Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Thoughts Without Cigarettes: Review and Giveaway

"Now if you had met me during my adolescence, when I'd finally started hanging around with the other kids, you probably wouldn't have noticed any anguish in my face, and if anything, you might have judged me a pensive and bespectacled young man, prone to a somewhat nervous joviality. Still, I was an unsettled soul. Scared of heights, I'd go up to our rooftop, some six stories above, and hang over the edge, always clutching my glasses, to get over that fear. (It never took.)"
~Thoughts Without Cigarettes, Oscar Hijuelos
Operating on the principle that it is better to beg forgiveness than ask for permission (is it really?), I quoted from my copy of this book, although I'm not really supposed to, because it's an advance uncorrected proof. So, the above passage may be altered in the final version of the book, or may not even be included.  I hope it is included, just as it is.
While I haven't read any of Oscar Hijuelos' eight novels (furthermore, I should admit that I never even heard of him before being approached about this tour), Thoughts Without Cigarettes: A Memoir sounded interesting to me because the work of this internationally bestselling author is highly acclaimed, and because I also grew up in NYC.  Born in 1951 in Morningside Heights, Manhattan to Cuban immigrant parents, Oscar Hijuelos is the first Hispanic (or Latino) to win a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, in 1990, for his second novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.  In 1992, it was adapted for the film The Mambo Kings, and as a Broadway musical in 2005. In 2000, he received the Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature. Credentials like that are hard to ignore.

One of the first things that I noticed and appreciated about the book is that it is full of parenthetical remarks.  I like to read them, and I like to employ them, too, in my own writing.  They add another level to writing, a subtle undercurrent of thought or feeling, and/or they make you feel as if the author is confiding in you.  (I wonder if young aspiring writers learn about or use parentheses much today? Hopefully, yes.)

Oscar Hijuelos is a natural.  (Do we say that about writers?)  The writing in this memoir seems effortless, organic (is that the right word?), although I know of course it must have been anything but during the actual process.   ("Effortlessness" is deceptive--actors who make acting look easy are actually very talented and skillful, and the same is most likely true for writers.)  Based on the naturalness of the prose in this book, I am certain that Oscar Hijuelos is a gifted novelist, able to bring people and places to life, as he demonstrates in his memoir with his family and various friends (starting with a friend who began smoking cigarettes at the age of seven or eight).  While reading the book, I could understand what he experienced/experiences as a writer--a lot of work that's accompanied by intense joy.   I consider myself fortunate to have read this memoir, which is full of anecdotes about the author's life growing up in NYC, as well as thoughts about writing and his career as a writer.   I think anyone with an interest in this author or writing would truly enjoy reading this memoir.

Exciting news! Penguin is generously offering a giveaway for a copy of Thoughts Without Cigarettes (U.S./Canada only).

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower, or that you subscribe in Google Reader.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

Enter by 5PM PDT on Monday, June 20. One winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Tuesday, June 21. Good luck!

Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for sending me this book. For more reviews of this book, please visit the other stops on TLC's Thoughts Without Cigarettes book blog tour.


  1. I'm not familiar with the author and I have no aspirations of being a writer, but I do love a good memoir. This one may be a little too intellectual for me.

  2. I'm a big fan of parentheses too. You're so right - it does feel like the author is confiding in you!

    Thanks for being on the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

  3. Oscar Hijuelos is an author to look out for then. Nice review Suko :)

  4. Great post! Sounds interesting. I'm already a follower :)


  5. This does sound like an interesting memoir to read. I am a GFC follower.

  6. sounds like a very interesting book

  7. I don't know this author and like the way you speak about him and the way he writes. Thanks !

  8. This does sound like a really interesting book and I loved the parts that you quoted. I also hope they make it into the book! I would love the chance to win this one, so please do enter me in your giveaway, and thanks for hosting it!


  9. I would love to read this.

  10. I like your observation that he likes parenthetical remarks. I tend to do that too. I also like the reason why you like it, makes total sense. Great review.

  11. See I knew I would have liked this better if I had just read it at a different time. A part of me got that this was really well written, as you point out, but I just couldn't fall in to it.

  12. Parentetical - one of my favourite terms, I love the way it rolls off the tongue.

  13. I know what you mean about being scared to quote from uncorrected ARCs. I live in fear of doing that. And I too am a big fan of the parenthetical thought ... I used if often and heavily. : )

  14. I have read several of Oscar Hiijuelos's books and would love to read his memoir and discover a bit about this wonderful author. As you said, he is a gifted writer and I can only imagine when he turns this gift to his own life, what terrific events and occurrences he writes and describes!

    Thank you for hosting this giveaway!

  15. I'm a GFC follower of your blog!

  16. I do have one book by this author, and I enjoy memoirs. I'm curious about this one.

  17. I love memoirs and this sounds interesting. Count me in!

  18. This sounds like an interesting book. Thanks for the chance!

    nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

  19. GFC Follower

    nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

  20. The title alone captured my attention since I am a recovering cigarette-smoker! :)


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