Best Books to Read While Smoking A Pipe

The subject of what are the best books to read while smoking your pipe comes up often. The answer is; “whichever book you like” is the obvious response and you can’t go wrong saying so. But what books lend themselves to quietly sitting with your pipe.

There are many ways to answer this. One could be to list books where pipe smoking is part of the story. Anything in the Sherlock Holmes series is a good example of that. How about books written by pipe smokers. Roland the Dragon has a great video on the subject [I will provide a list at the end of this article]. Although to be honest, those first two categories often go together.

You could look at it in the light of the fact that many of the classics were written by pipe smokers, but at the time most men were. Therefore it’s natural that would happen. But you could also say that being pipe smokers themselves, they tended to include it in their stories since it was part of their lives. Both are most likely true.

Another type of book is one where the subject matter is pipes. That is particularly fun for someone with more than a casual interest in pipe smoking. Someone who collects pipes and enjoys the history of them. There hasn’t been a ton of books written on the subject, but enough that you can build yourself a little collection if you fancied.

Pipesmoking: A 21st Century Guide by Richard Carlton Hacker. He has written several books. All very good. The Pipe Book by Alfred Dunhill, Clay Pipes by Eric G.Ayto, and In Search of Pipe Dreams by Rick Newcombe are a few examples. Not to mention specific books on Castello Pipes, Sherlock Holmes As A Pipe Smoker and countless books on tobacco.

The Best Books

Then there are books that are just enjoyable to read. They may or may not feature pipes. They might have been written by a pipe smoker but it doesn’t matter. These are the books that you can plop down in a chair, light up a pipe and dig in. The book is better because you have the pipe going, and the pipe is better because you are deep in a good book. What can possibly go better together?

Mr. Charles Dickens

Right off the bat I’m going to cheat. I’m not going to list a single book but rather the entire oeuvre. There is no doubt of Charles Dickens’ literary genius. He was the most popular author of his era and possibly the entire 19th century. Dickens was appreciated in his time, but I don’t think not as much now. Unlike Hemingway. who is the opposite. A bit unappreciated for his works when he was alive, but certainly overrated now. Ernie was best known for his life, not his work, while Charlie is the opposite.

When you bring up Dickens people will almost always say “I read him in high school”. There was a reason for that, but what teachers fail to understand (actually, they probably know all too well) is that books like these are wasted on high schoolers. Some will enjoy them but most will do what ever they can not to really read them or do it for the assignment’s sake, not the enjoyment of the book. The teacher might feel that it’s their one and only chance to get them to read something good, and they may be right.

I knew a guy once and offered a book to him on a subject he really liked, baseball. He bragged that he hasn’t read one single book since he got out of high school 30 years ago. Some people aren’t book readers and there’s nothing wrong with it, but to brag about it seemed odd. Not to mention the fact that he didn’t need to tell me he’s never read a book on his own. The fact was glaringly obvious.

A Tale of Two Books

The reason I say all the books is because it really covers all the bases. Baseball pun intended. He wrote enough that there is pretty much something for everyone and every season. I chose Dickens because it really falls under the header literature, but doesn’t go back so far that the language becomes a barrier. Shakespeare’s works are the best but the English can be hard for anyone but the most hardcore to appreciate. Plus being in play format, they make great stories, but not so great books. It’s easy to get lost in the who’s who of the story and putting people in disguises makes it even worse. To me Shakespeare is meant to be seen like Opera is meant to be heard.

Dickens on the other hand is easy to read. Not written in modern English, and thankfully not too modern. It’s reads fine and it’s not hard at all to catch the subtitles of his writing. It’s also old enough to be quaint, but not too old so you miss the point. There’s a good reason why his stories have survived so long and are the basis for many other works. They are truly classic.

There is enough to choose from among all the novels and short stories but Tale of Two Cities is my favorite. I’ve read it many, many times and each go around I pick out something new. For those light on the French Revolution and the idea of equality, you really need to read it. I’m not going to turn this list into book reviews or book reports, but I will say A Tale of Two Cities is a great mix of history and fiction. The struggles of the family and a country’s obsession with The National Razor. A group of radicals that hated the abuse of power and the imposition of what they saw as unjust laws forced their way into power and promptly proceeded lopping off anyone’s head that disagreed with them.

Libertyequality, fraternity, or death. Sound familiar?

And yes, there is plenty of pipe smoking throughout Dickens’ writings. Both the good and bad guys.

