruthless “Machiavellian genius.” Seward weighs the evidence for Richard’s role in the murder of Henry VI, his failure to prevent the bizarre and brutal execution of his brother George and, most disturbing of all, his disposal of the “Princes in the Tower,” who disappeared after “one of the most brilliant coups d’état in history.”

RC3_14068261860Both of these Folio editions are dazzling volumes. In Richard III: England’s Black Legend, Thomas Penn writes an introduction that puts Seward’s account in context with the traditional and revisionist perspectives. Also included are beautiful portraits of the primary characters in the text, photos of Richard’s now famous skeleton and the type of weapon that killed him, etc.

Deeds titleDeeds contains full-page illuminations depicting dramatic moments from the history it contains, all sourced from medieval manuscripts. Initial letters have been hand-drawn by the calligrapher Charlotte Orr, each one unique. Display fonts and chapter headings are picked out in rubric, while even the deep lower margin is a reflection of the original layout’s ‘golden rectangle’ design. The edition also features gilded top page edges. The result is a beautiful, modern reflection of the distinctive artistry of medieval manuscripts.

Buy The Deeds of English Kings here and Richard III here.

Illustration from The Folio Society editions.

Ex Libris Online: The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym

SUGGESTIONS FOR WEEKEND READING

Review: The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym by Edgar Allan Poe

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As one of America’s favorite writers of bone-chilling fiction, it surprising that Edgar Allan Poe only wrote one novel. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym was published first in few serialized installments in the Southern Literary Messenger, and the complete novel was published in July of 1838. In order to present an authentic sea-voyaging tale, Poe used a number of the plentiful travel journals that abounded at the time, and he also drew on his own personal experience.

AGP_2The story is narrated retrospectively by Arthur Gordon Pym whose school fellow, Augustus, enchants him with lore of the sea and, as his fathers is a whaling captain, convinces him sneak away from home and stow away aboard the whaling ship Grampus. The first half of the novel is the expected seafaring adventure, but it becomes increasingly unusual and bizarre. Mutiny, shipwreck, cannibalism and, of course, being buried alive all contribute thrilling elements to make up satisfying, old fashioned adventure.

Without revealing spoilers, the Grampus eventually goes down, and Pym is saved by the Jane Guy. Poe then seems to tread water, narratively speaking, by relating the different places they sail to at so-and-so degrees west at such-and-thus nautical miles. Thankfully, this only spans about 40 pages. They finally dock at an island with some magical properties and is full of dark savages where, well, I won’t give it away…

The novel ends very abruptly as Pym and a fellow sailor continue toward the South Pole, where it becomes evident that Poe thought the Hollow Earth theory at least in the realm of possibility. This hypothesis argues that the planet is either entirely hollow or that it possesses a substantial interior space. There was also conjecture that the areas surrounding the poles were very warm.

AGP_1I found the first half of the novel a delightful yarn in the same vein as Treasure Island, one which young boys especially would be sure to enjoy. While there are minor points along the way which Poe leaves unexplained, the most jarring part of the novel was its non-ending. The tale breaks off before it is concluded with a “note” stating, “The circumstances connected with the late sudden and distressing death of Mr. Pym are already well known to the public through the medium of the daily press. It is feared that the few remaining chapters which were to have completed his narrative, and which were retained by him, while the above were in type, for the purpose of revision, have been irrecoverably lost through the accident by which he perished himself.” Clearly, Poe was done.

AGPI enjoyed reading this Folio Society edition especially as it was bound in a rather petite, compact size of 7 x 4 inches. The illustrations by David Lupton made it especially engaging reading experience.

Buy this book here.

Illustration from The Folio Society edition of  The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym © David Lupton 2015.

Ex Libris Online: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Review: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

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I think for most people there are those books that everyone was “supposed” to read in school, but that were somehow missed. For me, the top three that come to mind are Romeo & Juliet, The Odyssey, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

In resolving to close some of these gaps this year, I plunged into Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde this February and was not disappointed. Narrated from the 3rd person perspective of Dr. Jekyll’s friend and lawyer, Mr. Utterson, Jekyll and Hyde is an engrossing and powerful read, presenting the sum of all fears regarding human JEK_14441347483nature. It is an interesting study of character—if given the chance to live with impunity, will the selfish, hedonistic nature lurking at the bottom of a person rise up and consume the better part of him?

