You, too, can stop smoking, with this guide to stop-smoking guides!
In other words, a mantra. Quitting represents a conversion, and it may well require a variety of religious experience. You should not resist believing this idea even and especially if you are the sort of person who, though embracing the ancillary pleasures of religion (Easter baskets, Seder briskets), looks askance at the enterprise of religious belief. The book says that this sentence “is meant to be a private statement between you and yourself, only,” but since you are writing a piece on the subject, you will, in advance of Quit Day, draft a snappy one and fix a simple echo of it to ripple across the prose, as if it were a note to self on a coded frequency.
Step 7: Have another cigarette while finishing the Carr book, the central advice of which arrives in the 32nd of its 44 chapters: 1) Make the decision to quit. 2) Don’t mope.
Sterling, 2005. Photo by Juliana Jimenez for Slate.
He knows what you’re thinking:
You are probably asking, “Why the need for the rest of the book? Why couldn’t you have said that in the first place?” The answer is that you would at some time have moped about it, and consequently, sooner or later, you would have changed your decision.
But there’s a bit more than that going on. To clarify, we turn to William S. Burroughs, a keen reader of Brean’s How To Stop Smoking. In a 1976 interview, he likened the book’s instructions to think calmly about smoking and write a list of what you don’t like about it to a Buddhist writing technique: “Look at your data, and a solution will present itself.”
Step 8: Run into one of your very few friends who still smokes and go have a beer. When the two of you, safely allied, step into the sultry night for a smoke, tell him how your project is going. He will point you in the direction of a piece in which David Sedaris memorializes his former life as smoker and his mother’s ragged breath. At the end, just abruptly enough, the scene shifts to a lounge at Charles de Gaulle Airport, where Sedaris stubs out his final and his final and then, OK, his ultimate final-final Kool Mild.
You like the way Sedaris describes the decision to quit—the click of the mental switch—by telling a story about a German woman whose command of English was slightly, blissfully unsteady: “I once asked if her neighbor smoked, and she thought for a moment before saying, ‘Karl has … finished with his smoking.’ ” The author scores a hit with the error:
“Finished” made it sound as if he’d been allotted a certain number of cigarettes, three hundred thousand, say, delivered at the time of his birth. If he’d started a year later or smoked more slowly, he might still be at it, but, as it stood, he had worked his way to the last one, and then moved on with his life. This, I thought, was how I would look at it.
Step 9 (optional): Start sharpening your appreciation—Romantic, but not wistful—for whiffs of secondhand smoke caught on the street. Commit to memory three relevant couplets from Charles Lamb’s “Farewell to Tobacco”:
Troy Patterson is Slate's television critic.