Thursday, August 26, 2021

Showcase: Nicotine A Love Story Up In Smoke by by GREGOR HENS Translated by JEN CALLEJA

My copy of this book just arrived and I can not wait to dig into it, a former smoker's look at the embodiment of his almost life long dependence on Nicotine. I know from experience that there is no louder voice against smoking then from an ex-smoker so I'm excited to see what this ex-smoker has to say.

ISBN-13: 978-1-63542-052-4
Publisher: Other Press
Release Date: 8-24-2021
Length: 208pp

Buy It: Publisher/Amazon/B&N/ IndieBound


By turns philosophical and darkly comic, an ex-smoker’s meditation on the nature and consequences of his nearly lifelong addiction.

Written with the passion of an obsessive, Nicotine addresses a lifelong addiction, from the thrill of the first drag to the perennial last last cigarette. Reflecting on his experiences as a smoker from a young age, Gregor Hens investigates the irreversible effects of nicotine on thought and patterns of behavior. He extends the conversation with other smokers to meditations on Mark Twain and Italo Svevo, the nature of habit, and the validity of hypnosis. With comic insight and meticulous precision, Hens deconstructs every facet of dependency, offering a brilliant analysis of the psychopathology of addiction.

This is a book about the physical, emotional, and psychological power of nicotine as not only an addictive drug, but also a gateway to memory, a long trail of streetlights in the rearview mirror of a smoker’s life. Cigarettes are sometimes a solace, sometimes a weakness, but always a witness and companion.

This is a meditation, an ode, and a eulogy, one that will be passed hand-to-hand between close friends.

Read an excerpt:


I’ve smoked well over a hundred thousand cigarettes in my life, and each one of those cigarettes meant something to me. I even enjoyed a few of them. I’ve smoked great, okay and terrible cigarettes; I’ve smoked dry and moist, aromatic and almost sweet cigarettes. I’ve smoked hastily, and other times slowly and with pleasure. I’ve scrounged, stolen and smuggled cigarettes, I’ve finagled them and I’ve begged for them. I’ve thrown away half-full packs only to fish them back out of the rubbish to render them useless once and for all under the tap. I’ve smoked cold cigarette butts, cigars, cigarillos, bidis, kreteks, spliffs and straw. I’ve missed flights because of cigarettes and burnt holes in trousers and car seats. I’ve singed my eyelashes and eyebrows, fallen asleep while smoking and dreamt of cigarettes — of relapses and fires and bitter withdrawal. I’ve smoked in 110 degree heat and in minus 15 cold, in libraries and seminar rooms, on ships and mountaintops, on the steps of Aztec pyramids, furtively in an old observatory, in basements and barns and beds and swimming pools, on air mattresses and in thin-hulled rubber dinghies, on the prime meridian in Greenwich and the 180th meridian in Fiji. I’ve smoked because I was full and I’ve smoked because I was hungry. I’ve smoked because I was glad and I’ve smoked because I was depressed. I’ve smoked out of loneliness and out of friendship, out of fear and out of exuberance. Every cigarette that I’ve ever smoked served a purpose — they were a signal, medication, a stimulant or a sedative, they were a plaything, an accessory, a fetish object, something to help pass the time, a memory aid, a communication tool or an object of meditation. Sometimes they were all of these things at once. I no longer smoke, but there are still moments when I can think of nothing but cigarettes. This is one of those moments. I really shouldn’t be writing this book. It’s too much of a risk.
But I won’t be deterred. I will write about it all, without mystifying or demonizing it. I regret nothing. Every cigarette I’ve ever smoked was a good cigarette.

There are people I’d really like to smoke a cigarette with: friends I haven’t seen for a long time, artists I admire. That this won’t come to pass isn’t solely down to me and my resolution. Most of them don’t smoke anymore. Some of them are already dead. I’d have liked to have smoked with my grandfather, whose huge, calloused hands always made the cigarette look so thin and fragile. He died too soon. I’m convinced that he died because his cigarettes were taken away from him when he was admitted to hospital after a fall, even though he smoked only five to ten a day for sixty years. My grandfather was an extremely restrained man. When, on occasion, he spent the whole morning sitting in his kitchen in Koblenz-Pfaffendorf sorting lentils or peeling potatoes laid out on an old newspaper, or polishing brightly dyed Easter eggs with a piece of bacon rind, the pack of Lux with the matchbook hidden inside lay beside him like a promise.
I often dreamt of smoking in an art museum. I imagined how I would sit on one of those smooth, solid wood benches already warmed by the obliquely angled afternoon sun in front of a quickly painted and austere group portrait by Frans Hals, for instance, and light up a Finas Kyriazi Frères, a filterless oriental cigarette that sadly vanished from the market a few years ago.

I’ve no doubt that this would be a moment of absolute clarity, perhaps my greatest moment of happiness.
This will never happen. I no longer smoke. But I can write about it. And as I circle the subject of my addiction — a central theme in my life — through writing, I might as well ask myself a few questions: How did I become a smoker? What was it that I needed? Did the countless cigarettes I smoked throughout the course of my life satisfy this need? How did I deal with my addiction alongside the occasional fear of not being able to control it? Was I not afraid of the risks?
There’s no need for me to set out my reasons for quitting. Everyone knows the arguments, the social and the medical. Smoking is a compulsive behavior. He who conquers his urges gains his freedom. I’ve failed often enough to know that I’m right at the beginning. I’ve decided that this time I’ll write my way out of my addiction by telling its story. I’m devoting my undivided attention to a structure that governed nearly my entire life and that at certain times I actually mistook for being life. I took many of my patterns of behavior, automatisms and thought processes for granted; I never even noticed them. It’s only now in retrospect that I can engage with them and begin to make sense of them.

