Kurt Andersen on James Bond and How Fiction Shapes Us

[Our thanks to guest blogger Kurt Andersen, a best-selling author, co-creator of the Studio 360 public radio program, co-founder of Spy magazine, and an editor and columnist at Vanity Fair, Time and New York magazines. He's also a voracious reader and a book geek, and his love of literature comes through the storyline of his new novel, True Believers, whose main character is also a book geek.]

Anderson2You like reading novels, I like reading novels. But Karen Hollander is absolutely besotted by the fiction she loves, plunging herself deeply into the books' imaginary universes. Hollander, now a celebrated lawyer, has been devouring fiction ever since she first experienced its uncanny power as a girl and young woman growing up in the Chicago suburbs. She has never stopped reading, and True Believers is her fictional memoir.

"I had a history of going a little nuts for certain adventure novels," she explains in Chapter 2. "The first was Alice Through the Looking Glass, back in fourth grade. When I got to page six, I felt as if some new section of my brain had been activated. I shivered with a pleasure I hadn’t known…Then I read The Once and Future King, and for most of a year I was young King Arthur, Dad was Merlin, and it was my destiny to create the perfect kingdom of Camelot somewhere beyond northeastern Illinois."

As an eleven-year-old would-be beatnik in 1960, she is astounded by Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl." But the literature that maybe most crucially shape her young sensibility are Ian Fleming's James Bond books, which she discovers as she's about to start seventh grade in 1961--the very moment those books and the real-life Cold War are achieving maximum impact in the world. She and her two best (male) friends obsessively read and debate and enact scenes from all eight novels and breathlessly await each new one.

Oddly, I had this idea before I'd ever read a single Bond novel. Now that I've read most of them, I can say that Casino Royale, From Russia With Love, and On Her Majesty's Secret Service are Fleming's best.

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