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A Life in Smoke: A Memoir


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About the Author

Julia Hansen was born in 1963 in Vineland, New Jersey. She lives in Reading, Pennsylvania, with her husband and son.


First-time writer Hansen once took desperate measures to quit smoking, spending a week of vacation time chained to her dining room radiator. Here, she recounts her story in seven chapters, one for each day spent "in lockdown." This is more a pretext to relay the milestones of her life a troubled childhood, descent into and recovery from alcoholism, and dysfunctional romances, all culminating in the evolution of an increasingly stable, middle-aged adult ready to shed her last addiction. Cigarettes were integral to helping Hansen avoid her emotions and to keeping her from living her truth. Though she is unable to quit after her seven-day ordeal, the drama of confinement spurs her to take more substantive steps toward overcoming this powerful addiction. Along the way, readers come to know Hansen's relationships with her mother, husband, and son. Creative similes (e.g., "Profanities tumbled from her soft mouth like the dice from a Yahtzee cup") contribute to this compelling read, in which the drama of Hansen's life far outweighs the drama of being chained up. Published to coincide with the Great American Smokeout, this is recommended. Elaine M. Lasda Bergman, Healthcare Assn. of New York State, Rensselaer Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

"A memoir worth reading requires brutal honesty and a voice that grips from the start. Julia Hansen delivers both in a book that explains precisely how addiction takes hold and refuses to -- ever -- let go."

-- Amy Wilensky, author of "The Weight of It" and "Passing for Normal"

"Reader, beware: not only has Julia Hansen chronicled her final frontier of chemical addictions in a manner you'll stay up all night to finish, but she has penetrated the smoke screens we use to separate us from the terrors of loving and being loved. "A Life in Smoke" will knock the breath out of you, making you treasure every fight with your dearest, every unwanted piece of advice from your mother, and every peanut butter hug you'll ever get."

-- Frances Kuffel, author of "Passing for Thin: Losing Half My Weight and Finding Myself"

"Julia Hansen's vivid account of her love affair with nicotine is intoxicating. She knows her menthols like a lover, perhaps better, and brilliantly translates the enigma of addiction in this brave and exacting memoir."

-- Betsy Lerner, author of "Food and Loathing"

Hansen, an editor of health books, wanted to quit smoking and realized that it would take drastic measures to stop. In November 2003, she and her husband, John, bought a 40-pound, 72-foot steel chain-the rasp of its dragging links intended to underscore her battle with nicotine-and he shackled her to a radiator in their Pennsylvania home every day for a week. In seven chapters marking each of her days enchained, Hansen explores her experience of withdrawal and delves into her memories of the life that led to this self-imposed bondage. She describes her mother's daily cigarette, her father's abandonment, her stepfather's reticence, her time writing porn and health advice, her battle with alcoholism, her son Daniel, her divorce and a lifetime of friends and lovers. As the title alludes, each memory floats in a haze of smoke, punctuated by flashbacks to the burn and beauty of individual cigarettes. Hansen's writing is skillfully rich in detail, but for readers, the very premise of chaining herself to a radiator is itself like inhaling that first cigarette-to some the very idea is distasteful, to others intriguing. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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