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  • Jeff Somers 7:30 pm on 2017/02/17 Permalink
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    10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know about Ian Fleming’s James Bond 

    Few literary characters are as famous as James Bond—but much of what we think we know about the character stems from the film adaptations, not the original novels by Ian Fleming. Bond’s creator only penned 12 novels and two short story collections featuring the man with the license to kill, and there have been 24 Bond films, not to mention dozens of novels written by others after Fleming’s death. One reason for Bond’s enduring popularity is simple: Fleming imbued the character with a depth and range of detail few characters can match. Here are 10 things you probably didn’t know about Fleming’s James Bond.

    James Bond was the dullest name Fleming could think of
    Fleming was quite a character himself, and served as a spy during World War II. When he first conceived of the James Bond character, he didn’t see the suave, lady-killing 007 we think of today. He saw a “blunt instrument” who absorbed punishment and kept going. As a result, he sought the “dullest” name possible, to convey both Bond’s ability to work undercover and his role as a human weapon. James Bond happened to be the author of a bird-watching book on Fleming’s shelf, and he thought the name was perfect—dull and succinct.

    Ian Fleming wrote Bond an obituary
    Not every author gets to kill off their character and then resurrect them, but that’s what Fleming did in You Only Live Twice. He even crafted an obituary that offered the only glimpse of the character’s formative years—details that are still being mined for use in the current films. In the obit, we learned that Bond was orphaned at age 11, that he was recruited into the Royal Navy (and from there, we presume, into MI6), and the Bond family motto was “The World is Not Enough.”

    There was a real “M”
    Mansfield Smith-Cumming was the first Director of the agency that would become MI6. He had the habit of signing official memos with a stylized letter “C,” and over the years people associated the “C” with the word “Chief.” As a result his successors continued the practice. Fleming took this and other aspects from Cumming and used them in his conception of the character of “M.”

    Fleming wrote using a gold-plated typewriter
    After Fleming finished the first draft of Casino Royale (at a steady 2,000 words a day pace), he ordered a gold-plated typewriter from the Royal Typewriter Company as a personal reward. He was well aware of the self-indulgent nature of it, saying to a friend that he might need “sheets of vellum … studded with diamonds” on which to type.

    Fleming wrote Casino Royale in two months
    Speaking of Casino Royale, Fleming wrote it in under two months, beginning in February 1952 and finishing the first draft in March. He cheated a little, though; while his writing process allowed him to complete first drafts quickly, it’s strongly suspected he left a lot of detail out of those initial drafts and added in a lot of the “flesh” in subsequent revisions.

    Many Bond Villains were based on Fleming’s personal enemies
    Fleming could hold a grudge, as evidenced by the fact that many of the famous Bond villains were based on people he knew. The antagonist in The Man with the Golden Gun, Scaramanga, was named after a fellow student at Eton that Fleming used to get into fights with. Goldfinger was named after a real-life architect whose work Fleming deplored.

    John F. Kennedy made the legend
    James Bond was always a strong seller, but prior to From Russia, With Love Fleming’s sales in the U.S. were steady but unspectacular. That changed in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy listed the novel as one of his top 10 favorite books. Sales in the U.S. exploded as a direct result, and the James Bond phenomenon officially launched.

    There was almost a TV series
    Prior to the legendary film series (still ongoing, with or without Daniel Craig), Fleming worked to launch a TV series based on James Bond. The series never came together, and Fleming took the scripts he’d written for it and turned them into the short stories that appeared in For Your Eyes Only.

    Critics hated Dr. No
    The first five Bond novels—Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Moonraker, Diamonds Are Forever, and From Russia, with Love—were critical hits, but the sixth, Dr. No was the beginning of a critical backlash. Critics suddenly perceived in the Bond novels sexism, snobbishness, and distasteful violence. Fleming took the criticism hard, and many people feel his work on the Bond novels was never quite the same after the lashing Dr. No took.

    Fleming wanted to rewrite the final Bond novel
    Suffering from heart disease, Fleming wrote the first draft of his final novel, The Man with the Golden Gun, in 1964 at his Jamaican estate, GoldenEye. He sent it to his copy editor with a note suggesting it needed to be rewritten, and had to be convinced that it was publishable as it was. Fleming clearly intended to revise it heavily, but passed away five months later, before he could get back to work on it. Most critics feel the book lacks the depth of detail and description the other Bond novels reveled in.


