How To Start Smoking isn’t the most innovative book, nor is it the most responsible. It was one of several books I wrote, designed and self-published in the mid 2000s. This was at the point where I was trying to work out what I wanted out of my career and felt that commercial publishing was the way to go.
I loved smoking when I did it. This was an extended love letter to my own addiction, with all the affection and affectation that goes with it. It’s blinkered and narrow, sure, but there’s no doubt that it reflects where I was at the time. The self publishing vendor I used at the time made me put in a disclaimer at the front stating that the book didn’t advocate smoking, but that was bullshit. I wanted everyone to join me in my hobby.
And then I quit.
Stopping smoking turned out to be a really good idea. I didn’t think it would take, but I’ve now been cigarette-free for about five years now and am happier for it. I’m starting to think that I write about things only when I’m ready to let them go. As crass as How To Start Smoking was and no matter how mercenary my reasons for writing it might have been at the time, I realise that it’s an important part of what I wincingly refer to as my artistic journey. For better or worse, it was something I knew intimately and could write about with passion. I put everything I knew, felt and thought about smoking into that book and when it was finished, I was pretty much done with it. This is a process that’s been repeated a few more times since, so often that it can’t be a coincidence. Recognition of this pattern has been interesting. It makes me wonder, when I start writing something, if I’m writing a “Dear John” letter to that aspect of my personality. But, of course, conscious knowledge of a process doesn’t necessarily mean that the action follows.
So, what do I think of the book now? I have a certain fondness for it. There’s stuff missing (there’s no “Where Can I Smoke?” section as the book was written before the smoking ban and both cigars and pipes get short shrift), but there’s some sections of the book that I think are quite funny.
At least, I thought it was funny. Then I stopped smoking and the ‘propaganda’ that people had told me turned out to be true. I was healthier, happier and richer. In addition, the years went by and my mother was diagnosed with severe emphysema, which was the result of fifty years of cigarette smoking. While everyone knows the damage smoking causes, it usually is an abstract concept until it really hits home, either with you or someone you know. It did with me, so the joke’s not quite as funny any more.
Personally, I’ve got no regrets about smoking or the book. I’m just glad I’m not in that place any more.