Second

Oliver Twist is great and A Christmas Carol is the best to read at Christmas time. David Copperfield is very autobiographical and if you don’t want to read one of the few biographies on Charles Dickens, read that. There is also Ghost Stories for those that like that sort of thing. Just as good as Poe in my opinion. But my second choice is going to be Bleak House. It’s a great work of fiction and the story really pulls you in. Not exactly as exciting as a Jack Reacher novel (Sorry Mr. Child, people think of him, not you). It has more of a Robert B. Parker feel to it. Without a Tom Selleck lead man or a Jeff Beal soundtrack. I think it’s his second best novel.

The Leviathan

This is on the list because everyone knows the novel but so few have actually read the whole thing. Moby Dick or, the Whale by Herman Melville. It’s too bad because it really is a fantastic story. You can learn so much about the period and how important whaling was. See what happens to a man’s mind when he becomes obsessed. You will also be able to tell the difference between Capt. Ahab and Capt. Nemo. Fringe benefits for the pipe smoker are understanding the logo used for McClelland pipe tobacco and the Cornell & Diehl’s Melville series.

The genius of Melville in this novel isn’t only the way he used obsession and revenge as the plot, but the way he incorporates completely different styles of writing into the book. It’s almost like a few people wrote it without collaborating and just stuck it together. But it really works great. The book is extremely complex and you can read it a hundred times and still get as much out of it as the first time. It is very deep and perfect to read while the pipe is going.

One of Queequeg’s most cherished possessions is his tomahawk pipe, which Ishmael says has two functions: to brain foes and to soothe the soul

From Moby Dick

My suggestions to you is 1) Read Mocha Dick. It is the true story of a whale that was feared, and the inspiration for Melville. The fact that it’s historical makes it that much better and you’ll be able to see parallels in Moby Dick. If you can’t find a copy, a very good alternative is the Wreck of the Whale Ship Essex. Now that I think about it, I should have put that one first, it’s an excellent book and the perfect book to read before you tackle M.D. 2) Dispel any misconceptions you may have on the book. The people who make fun of it or wouldn’t read it if you paid them are the ones that would fall down an open manhole while checking their Facebook page.

Not only is Moby Dick a wonderful history lesson, it provides timeless insights. As Melville states, all men at one time or another in some degree have the same feeling towards the ocean. If you agree that it is a masterpiece, try reading it while you’re out to sea!

She Gave Me A Smile I Could Feel In My Hip Pocket

OK, now that we have covered the classics, let’s get into the nitty gritty. The hard boiled world of the private dick. There are so many I could name. I’m going to skip the obvious Sherlock Holmes books. Every list of pipe smoking books will put him on it. Probably even top it. He’s the whole package when it comes to books to read while smoking your pipe, so why bother putting it on mine? You don’t need me to tell you that.

But the genera is too good to pass up. Hercule Poirot from Agatha Christie is a great character, always worth a read. So many people copy her which is a testament to her ability. But I prefer a more rough character, something with a little acid in the writing. Nobody can do better than Raymond Chandler. If I could write like anyone, it would be him. So gritty, so real. Plus his guy was Philip Marlowe.

Raymond Chandler

Take a gander at this little collection of quotes from his books. If that doesn’t make you want to read Chandler, nothing will.

He didn’t write very many books, but every single one of them is a masterpiece. I think if you’re going to read only one or two of my suggestions, make one a Raymond Chandler book. You will be hooked. The funny thing is, none of them are on my official list. I’m just using it to set up my actual choice. Although I can’t tell you enough how much I love Raymond Chandler.

Chandler’s life had more tragedy than most and he didn’t begin writing until he was in his 40s. Problems with alcoholism, womanizing & suicide attempts all contributed to his sad life and dark outlook. He did live to 71 despite pounding both liver and lung.

I Will Be In The Plant Room

So if I were to pick one from the genius of Sherlock or Hercule and the grittiness of Marlowe. I’m going to do with Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe.

It has the best mix of all the famous private detectives. Nero is a genius like Sherlock, but doesn’t ride around in hansom cabs. In fact, he doesn’t like to ride around at all. He’s not conducting experiments because he’s too lazy. He’d rather be up attending the orchids, between 9-ll am and 4-6 pm.

He didn’t have a wimpy sidekick like Sherlock did. I mean what was Dr. Watson ever really good for? Kind of a poof if you ask me. If you’re going to have someone go out and do your bidding give me Archie Goodwin every time. He brings to the Nero Wolfe books what Philip Marlowe brought to Chandler novels. Archie knows how to get things done and what Wolfe’s limitations are and complements the stories perfectly. He even says out loud what you might be thinking in your head. What a fat lazy bum. But Archie knows he’s a genius so knows when to sit back and hold his tongue when he has to.

