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Literature For Lovers Of Cigars

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By : Ann Knapp    99 or more times read
Submitted 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Reading and cigars are both contemplative pleasures. They're best undertaken over a table on a balcony--or in a comfortable couch--or on a warm, sunlit porch. They need a bit of concentration, and afford, in return, a little break from the stress of the day. And many writers have attested that their smoking habits (hopefully moderate ones, though not always) played a role in keeping them focused as they did the arduous work of writing book after book, spinning verbal music from thin air.

So it's no surprise that literary history leaves us with a number of books that seem written for the cigar lover who also loves to read.

What writers should every cigar smoker check out? The name that comes most quickly to mind, of course, is Rudyard Kipling--that macho poet of colonialism credited (despite his unsavory politics) with helping to invent the modern short story, inspiring half the great writers of the twentieth century (Borges and Chesterton are just two of his fans), and giving Walt Disney Studios the source material for one of its least painful productions.

Today remembered mainly for that work--The Jungle Book--and for the rhythmically pronounced, delightfully sayable collection of children's stories (designed to be read out loud), Just So Stories, Kipling was regarded in his time as a great poet and short-story artist.

One of his popular poems was "The Betrothed," with its memorable (and misogynistic) final couplet: "And a woman is only a woman, but a good Cigar is a Smoke." The poem was inspired by an 1885 breach-of-promise suit filed against a man who loved smoking too much. "You must choose between me and your cigar," the woman filing suit was reported to have said. Kipling wrote the poem as an imaginary reply to this woman: "Open the old cigar-box, get me a Cuba stout,/for things are running crossways, and Maggie and I are out." The woman, after all, will age, but you can always buy another cigar.

The poem is full of typically Kiplingesque strong rhymes and excellent one-liners and, alas, an equally typical sexism. Still, the cigar smoker whose response to the old joke question--"Do you like Kipling?"--is the old punchline ("I don't know, I've never Kippled"), should check him out.

J.M. Barrie, writing around the same time, is famous for a wholly different kind of work--the children's books best represented by Peter Pan. Ironically, both writers are best known today because of movies that barely represent their vision--the Disney Peter Pan and Jungle Book, and also, in Barrie's case, the somber biopic Finding Neverland.

But Barrie, also like Kipling, left a testimony to his love of tobacco, arguing in his panegyrical My Lady Nicotine that tobacco had enlarged the human mind. This argument overreaches a bit, sounding like the one brandished by so many pot-smoking teenage guitarists--"Hey, it's where creativity comes from"--but the book leaves little doubt that nicotine, at least, played a not inconsiderable role in Barrie's own creative life.

Conservative political satirist, son of right-wing scion William F. Buckley Jr., and, most recently, surprise Barack Obama endorser Christopher Buckley wrote the novel Thank You For Smoking, a satirical attack on the anti-smoking lobby. Since that stratum of the population is a frequent target of cigar smokers' rage (see any issue of Cigar Magazine or Cigar Aficionado for proof), perhaps such readers will find Buckley's novel cathartic--as well as clever and delightful, which was the view of many book critics on its first publication.

The prolific but now-forgotten British novelist Compton MacKenzie wrote a book-length valentine to smoking, Sublime Tobacco, in 1955. It's an entertaining, disorganized, part-autobiographical meander through the history of smoking, almost embarrassingly opinionated, and dedicated, with an almost sublime insensitivity, to his wife on the occasion of their golden anniversary. ("For our anniversary, darling, I dedicate this book that has nothing to do with you!") Any dedicated smoker who can find an old copy online or in the local library will devour it like you're not supposed to do a good cigar.
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