Spies, stars for the holidays

Books on Bond, U2 and others fit nicely under tree

ust how big is Santa's sleigh? The exact dimensions are a state secret, so we'll have to hope it's big enough for the iPod or yacht or, better yet, the pile of books we've been wishing for.

Now, Ian Fleming once observed that owning a lot of books tends to go with serious criminal tendencies, so it's fitting that we know more about James Bond's collection of lethal toys than about Santa's specs, thanks to diligent chronicles like Laurent Bouzerau's richly illustrated "The Art of Bond" (Abrams, $40). With a new Bond gracing the big screen, it's a fine gift for the aspiring secret agent in the family. Bookend it with Simon Winder's "The Man Who Saved Britain" (Farrar Straus Giroux, $25), a celebration of Bond and Fleming, and you'll be first on the list to be rescued from the bad guys.

Now that Fleming is gone and his real-life spy antics are history, heroes are in short supply. But are they? Not to gauge by the testimonials seeded throughout the pages of "U2 by U2" (HarperCollins, $39.95), a coffee-table extravaganza of words and images that puts the whole rock-god thing into perspective. A nice running touch is Bono's assurance that he's not the mild-mannered world saver of lore, though the band has been doing its best to save the world for years. A sample quote from this treasure-house for fans: "My dad trusted no one. Every person knocking on the hall door after midnight is an assassin, every girl is a groupie, every friend is a weirdo, every record-business person is a hustler and a thief. Now how could he have known all of this?"

For those who know such things, the holidays can bring out a touch of cynicism. This can be cured with Rita Dubas' "Shirley Temple" (Applause, $29.95), a compendium of everything you ever wanted to know ? and then some ? about the dimpled child star of decades past. Dubas is a font of information about both the bright and the shadowy sides of Temple's career, like her unwise Depression-era comment: "I'm glad I'm in the movies on account of I have so much money. ? I guess I have more money than anybody in the world." Temple was only 10, so she's to be excused. Many other people were and are making fortunes from her work, and the book's exhaustive catalog of Temple-related merchandise could fuel a product-placement guru's sugarplum dreams for years to come.

For decidedly more grown-up fare, try Robert Hudovernik's "Jazz Age Beauties" (Universe, $40), a generous serving of Alfred Cheney Johnson's photographs of the women of the Ziegfeld Follies. The book would be merely a collection of pinups were it not for a thoughtful text that examines the importance of Flo Ziegfeld ? hustler, impresario, marketing genius ? to popular culture. For pinups of a different kind, Roy Milano's "Monsters" (Ballantine, $29.95) is a lively gathering of fact-filled essays and images of the greats of Universal Studios: Claude Rains, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Ricou Browning. Who? The Creature from the Black Lagoon, of course.

It's impossible to be cynical or to doubt the restorative powers of beauty when wearing a good suit. So the great Cary Grant taught us, and even if he once said that the film of his that he liked best was "Father Goose," where he got to wear sneakers and jeans, Richard Torregrossa's "Cary Grant: A Celebration of Style" (Bulfinch Press, $35) could well inspire a return to elegance in a baggy-shorts time. Whether the recipient is sartorially inclined or sartorially challenged, this collection of stills, publicity shots and reminiscence makes a lovely gift.

For some, the holidays always includes an ill-timed, poorly delivered, regrettable remark over the punch bowl. That's good reason to resolve, come resolution time, to tell better jokes. Don't look to Ritch Shydner and Mark Schiff's "I Killed" (Crown, $23.95) for the key, since this collection of comedians' reminiscences is full of howling mobs, hurled bottles and an extraordinary reading from Spartacus. The comics all survived their nightmares. May we survive ours in the coming year. Happy holidays.

Gregory McNamee is The Hollywood Reporter's literary critic. He can be reached at thr.books@mac.com.