There are dozens of books in the Nero Wolfe series, so there is plenty of reading if you like it. This is the first book where there is not pipe smoking nor do I think Rex Stout was a pipe smoker himself. Although Wolfe had an open policy in his office and people were free to light up. Even pipes.

I Would Like A Pipe to Smoke in Comfort

In the fantasy category (a category I just made up so I can put these books on the list) I’m going to go with The Lord of the Rings. Any and all of them, which includes The Hobbit even though that technically doesn’t count in the Trilogy.

The reason it’s on the list is because J.R.R. Tolkien was one of the most beloved pipe smokers that ever lived. Almost all pipe smokers love him. He also includes lots and lots of pipe smoking in his works. His love for the pipes comes through in his fictional world.

Not to mention it is a fantastic world he created. The story is classic and absorbing. I can’t say enough about these books. If you like fantasy, you could only read these books and be totally content. We all know the story even if you haven’t read the books but only saw the epic movie series. No matter how big the blockbuster is, it doesn’t compare to the books. There is no feeling in the world like flipping through the book and reading about Hobbits and Dragons while smoking your pipe. If you’re really hard core you’ll have Capstan tobacco in your pipe.

‘Well, you can go on looking forward,’ said Gandalf. ‘There may be many unexpected feats ahead for you. For myself I would like a pipe to smoke in comfort, and warmer feet. However, we are certain of one thing at any rate: it will get warmer as we get south.

Gandalf

The biggest reason this makes my list is because if I left it off there are some pipe smokers that would murder me. They would throw me into the fiery pits of Mount Doom. Not something I want! Plus they have a good point.

The Genius of Time

This book has nothing to do with pipe smoking nor is it written by a pipe smoker. But it happens to be my personal all-time favorite book Its Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sorbel. Get the illustrated version if you can. The problem of longitude is one of the least known today yet one of the greatest achievements in history. It’s about the seemingly impossible problem of finding longitude at sea. Knowing what latitude you are at is child’s play, but knowing longitude stumped the brightest minds in history.

It was solved by a clock maker named John Harrison. There are so many fascinating stories buried in this book, you won’t be able to put it down. Sorbel does a wonderful job telling the story. You will want to read some of her other books which are also good. But this one is just amazing. What Harrison accomplished with his ideas and some hand tools is unmatched in history.

You don’t know how bad I want to start telling you the story right now. I could talk about this subject for hours on end. But I don’t want to spoil anything.

As most people know, when you get older you get wiser. One lesson I got out of this book is that wisdom doesn’t come from knowing a vast data base of facts. You can know a lot of stuff about many different things. You can be super smart, but to make a difference, it’s better to have deep insights on a few things. Maybe even just one. A genius with a purpose has the ability to change the entire course of human history. John Harrison was one of those men.

The List

I was going to start listing books in different categories, but it seemed too much like I was shotgunning it. It’s hard to recommend books because people like such different things. Even the books recommended to me have a hit or miss track record. But I think I’ll stick with my five, there’s five in that mess, right?

Dickens, Moby Dick, Nero Wolfe, LOTRs and Longitude.

That’s the list and I’m sticking to it. Have fun.

Roland The Dragon’s List

List of books written by pipe smokers

The Complete Sherlock Holmes Treasury by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Available on Amazon.

Tales of Horror and the Supernatural by Arthur Machen. Paperback edition.

Real Magic: Ancient Wisdom, Modern Science, and a Guide to the Secret Power of the Universe written by Isaac Bonewits. Kindle edition.

Slaap! by Roland H. Baul. Unable to find an available copy.

Books by Scarlet Levy A. She has written three books on runes, and on how it’s energies affect the human mind. Also unavailable.

The Moon Child by Aleister Crowley. Available in different formats including an illustrated edition.

Dr. Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer. Easy to find and even has a beautiful leather bound edition. There are many books in this series.

Modern Man in Search of A Soul by Carl Gustav Jung. Very popular from one of the founders of modern psychology.

Ideas and Opinions by Albert Einstein. Link.

Any of the books in the Maigret series written by George Simenon.

We Have Only this Life to Live by Jean Paul Sartre. Winner of the Nobel Prize in literature which he declined. Strange chap, good book.