Cover image for Among other things, I've taken up smoking
Among other things, I've taken up smoking
Publication Information:
New York : Penguin Press, 2007.
Physical Description:
257 p. ; 22 cm.


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Mirandas often-elusive father announces that he has arranged for her to travel to New York to stay with friends from his old life. When she embarks on this journey that reveals the truth about her fathers past, it opens up her world in ways she cannot begin to imagine.

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Sweeney's debut novel centers around Miranda Donnal, who grows up on Maine's lonely Crab Island, where her father decides to hunker down and work on his translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Shortly after their arrival from New York, Miranda's mother dies in a boating mishap, leaving Miranda in the care of her withdrawn father, who is content to keep his nose in his books. A half-Indian local fisherman, Mr. Blackwell, becomes something of a father figure to Miranda, taking on an unusually devoted caretaker role-cooking for the Donnals, taking Miranda to school and serving as her confidante. Yet secrecy also shrouds Mr. Donnal and Mr. Blackwell's evolving relationship. When Miranda graduates from high school, her father dispatches her to New York City and a job at the classical studies institute he was molded by. There she begins to peel away myth after myth of the father she thought she knew as she falls in love and has her own revelations about intimacy and connections. Sweeney's prose effortlessly conveys her characters' isolation and evolution, and her portrayal of the aftermath of life's slights-big and small-make this coming-of-age better than most. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

"Miranda Donnal is an infant when her parents move from New York City to a remote island off the coast of Maine so her father can complete a translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses. When her mother takes a boat to town and never returns, Miranda is raised by her reclusive father. She grows up primarily in solitude, save for a friendship with Mr. Blackwell, a fisherman who often acts as Miranda's surrogate father. This endearing bond is complicated by the mysterious relationship between Mr. Blackwell and Miranda's father. After Miranda graduates from high school, her father arranges for her to return to New York to work in the classical-studies library that he helped establish years before her birth. It is here that Miranda begins unraveling the mysteries of her father's past, while pushing beyond the threshold of isolation to discover her own enthralling path in life and love. In Sweeney's debut novel, an accomplished coming-of-age tale, her subtle prose elevates the moments when Miranda shrugs off another layer of loneliness."--"Strauss, Leah" Copyright 2007 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

"MY mother disappeared into the fog and didn't come back," says Miranda, the winsome narrator of Aoibheann Sweeney's engaging first novel. In photographs, her mother looks as if "she had stepped into a fog to lose herself before each shutter snapped." Miranda tries to unearth details about her parents' brief alliance, and to learn why her mother rowed off into the "Down East fog" one morning. In this quiet story, the fog is very slow to disperse. Miranda grows up with her reclusive father on a remote islet in Maine, where he retreated to begin a new translation of Ovid's "Metamorphoses." From her isolated childhood on Crab Island, she will travel to the towering wilds of another island, Manhattan. The author gives no direct explanation for the mother's disappearance. She describes a few glaring clues in photographs Miranda pores over, but the reader must construct the problem behind the father's morose behavior. The mother did in fact drown in the icy water. And, left to raise his daughter alone, Peter Donnal is aloof and distracted. A Greek and Latin scholar who wears raveled sweaters, wipes "the sweat from his glasses" and who might tip a rowboat because of his "big brain," he once founded the Institute for Classical Studies in New York with Arthur Mitchell, who later bequeathed to him his house on Crab Island. We never learn if a publisher is waiting for the Ovid text, or if Peter's writing is just an obsession. But as a child Miranda finds succor typing up her father's daily revisions. Reading Ovid's myths of "change" forces her to examine her own feelings. "My purpose is to tell of bodies changed into different bodies," Ovid says. Miranda thinks "the process of transformation ... was sometimes a punishment," but when describing to a girlfriend Phaëthon's desire to borrow his father's chariot, she explains it's because "boys like to drive things." There are delightfully lyric moments in Sweeney's descriptions of Miranda's motherless domestic life. She sees the "dishwashing soap, like the silhouette of a woman, behind the kitchen curtains." She feels "happiness sweep across the room like a beam from the lighthouse." A yacht in full sail far out in the bay looks like an "overdressed dinner guest, too shy to sit." In Maine, Miranda experiences her first kiss and loses her virginity to a visiting sailor. When she skips her college-admissions test, her father sends her to Manhattan to work at his beloved Institute for Classical Studies, where she enters the antiquated card catalog into a computer. Her nannies are two resident gay men, Walter and Robert. Here Miranda enters the next phase of her metamorphosis, from sprite to siren, but the author's gloss of the city lacks the sharp observation found in introductions to urban life like Joan Didion's famous essay about her first time in the city. Yet Miranda is taught the proper way to eat falafel without dripping grease, and when she's overcome by her new surroundings, she says, "I could feel the stains on my skirt deepen." Miranda's reactions to New York streets are often predictable. She is too impressed by Chinatown and feels uncomfortable in art museums, where she's shocked by Franz Kline paintings. She stares at the art, "hopelessly innocent." Still, after a night with a lover she says the twin towers "glittered" like "two women in their evening dresses from the night before." She dates the son of a wealthy Connecticut family and makes a disastrous visit to their country house, where she witnesses how families "liked to humiliate each other." Instead, she pursues Ana, a young Latina who operates a coffee cart. Although the novel's title mentions a cigarette habit, characters sip coffee in almost every setting and situation; it's almost as if Sweeney can't think of another activity for them. Miranda's father has had a past life, before his marriage, and his relationship with a fisherman Miranda always calls Mr. Blackwell is an early hint at a core secret, when Miranda finds the man asleep on the sofa in "his large naked feet." But her father's relationship with Mr. Blackwell is never revealed. Sweeney keeps us enmeshed in her character's naïveté, but a mystery is better evoked by an accretion of disturbing details, rather than viewed with a child's half-knowledge. Sweeney's reluctance to examine explicit events gives the book its own protective fog, and makes Miranda seem too complacent. The two gay men at the Institute, snippy Robert and urbane Walter, finally reveal aspects of her father's relationship with Arthur, who presumably died of AIDS. Walter tells her, "Arthur got sick and when he died he gave your father that island of his." Miranda begins to grasp that her father might be gay. She understands that her mother might have "left me behind" because of this, but says "I had learned to drive through the fog" and "never really blamed her, anyway." "Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking" follows a daughter's journey in search of her parents, "island hopping" between father and mother, until she finally accepts what tore them apart. Maria Flook's recent books are "Lux," a novel, and "Invisible Eden: A Story of Love and Murder on Cape Cod."

