A writer digs through his personal library of quitting-smoking books as he attempts to quit smoking:
Step 3: Go to the Strand. Buy a book you already own—Richard Klein’s Cigarettes Are Sublime. (Your old copy—a gift from one of the girls next door senior year, the same ‘friend’ who another time gave you a carton of duty-free Dunhill Reds—has been in storage recently because your den has become a nursery.) It was published in 1993 by, very perfectly, the university press at Duke: A school endowed by tobacco fortune sponsored an excellent silk-cut riff on the cultural logic of coffin nails. Its title toys with Kant’s idea of ‘negative pleasure’: ‘Cigarettes are bad. That is why they are good—not good, not beautiful, but sublime.’
Klein, a scholar of French by trade, sinuously riffs on Sartre and Baudelaire, on Bizet’s Carmen andRick’s Café, by way of delivering a cultural critique with a practical purpose: ‘Writing this book in praise of cigarettes was the strategy I devised for stopping smoking, which I have—definitively; it is therefore both an ode and an elegy to cigarettes.’
Linger for a while over the idea of the elegy. Where a conventional smoking-cessation preacher tells the reader he has nothing to lose but his chains, Klein acknowledges that to quit is to experience a loss, and takes his time mourning a dying idea of fun.