Robert Louis Stevenson was inspired to write the piece from an extraordinarily vivid dream and worked at it feverishly for three days without cessation, publishing the novella in 1886. Stevenson’s stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, wrote: “I don’t believe that there was ever such a literary feat before as the writing of Dr Jekyll… Louis came downstairs in a fever; read nearly half the book aloud; and then, while we were still gasping, he was away again, and busy writing. I doubt if the first draft took so long as three days.”

JEK_14441347480It was an instant success and became one of Stevenson’s bestselling works, quickly becoming frequent in sermons and religious papers as well as in the hands of the ordinary reader. In the introduction to the Folio Society edition, John Hampden writes, “If this ‘strange case’ were no more than the ‘shocker’ which Stevenson first planned, it would still be a remarkable novel, for the originality of the idea is matched by the skill with which tension is added to mystery almost to the end. But it is far more than that. Its title has become proverbial; it has been reprinted, translated, filmed andJEK_14441347482 dramatized again and again, because it touches some of the most primitive chords of feeling; there is no more forceful presentation of that duality in man’s nature of which every human being is painfully aware.”

Buy this book here.

Illustration from The Folio Society edition of  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde © Mervyn Peake 1948.

Ex Libris Online: Into the Unknown

Review: Into the Unknown: Tales from the Great Explorers

By Henry Clay

Into the Unknown1The Royal Geographic Society (RGS) has been instrumental in supporting some of the greatest explorations known to mankind, and 14 of these are revisited in The Folio Society volume, Into The Unknown. The lectures given to the RGS for each of the chosen explorations which span over a century are reproduced in this book along with plentiful illustrations and old black and white photographs evoking a time when many parts of the world were still completely unknown. Spanning nearly a century from 1863 to 1954, some of the most renowned explorers, such as John Speke who discovered the source of the Nile, Roald Amundsen, the first to the South Pole, and Sir Edmund Hillary, first man to conquer Everest, relate their experiences first hand. Teddy Roosevelt gave a lecture in 1914 about the exploration he was a member of that charted a little known river in the Amazon jungle. He almost died on that expedition from fever. These stories from the greats as well as lesser known explorers are a very enjoyable read for those with an interest in adventure and the conflict between man and the elements… long before our modern times of gps, satellite phones and high tech gear and clothing.

Two of these explorers were women. Katherine Scoresby Routledge conducted an expedition to Easter Island in 1916 and Freya Stark led one to northern Persia in 1931. These ladies were more than intrepid to strike out on their own in a time when women were expected to stay at home. They possessed keen diplomatic skills and were incredibly resourceful. Their writing and descriptive passages are a little better than the men’s too.

One of my favorite lectures was the one given by Edward Evans who was second in command under Captain Robert Scott of the ill-fated British Antarctic Expedition of 1910-13. The British under Scott and the Norwegians under Roald Amundson were in a race to the South Pole. The British team used dogs, ponies and motorized sledges to set up supply depots 65 miles apart along the 945 mile route to the pole. This would be like going from Columbia to Dallas, TX and back on foot through snow storms and frigid temperatures of -50 F. Sixty-five men made up Scott’s expedition, picked out of 8,000 applicants. This later narrowed down to a team of four who made the final assault on the pole. Scott reached the pole with his three companions 34 days after Amundsen. On their return journey tragedy struck when one man suffered a head injury which slowed them down. A few days later he died, and the team never recovered its ability to reach the supply depot before succumbing to unexpected bad weather.

Into the Unknown2jpgSince Into The Unknown is a series of lecture transcripts primarily meant to inform the RGS of factual information regarding the expeditions, the reading can be a bit dry at times. This one set back, however, is more than made up by the sheer magnitude of the challenges overcome that these stories present.

Buy this book here.

Ex Libris Online: Jump-Starting Your New Year

Reading for Your New Year’s Resolution

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As the first week in January comes to a close, New Year’s resolutions are in full throttle. Among the more common ones of being healthier this year is to improve the mind by reading more… especially classics. This month with Ex Libris online, we will help you jump start your resolution by offering you suggestions for classics to add to your list of “Yes, I’ve read that one!”