Kirkus Review

A young woman moves from a small island off the coast of Maine to a larger island--Manhattan--where she learns both to adjust to a new life and to negotiate the shoals of her past. At the age of three, Miranda Donnal moves to Crab Island with her brilliant but preoccupied father. Shortly after, her mother disappears in the enveloping fog, a shadow among shadows. For the next 15 years, Miranda's father Peter works on a translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses, a book of changes that provides ironic counterpoint to the monotony of his own life. He lives in both the fog of coastal Maine and a fog of his own devising, for his drinking and the sea turtle pace of his translation distance him from his daughter, whose life is vividly connected to the gods, goddesses and nymphs of Ovid. When Miranda graduates from high school, her father arranges for her to work at the Institute of Classical Studies, a private learning center he had helped found in New York City before Miranda was born. In the weeks Miranda spends in the city, she has a brief fling with Nate, a Latin teacher at the Institute, and a deeper relationship with Ana, who runs a coffee concession. Along the way, Miranda begins to piece together the melancholic story of her father's past and ultimately realizes the depth of her love for this difficult and uncommunicative man. In her final epiphany, she tells Ana how "for a while I had lived in a world in which trees spoke and gods flew, and how I thought that if I waited long enough things would get marvelous like they did in the stories Ovid told, and become something else." In this novel, we watch Miranda "become something else" as she begins to move out of her loneliness and toward connection both with Ana and with her father. A lyrical debut novel of isolation and communion. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

Miranda Donnal, wise beyond her years, lives on remote Crab Island with her brilliant but troubled scholar father, who is translating Ovid's Metamorphoses. She has almost no friends except Mr. Blackwell, who shows her how to fish and pilot his boat. Although authorities from the mainland believe that her father is endangering her education, by typing her father's handwritten translations Miranda in fact makes all the magical stories and myths part of her life. Miranda imagines her passage in their boat from the mainland to the island to be Pha?thon's ride in his father's chariot. In time, her father arranges for her to work at the Institute for Classical Studies in New York, where she is inevitably drawn deeper into her father's mysterious past. At the same time, she finds a whole new world in the glamour of Manhattan, and she pictures herself as Galatea, the statue who turns to flesh in her creator's hands, undergoing her own change after leaving the island. First-time novelist Sweeney has written an amazingly rich and complex coming-of-age novel. Highly recommended for all public libraries.-Donna Bettencourt, Mesa Cty. P.L., Grand Junction, CO (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.