Johnny’s First Cigarette by Nick Tosches

illustrated by Lisa Marie-Moyen
French translation by Heloise Esquie
Vagabonde, 2014

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This book arrived with a note from its author: “The perfect Christmas gift from Old Nick for all those gluten-conscious cell-phone mommies and their fat little screaming Ritalin-brained spawn.”

So begins the story of little Johnny, and Johnny wants to smoke. Johnny has a gramps who teaches him to shoot craps. Johnny also has a mom and dad who don’t want him to smoke or shoot craps.

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Somewhere in all this excitement comes a line that I think sums up the whole of Tosches’ great career as a writer and cultural commentator:

“Beautiful and wonderful things come to us if we see beauty and wonder in them.”

A perfect line, and a perfect description of everything Nick Tosches does better than any living (and most dead) writer (s).  After all it was Nick who pointed the world towards the wonder and beauty in such illustrious (some might even say dubious in a few of the following cases) careers of Emmett Miller (Where Dead Voices Gather), Dean Martin (Dino: Living High In The Dirty Business of Dreams), Jerry Lee Lewis (Hellfire), Sonny Liston (The Devil & Sonny Liston in the U.S., Night Train everywhere else), even Arnold Rothstein (King of the Jews). Beauty, wonder, and more.

This is perhaps the greatest lesson a kid can be taught– not whether smoking or shooting dice is good or bad. And that I think is a fine reason to buy this lovely, profusely illustrated volume for some tyke this Christmas. As for Johnny, I wouldn’t worry about his little lungs, something tells me like his creator Nick, he’ll be just fine.

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