The high-end book publisher, The Folio Society, is also debuting a new series with this thought in mind. When he founded The Folio Society, it was Charles Ede’s intention to create fine editions ‘worthy of the contents, at a price within reach of everyman.’ In keeping with this mission, The Folio Society is introducing the Folio Collectables, a selection of some of the world’s best-loved books at a much lower price point than most Folio editions. While still hardcovers, these softbound books in cloth are the first Folio books to be readily portable, but still retain the Folio standard of quality, containing marker ribbons, colored page tops and black-and-white illustrations throughout the books.

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They are launching the series with four classic titles: The Hound of the Baskervilles
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, arguably the most famous and favorite Sherlock Holmes mystery; Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, a tour de force in the horror and thriller genre; A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, “God bless us, everyone”; and, perhaps most surprisingly, the popular 1920s novel, Gentlemen Prefer Blonds: The Intimate Diary of a Professional Lady by Anita Loos. With each book a bound in a different color, it can be expected that the Folio Collectables will grow to encompass a glittering range of curated titles through which a person can grow to be universally well-read.

Choose any of these titles that you have never read as a starting point to expand your scope of classic literature this year, and stay tuned for more suggestions this month!

 Buy these books here.

Ex Libris Online: Casino Royale

Review: Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

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“Bond. James Bond.” The well-known introductory line of this British hero likely strikes up a chorus in most minds of the theme music introducing the beloved film series. Ever since Sean Connery’s emergence on screen as 007 in the 1962 Dr. No, through Daniel Craig’s latest 2015 Spectre, James Bond has never gone out of style.

Published in 1953, Casino Royale by Ian Fleming was an immediate success and was the first of 12 Bond novels and two collections of short stories. Interestingly, as an avid bird-watcher, Fleming named his hero after the ornithologist James Bond, author of Field Guide of Birds of the West Indies. In a world where the privations of World War II were still in effect—food rationing and the absence of luxury goods in the 1950s were strong reminders of the recent horrors of war—Bond’s extravagant habits of smoking 70 cigarettes a day and complaining that “the trouble always is, not how to get enough caviar, but how to get enough toast with it,” made for an appealing hero.

CSR_Le Chiffre1In the introduction to the new Folio Society edition, John Banville writes, “To British readers in that austere time the book must have seemed like a millionaire’s yacht, taut-sailed, with polished timbers and brasses agleam, gliding out of a pea-souper fog into the Pool of London. The defeat of the Axis powers had proved something of a pyrrhic victory for the gallant Albion. Divested of its empire, Britain had suddenly found itself a second-rate international power, squeezed like a sprat between the twin leviathans of the United States and the Soviet Union.” Bond was just who they needed.

Casino Royale has much the same plot of the 2006 film adaptation with some small differences, perhaps most notably the change from a duel of baccarat to one of Texas hold’em poker. The book also offers further insights on the interworking of Bond’s thoughts. From rather light-hearted, humorous opinions, such as that “good Americans were fine people, and most of them seemed to come from Texas,” to more sinister views on luck in cards and on dealing with women: “Bond saw luck as a woman, to be softly wooed or brutally ravaged, never pandered to or pursued. But he was honest enough to admit that he had never yet been made to suffer by cards or by women. One day, and he accepted the fact, he would be brought to his knees by love or by luck.”

CSR_Girl from Headquarters1This last, rather prophetic, quote illustrates the callused side of Bond that, while certainly present in the films, shines through all too harshly in the book. His chauvinistic opinions and lustful desires are reiterated a couple of times in general and in regards to the heroine, Vesper, even though he falls genuinely in love with her. While this attitude was no surprise in the character of Bond, it was rather distasteful to have it presented so clearly and was a reminder that as a woman, I was not the originally intended audience.

CSR_S_01This being said, I still thoroughly enjoyed the novel as an exciting, thrilling tale, and it delivered as James Bond always does. As Banville writes, “[James Bond] remains astonishingly fresh in its glamour, its insouciance and flamboyant sheen.” So whether you have already seen the latest in Bond, Spectre, or still have it on your to-watch list, you may find your new favorite entertainment to be the Bond novel series.

Buy this book here.

Illustration from The Folio Society edition of  Casino Royale © Fay Dalton 2015