Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

Naked Lunch was published in 1959 and was subsequently banned in the U.S. Wikipedia claims it was “the last major literary censorship battle in the U.S.” There is virtually no work of art (literary or otherwise) that I think should be banned, but this book certainly should not be read by the faint of heart.

It’s loosely a tale of a heroin addict and his travels across the world, centered around a fictitious city run by addicts and the criminal underworld. It’s one account after another of life as a heroin addict (and other types of addicts), in vivid, repugnant detail. I found it hard to read at times, mostly because of the barrage of disgusting imagery. Burroughs’ use of color to add a weird tangible reality to surreal situations is incredible.

I just finished it today and I can’t tell if I liked it or hated it. On the one hand, Burroughs does an amazingly effective job at showing how detrimental addiction of all kinds can be on society. On the other, the way he gets there is through graphic details about the nastiest parts of the human condition. At times, I felt like his commentary on society’s addictions got lost in the debauchery.

But what’s the point of a book if not to make you think? Reading this certainly made me question society and human relationships in a new way. If you’re looking for a book that will make you marvel at the power of words and will beat you over the head with everything that is wrong with society, then I’d recommend it. “Naked Lunch” is definitely not for the faint of heart.

“Please to be restful. It is only a few crazies who have from the crazy place outbroken.” (p. 38)

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One Response to Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

  1. Jake says:

    this reminds me of how I feel about The Wire. if you haven’t seen it, it’s HBO, takes place in baltimore. on the surface its about the drug trade there, but it really is expansive and over 4 seasons covers a ton of material. first season is mostly the drug trade and the police efforts against it, but it also sets the stage for a ton of other stuff. second through fourth seasons get deeply into politics, the media, and education. it is for the most part utterly realistic and does a fantastic and literary job of developing believable, multifaceted characters about whom you have all the mixed feelings you have about real people, while the plot moves slowly forward in the way that life does, the show is not in the slightest formulaic (compare to law ‘n order). Precisely for its verisimilitude however it can be kinda depressing, for me especially in the 4th season where they show you a lot of classroom/school stuff and you see how hard and hopeless it is in some places.

    download or buy the dvds though, holy shit The Wire is the best show on television

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