Boys will be boys, of course, in fiction as well as nonfiction, and the confusion can only be enhanced by incidents like a CNN report on "the most flamboyant book launch in London's history," during which "the Royal Navy enthusiastically hosted the book's launch party aboard the guided missile destroyer Exeter."
I'm not spy obsessed. After I read the new Bond book, I changed direction and read Joseph O'Neill's beautiful Netherland. Okay, I confess that this week I'm devouring Alan Furst's latest, The Spies of Warsaw.
So, perhaps it's time for my own debriefing.
The story of my life in the spy game began in the mid-1960s, when I started reading the Bond novels in high school. How deep the obsession became can be gleaned from a single clue, easily found in my high school yearbook, which for reasons of security (or insecurity) remains in my possession.
On page 52, there is a "Senior Class Prophecy," predicting what the graduating class of 1968--a class as ordinary as any in yearbooks throughout history--would be doing 50 years hence.
The editorial staff looked into their crystal ball and wrote the following: "Bob Gray . . . famed critic of Ian Fleming."
Hasn't happened yet, but the clock is still ticking.
My other Fleming connection is more personal: My wife's father, the actor Joseph Wiseman, played Dr. No in the first Bond movie.
So many films and books have come along since then, I can't help but wonder why we have this continuous threading of Bond into the lives of boys of all ages? As everything he represented gradually went out of style, he didn't.
I do have a theory, at least as far as my life in the spy game is concerned. Please forgive the minor psychological revelations, but we're all readers here, right? And we know what readers are like.
In retrospect, I think Bond taught me a couple of survival skills that were priceless during high school and have been of some use ever since. First among these was "Keep your back to the wall," a spy game tenet akin to Taoism's "The god that can be spoken of is not the absolute god," or Buddhism's "To live is to suffer," or golfism's "Keep your head down."
The second, and perhaps more important, skill was Bond's instruction in the art of "cool."
There is another entry worth noting in my high school yearbook dossier. It's from page 62, where a "Senior Class Will" offers the following tidbit: "Bob Gray leaves his cool to Mark Graziano."
For the record, my alleged "cool" wasn't the revolt of a high school bad boy driving fast cars and getting drunk every weekend. My cool wasn't the hazy merriment of a nascent hippie. My cool wasn't even the still heart of a quarterback surveying the chaos of a football field, knowing he's going to be crushed by an onrushing linebacker, but waiting a split second longer before letting the ball fly to a receiver just breaking into the open.
No, my cool was, I suspect, nothing more than emotional detachment, a stepping back from the world, watching myself watch . . . everything else.
Oddly enough, I also see that character trait in Hans van den Broek, the protagonist of Netherland, and in Colonel Jean-Francois Mercier in The Spies of Warsaw.
In the recent film version of Casino Royale, M warns Bond about getting emotionally involved in an upcoming assignment. "I would ask you if you could remain emotionally detached," she says reflectively, "but I don't think that's your problem, is it?"
No, Bond agrees.
Sometimes I think of my life in the spy game as a brief stretch of time in my late adolescence. Sometimes I think that time was merely boot camp because here I am now, turning a new page--this digital one, in fact--in my relationship with Ian Fleming.
The past doesn't vanish; it's just an incomplete dossier on file. More than 40 years have passed since I trained to be a spy. Behind the glass of a bookcase in my office stands a Dr. No action figure. I know he's an evil madman bent upon world domination, but, hell, he's also my father-in-law.
Happy 100th birthday, Mr. Fleming, and here's wishing you many more.