Monday, August 26, 2013

Thank You For Smoking

Thank You for SmokingThank You for Smoking by Christopher Buckley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Big Tobacco spokesman Nick Naylor slings BS to pay his mortgage - but after getting death threats he worries that he may have smoked his last cigarette.

Nick's boss, BR, has his eye on making room for his secretary in the VP slot, so Nick has to keep spinning inventively to keep ahead of the ax. His rhetoric is sharp and he's nimble in an argument: switching seamlessly from ad hominem to reductio ad absurdum, poking holes in his sanctimonious opponents, and scoring temporary victories to keep tobacco sales up. The truth doesn't trouble him (much), since he only gets paid to blow smoke.

My  favorite scenes are the conversations between Nick and his lunch buddies from SAFETY (the pro-gun lobby) and the Moderation Council (wine, beer, and spirits). Their chatter is hilariously honest as they discuss their goals of getting their products into the hands of consumers, and it's like reading The Screwtape Letters set in a bar in D.C. They refer to themselves as the Mod Squad: Merchants of Death.

There are also a few very funny sex scenes - all weird suggestion and grunting. This book is hardly PC in its depiction of women, but does that surprise anyone? Women in Nick's white, male-dominated world are either sexy or scary - there's no in-between, though some do manage to be both.

The dialog and character descriptions are razor-sharp: some important celebrities - Oprah! - and politicians - Margaret Thatcher! - get skewered (and though it was written in 1994, this book may just as well have been published last year when it alludes to politicians' transgressions). I love the hilarious movie starring Aaron Eckhart (a movie about smoking in which no one smokes!) Fans of one will certainly love the other - though there are some substantial differences, most notably with the character of Nick's son and the ending.

Christopher Buckley has written other political satire, including Boomsday, about a blogger who suggests that the government encourage people over 75 to off themselves to relieve the overburdened Social Security system. Buckley's father was William F. Buckley, a well-known libertarian writer who died of emphysema in 2008. He wrote an opinion piece before his death entitled "My Smoking Confessional", about his personal experience and views on tobacco.

So Quotable:
"Nick Naylor had been called many things since becoming chief spokesman for the Academy of Tobacco Studies, but until now no one had actually compared him to Satan." - 3

"A direct steal from the Jesse Jackson School of Meaningless but Rhymed Oratory, but it worked." - 4

"It was crucial not to pause here to let the stunning non sequitur embed itself in their neural processors." - 5

"The Mod Squad in ways resembled the gatherings of Hollywood comedy writers who met over coffee to bounce new jokes off one another. Only here it was sound bites deemphasizing the lethality of their products." - 24

"They were the Cavaliers of Consumption aligned on the field of battle against the Roundheads of Neo-Puritanism." - 29

"He had seven daughters: Andy, Tommie, Bobbie, Chris, Donnie, Scotty, and Dave, upon whom the burden of her father's frustrated desire for a male heir had perhaps fallen hardest." - 53

"Ninety-nine percent of everything that is done in the world, good and bad, is done to pay a mortgage. The world would be a much better place if everyone rented." - 89

"I don't have all the answers on that. I'm not a doctor. I'm just a facilitator. All I do is bring creative people together. What information there is, is out there. People will decide for themselves. I can't make the decision for them. It's not my role. It would be morally presumptuous." - 170

"In a hot medium, coolness is all, limpidity is better, and not picking your nose is key." - 195

"A bit tortured, perhaps, but he'd at least kicked a little putative dirt onto the shoes of a venerable doctor, a pediatric surgeon, at that. A men who saved the lives of ... little children. Don't think about that! Thank God Koop looked like Captain Ahab with that scary beard of his." - 197

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