    The post 10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know about Ian Fleming’s James Bond appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 8:30 pm on 2017/01/27 Permalink
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    10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Infinite Jest 

    Just over twenty years ago, David Foster Wallace published his best-known and most frustrating novel, Infinite Jest. It’s a big (very big), bold, complex book that divided critics yet nevertheless landed with a thud on that list of novels everyone intends to read “someday.” When people do tackle it, they often give up within the first 200 pages or so—one of the most difficult parts of the whole 1,000 pages—and may leave unsure of what they’ve just experienced.

    But that is all by Wallace’s design. Any novel that’s still being discussed and dissected two decades later is worth reading (and rereading), and one of the wonders of this book is that no matter how often you read it, new things will leap out at you. You’ll never discover all of Infinite Jest’s secrets. As proof of concept, here are 10 things you probably don’t know about this classic postmodern novel.

    The first draft was “a mess”
    Wallace began work on the novel as early as 1986, intending it to be “sad.” The first draft was described as a “mess,” with sections in different fonts, an insane nested page-numbering system, and half of the material in the form of hand-written notes or doodles. It was 1,600 pages long, and the main job of Wallace’s editor was to browbeat the author into cutting it down. Wallace reportedly forced himself to delete whole sections entirely from his hard drive to stop himself from later reinserting the excised passages.

    Dave Eggers hated the book before he loved it

    In the 2006 reissue of the novel, Dave Eggers (of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius fame) composed an introduction praising the novel as, “drum-tight and relentlessly smart” and as including, “not one lazy sentence.” High praise from a peer, indeed. What’s interesting is that in 1996, Eggers’ review of the book in the San Francisco Chronicle described it as an, “endless joke on somebody” and, “extravagantly self-indulgent … often difficult to navigate.” The lesson here: we all have a hot-take in our lives we’ll later regret.

    Wallace hadn’t yet used the Internet when he wrote it
    Infinite Jest is often praised for its prescience; the cartridge entertainment system it describes seems to be Netflix a decade before Netflix existed, and is even mentioned to have video streaming capabilities (albeit with such a cumbersome system that no one in the novel uses it). Wallace also seems to see Skype coming long before it was possible. Yet the author later admitted that when he wrote the novel, he’d never once used the Internet (which is forgivable, because in 1996 “the Internet” probably meant America Online).

    All the tennis stuff comes from Wallace
    One of the aspects of the story that either fascinates or bores people to death is the tennis minutiae. With much of the story set at a tennis academy, there are long stretches discussing the game. This isn’t a random affectation; Wallace was a serious tennis player in his youth. He described himself as “near great” at the game, though many noted that he peaked in high school and was only ranked 11th in the Middle Illinois Tennis Association—not exactly a worldwide reputation.

    You can actually play Eschaton
    If you’re the sort who itches to play Quidditch IRL, you might be interested to learn that the game Wallace invents in the novel, called Eschaton—in which global thermonuclear war is replicated using six tennis courts, balls, rackets, and shoes—can actually be played. To get an idea of what that might be like, check out the video for “Calamity Song” by the Decemberists.

    It’s been adapted…sort of
    There’s been talk of a film adaptation of Infinite Jest since it was published, with various reports of screenplays underway emerging and then withering away. Of course, the challenge of turning this complex and inscrutable novel into a coherent film—or even a TV miniseries—is huge, and so far no one’s been able to make it happen. But if you want to see the book’s key moments visually, check out BrickJest, a collaboration between a college professor and his young son, recreating the book scene-by-scene…in Lego.

    You’ll need three bookmarks to read it
    This is a book best read in physical form, with the standard advice being to read it using three bookmarks—one for your progress in the text, one for your place in the footnotes gathered at the back of the book, and one to keep track of the page (usually page 223 depending on your version) where Wallace lays out the order of subsidized years. If you ignore all other advice, use a bookmark for the latter. You’ll be referring to it often as you move through the puzzling timeline of the story.

    You’ll also need the Internet
    Despite being published before The Internet turned into the high-speed don’t-read-the-comments-section of modern life, Infinite Jest may be the first novel to truly require The Internet to be read properly. Websites offering guidance, supplementary reading lists, and encouragement abound, and are probably necessary, unless you’re planning to read it while sitting in a library.

    Wallace admitted the story makes no sense
    If you’ve finished Infinite Jest you know it sort of…ends, abruptly, with little resolution. For years, Wallace insisted the story did resolve, just outside the frame of the page, and that the reader had everything they needed to figure out what happens. But in Marshall Boswell and Stephen J. Burn’s academic work A Companion to David Foster Wallace Studies, author Jonathan Franzen is quoted as saying he received an email from Wallace admitting, “the story can’t fully be made sense of,” and that if Franzen ever told anyone that, he would deny he’d ever said it. So don’t feel too bad if you can’t quite puzzle everything out.