Something staggering occurs to me: I’ve smoked over a hundred thousand cigarettes and with the best of intentions cannot say whether the paper crackles when you light one like in the old cinema ads. I’ve never noticed, not once.


“Cigarettes function as punctuation for life, argues Gregor Hens, a German author and translator. They make it coherent and add drama, inserting commas, semi-colons and ellipses (and, in the end, an inarguable and often premature full stop). Smoking is bad for you, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.” —The Economist, ‘Books of the Year 2017’ Selection

Nicotine is a smoke ring, blown perfectly in a single puff, or—better?—a wafting trail of vapor. Will Self contributes a foreword, a rapid monologue punctuated with vigorous little twists, as though he were grinding out a stub with yellow-stained fingers.” —Harper‘s

“Tidbits of history are woven throughout, including Adolf Hitler’s anti-smoking stance and Mark Twain’s wit on the subject…Smoking and cigarettes might not be good for the health of the body, but Hens’s glimpse through the prism of addiction offers an enriching and enlightening account that benefits the mind and the soul.” —Shelf Awarenes

“Hens’s short book is an idiosyncratic and thought-provoking essay on the grip of nicotine, how it shaped his life, and how it still factors into his life despite having quit smoking decades ago…Hens gives readers an understanding of what it is like to have an addiction, albeit a legal one, and how the end of an addiction can be felt as a loss.” —Publishers Weekly

“The author is an idiosyncratic stylist whose sentences are often terse and elliptical, and Calleja’s translation ably captures his unique voice. In a book that is as much a paean to smoking as it is a eulogy, Hens is both poetic and unforgiving about the pleasures and pains of smoking.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Tobacco, labeling, and landscape all combine with a snapshot immediacy, powerful and pleasant, that gives flavor and color to Hens’s discovery of the wider world, in all its variety, and to moments of great personal significance. If it’s hard to communicate to nonsmokers how physically and mentally difficult it is to quit, Hens’s memories of nicotine make it palpable to anyone why, even once you’ve stopped smoking, you’re never quite over it.” —4Columns

Nicotine is a meandering journey through a life of everyday addiction, soaked in memories stained sepia by tobacco smoke…The writing is superb, an unclassifiable mix of freeform thought and transcribed memory, reminiscent of the wonderful essayist Geoff Dyer. Its malleable structure, through sheer skill and confidence, allow the many digressions to remain ever valid and precise” —The Skinny

“Elegant, lucid and consistently entertaining.” —The Spectator

“Prepare to be hooked from the first sentence.” —The Globe and Mail

“While Hens searches for his addiction’s source—genetics, Freudian, exposure—and submits to hypnosis’ trance, he offers flashes of Cigarette Power [and] despite qualms that the last cigarette might extinguish his access to literarily fertile material, Nicotine is proof positive that Hens still has the stuff.” —The San Francisco Chronicle

“Cigarettes are an overwrought cultural fixation. There are too many books, essays, movies, and songs about cigarettes. But Nicotine somehow manages to feel fresh in spite of that. Ultimately, it’s a book about longing, and you don’t need to be a current or former smoker to relate to that.” —New York Magazine

“A series of photos that relate to the narrative are sprinkled throughout and add a touch of visual storytelling to the book…Gritty, funny, multilayered, and rich in diversity of themes explored, this is a memoir that transcends its genre and demands to be read as much more than just a man’s look at his lifetime inhaling smoke.” —LitReactor

Nicotine is nothing like a manual for giving up smoking; it does not berate the smoker or extol the healthy benefits of giving up the habit…While Hens has clearly quit, and notes good reasons for doing so, including the simple ability to choose to do what he wants, he does not condemn the sinner…or the sin.” —BookReporter

“Packed with highly personal insights that only someone with a decades-long smoking habit could summon, Nicotine is both a sobering testament to the power of tobacco’s icy grip as well as a counterbalance to the demonizing social pressures that lead many to finally quit.” —World Literature Today

“Hens examines, with clarity and precision, the mysterious interactions of memory, desire, and free will, not so much by remembering every cigarette, but by remembering everything that happened around each cigarette.” —ArtsFuse

“[A] sober and serious discourse on what should always be a sober and serious subject: addiction.” —PopMatters

“Every cigarette I’ve ever smoked now seems, in retrospect, like little more than preparation for this remarkable essay—though nothing in me could have anticipated its exquisitely surprising brilliance, the precision and play of its intellect. It’s about smoking, sure, but it’s also about a luminous and nuanced exploration of how we’re constituted by our obsessions, how our memories arrange themselves inside of us, and how—or if—we control our own lives.” —Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams

About the author:
Gregor Hens is a German writer and translator. He has translated Will Self, Jonathan Lethem, and George Packer into German.


  1. Sounds interesting. As a non smoker, I am curious to know his stance on smoking

  2. This sounds really interesting. I hate to admit that I did smoke for a number of years and it does change your thoughts on the subject.

  3. Hope it lives up to your anticipation. I see you are a former smoker in comment above so I guess that in itself is going to give you an empathy to begin with.

    1. really Kathryn I'm more apposed to smoking as a former smoker so we'll see. I can't imagine why I didn't stop sooner

  4. I've never smoked, but I'm surrounded by many who did (most have quit a while back). I would be very interested in this story.

    Melanie @ Books of My Heart