    The post 10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Infinite Jest appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 7:30 pm on 2017/01/13 Permalink
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    10 Things You Never Knew about James Joyce’s Ulysses 

    On the list of long, difficult books, Ulysses by James Joyce is easily in the top five. It’s one of those books everyone generally feels should be read, but may also be too intimidating to actually read. But it’s not as hard to read as its reputation might imply—deeply compelling, even amusing, from chapter to chapter. It’s also a source of some incredible trivia and surprising facts that might make it a little easier to contemplate. Without further ado, here are 10 things you probably didn’t know about Ulysses.

    By the time he wrote it, Joyce hadn’t lived in Dublin for years
    Ulysses famously takes place over the course of a single day—June 16th, 1904—in Dublin, Ireland. Much of Joyce’s energy is expended on recreating Dublin, from the smells and sights to the layout of the streets. To this day, you can walk the city, following in the footsteps of Leopold Bloom, and see much of what he would have seen. Yet when he wrote the book, Joyce hadn’t lived in Dublin for years—working almost completely from memory in the days before Google Street View.

    Joyce’s wife is at its core
    The date covered in the book, June 16, 1904, is today known as Bloomsday (after the main character), and is celebrated in literary circles the world over. It wasn’t chosen randomly—that was the date of Joyce’s first official encounter with his future wife, Nora, who also serves as the template for Leopold’s wife Molly. Nora and Joyce had an, um, erotic encounter on a park bench on their first date, and as their love letters, attest their ardor for one another never waned—thus explaining why the date remained important to Joyce.

    Its last line is a climax
    There are various schools of thought on the “best” way to read the book, but one thing is for sure: you won’t take it all in on your first go-round. One thing that’s easy to miss the first time is that the final lines of the book are culmination of a lengthy stream-of-consciousness peek into Molly Bloom’s mind as she pleasures herself (composed of eight of the longest sentences in history), making that last line a literal climax. Which partially explains why …

    It was banned in the U.S. for 12 years
    Ulysses was initially serialized between 1918 and 1920, and published as a novel in 1922. But it was labeled pornographic and banned in the United States until 1934. Which, okay, there’s a lot of sex in it, and Joyce does celebrate the smuttier side. Which makes sense, because …

    It’s a comedy
    Much is made of the literary allusions, the structural basis in Homer’s The Odyssey, and other erudite aspects of Ulysses. That makes it easy to forget that Joyce is sending up many of those stuffy conventions. His big joke was to use Homer’s structure to tell a story filled with masturbation and scatological jokes, even while littering the work with obscure references to keep critics jumping through hoops. In other words, when you study Ulysses, Joyce is laughing at you.

    There’s an app for that
    Adapting this novel into any medium is going to be a challenge, but trying to cram it into a graphic novel seems particularly insane. Artist Robert Berry has decided to try, and he’s doing so through the modern-day media of the app, posting each page as he finishes. He estimate it will take about a decade to get through the whole book.

    You can read just three chapters and grasp the narrative
    As we mentioned, people have been arguing about the “best” way to read Ulysses more or less since it was published. Critics disagree about whether every chapter is necessary; even the book’s most ardent defenders will admit some of the chapters are a bit more obtuse than others. (A few even argue you can get away with reading just one chapter!) There are more than a few defenders of the notion that you can get the TL;DR version of Ulysses by reading the following chapters, and nothing else: “Telemachus,” “Calypso,” and “Penelope.” You’ll be missing out on a lot of great stuff, but you’ll also be able to fake your way through a conversation about Joyce’s masterpiece.

    You can’t read it “cold”
    Many folks have made the mistake of trying to read Ulysses like it’s any old ordinary novel. It isn’t. Joyce said, “I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant.” In other words, the allusions and references are the point. No matter who you are, you’re going to have to do a little research.

    It has somehow been filmed twice
    Surprisingly for one of the most interior, detailed stories of all time—a story seemingly impossible to adapt—Ulysses has been made into a movie twice. A 1967 version attempts to follow the story, and uses many lines straight from the page. In 2003, Bloom, starring Stephen Rae, took a looser approach in an attempt to approximate the novel’s “stream of consciousness” style. How successful either is at recreating Joyce’s masterpiece is definitely up for debate.

    Have you braved the journey of Ulysses?


    The post 10 Things You Never Knew about James Joyce’s Ulysses appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 10:00 pm on 2016/12/30 Permalink
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    9 Things You Never Knew about The Chronicles of Narnia 

    If you’ve been alive and more or less aware over the last 60-odd years, you are no doubt familiar with C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. The seven-book series ranks collectively among the most-beloved novels of all time (they’re certainly among the bestselling). In fact, the Narnia books are so embedded in pop culture, you may think you know everything there is to know about them—but even after all these years, and all the film and TV adaptations, these nine facts about the series may still surprise you.

    Lewis came up with the idea when he was 16
    Lewis published The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in 1950, when he was 52 year old, but the original inspiration for the story came when he was just 16: an image of a faun carrying parcels through the snow. He said that after carrying that vision with him for more than 20 years, he sat down one day to try write a story around it—a story it took him him 10 more years to finish.

    Lewis burned an early version
    Lewis began work on the first book in 1939, and produced a draft in which the children were named Ann, Martin, Rose, and Peter. When he showed the story to his friends and colleagues, however, the reaction was consistently negative, so he burned the manuscript and started over. He later stated that the missing ingredient was Aslan: as soon as he added the heroic and not-at-all tame lion to the story, everything fell into place.

    Turkish Delight is…an acquired taste
    ]In the first book, when the White Witch Jadis is tempting Edmund, he asks for—and receives, to his greedy delight—a bowl of Turkish Delight. Which means that every year, a fresh crop of children start scheming to get their hands on this obvious delicacy. The truth is, real Turkish Delight is a traditional treat with the consistency of a marshmallow and the taste…well, a taste that is tough to describe. But unless you’re eating one of the watered-down versions drowned in milk chocolate, there is a really good chance you won’t enjoy it.

    People still argue about the correct order
    Lewis was honest about not having planned out the series; he expected to write one book, then wrote a sequel and thought that would be the end of it, and so on. As a result, he stated explicitly that he had no preference for a reading order. The publisher started claiming that Lewis had a “preferred order” that began with The Magician’s Nephew, the sixth book to be published. People still get into internet fights over the subject.

    Susan is the most controversial character in the series
    Susan Pevensie, the Gentle Queen, only appears in the first two books. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, she’s said to be in America with the Pevensie parents, on a trip. By the time of The Last Battle, when Narnia is destroyed and the Pevensies (and just about everyone else ever connected with Narnia) are transported from the scene of an accident to live forever with Aslan, Susan is specifically left out, because (basically) she’s grown up and left her childhood fantasies behind. Or, if you believe author Philip Pullman and J.K. Rowling, she’s excluded because she’s discovered the joys of sex, which Lewis disapproved of. Susan, in fact, remains the one character that can get Narnia fans into an all-out brawl—is she the victim of Lewis’ hateful misogyny, a silly girl who lost immortality, or can we imagine she would someday be recalled to Narnia?

    Many of the characters are based on real people
    Lewis borrowed most of Narnia from other works, legends, and his own religious background. He also borrowed people. The Pevensie children were based on actual children who came to live with Lewis during the Blitz in World War II; Puddleglum the Marsh-Wiggle was based on Lewis’ gardener, Fred Paxford; and Lewis himself can be seen as the basis for Professor Digory Kirke.

    They’re still making movies
    Three major films based on the books were released between 2005 and 2010, but production stalled on a fourth due to declining ticket sales. For a while, it was assumed that either no more movies would be made, or the whole series would be rebooted. However, a fourth film, The Silver Chair is planned for a 2018 release, with an all-new production team and cast.

    It isn’t really a Christian allegory
    If you know nothing else about the Narnia books, you know that Lewis wrote them as Christian allegory, and you’re either okay with that, or horrified by it. But the fact is, the books aren’t an allegory at all—they’re a thought experiment. While there are definitely Christian references and themes in there, Lewis simply asked himself: suppose there was a world like Narnia—how would God save it as he saved this one?

    Who ever heard of a witch that really died?
    At the end of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, the White Witch—Queen Jadis—is defeated and killed. We meet her again, of course, in The Magician’s Nephew, where her origins in Narnia are revealed. But a lot of people think we also see her in The Silver Chair, as the Lady of the Green Kirtle, who has enslaved Prince Rilian of Narnia. The descriptions of the two women are very close, and as Nikabrik states in Prince Caspian, “who ever heard of a witch that really died?”

    The post 9 Things You Never Knew about The Chronicles of Narnia appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

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