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Before his 1959 breakthrough, Naked Lunch, an unknown William S. Burroughs wrote Junky, his first novel. It is a candid eye-witness account of times and places that are now long gone, an unvarnished field report from the American post-war underground. Unafraid to portray himself in 1953 as a confirmed member of two socially-despised under classes (a narcotics addict and a homosexual), Burroughs was writing as a trained anthropologist when he unapologetically described a way of life - in New York, New Orleans, and Mexico City - that by the 1940's was already demonized by the artificial anti-drug hysteria of an opportunistic bureaucracy and a cynical, prostrate media. For this fiftieth-anniversary edition, eminent Burroughs scholar Oliver Harris has painstakingly recreated the author's original text, word by word, from archival typescripts and places the book's contents against a lively historical background in a comprehensive introduction. Here as well, for the first time, are Burroughs' own unpublished introduction and an entire omitted chapter, along with many "lost" passages, as well as auxiliary texts by Allen Ginsberg and others.

166 pages, Paperback

First published April 15, 1953

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About the author

William S. Burroughs

366 books5,863 followers
William Seward Burroughs II, (also known by his pen name William Lee) was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, painter, and spoken word performer.
A primary figure of the Beat Generation and a major postmodernist author, he is considered to be "one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the 20th century".
His influence is considered to have affected a range of popular culture as well as literature. Burroughs wrote 18 novels and novellas, six collections of short stories and four collections of essays.
Five books have been published of his interviews and correspondences. He also collaborated on projects and recordings with numerous performers and musicians, and made many appearances in films.
He was born to a wealthy family in St. Louis, Missouri, grandson of the inventor and founder of the Burroughs Corporation, William Seward Burroughs I, and nephew of public relations manager Ivy Lee. Burroughs began writing essays and journals in early adolescence. He left home in 1932 to attend Harvard University, studied English, and anthropology as a postgraduate, and later attended medical school in Vienna. After being turned down by the Office of Strategic Services and U.S. Navy in 1942 to serve in World War II, he dropped out and became afflicted with the drug addiction that affected him for the rest of his life, while working a variety of jobs. In 1943 while living in New York City, he befriended Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, the mutually influential foundation of what became the countercultural movement of the Beat Generation.
Much of Burroughs's work is semi-autobiographical, primarily drawn from his experiences as a heroin addict, as he lived throughout Mexico City, London, Paris, Berlin, the South American Amazon and Tangier in Morocco. Finding success with his confessional first novel, Junkie (1953), Burroughs is perhaps best known for his third novel Naked Lunch (1959), a controversy-fraught work that underwent a court case under the U.S. sodomy laws. With Brion Gysin, he also popularized the literary cut-up technique in works such as The Nova Trilogy (1961–64). In 1983, Burroughs was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and in 1984 was awarded the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by France. Jack Kerouac called Burroughs the "greatest satirical writer since Jonathan Swift", a reputation he owes to his "lifelong subversion" of the moral, political and economic systems of modern American society, articulated in often darkly humorous sardonicism. J. G. Ballard considered Burroughs to be "the most important writer to emerge since the Second World War", while Norman Mailer declared him "the only American writer who may be conceivably possessed by genius".
Burroughs had one child, William Seward Burroughs III (1947-1981), with his second wife Joan Vollmer. Vollmer died in 1951 in Mexico City. Burroughs was convicted of manslaughter in Vollmer's death, an event that deeply permeated all of his writings. Burroughs died at his home in Lawrence, Kansas, after suffering a heart attack in 1997.

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Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
December 14, 2018
”Morphine hits the backs of the legs first, then the back of the neck, a spreading wave of relaxation slackening the muscles away from the bones so that you seem to float without outlines, like lying in warm salt water. As this relaxing wave spread through my tissues, I experienced a strong feeling of fear. I had the feeling that some horrible image was just beyond the field of vision, moving as I turned my head, so that I never quite saw it. I felt nauseous; I lay down and closed my eyes. A series of pictures passed, like watching a movie: A huge, neon-lighted cocktail bar that got larger and larger until streets, traffic, and street repairs were included in it; a waitress carrying a skull on a tray; stars in a clear sky. The physical impact of the fear of death; the shutting off of breath; the stopping of blood.”

 photo burroughs-post-murder_zps6ca180ec.jpg
William S. Burroughs shortly after shooting his wife Joan Vollmer in the head during a drunken version of William Tell. Were you just drunk Bill or were you on junk too?

Back in January of 2013 I decided to reread Naked Lunch. I hadn’t read Burroughs since college so the dim memories of the first read had very little impact on the second reading. It was like (a virgin) reading Burroughs for the very first time again. Readers have a wide range of opinions about Naked Lunch lurching from the ecstatic high of one of the best books they have ever read to believing the book to be perverted garbage. Burroughs would be thrilled with either reactions because that is what the book is about, creating a reaction. It is probably one of the most creative books I’ve read, but also a book that frequently made me very uncomfortable.

So given the success of my second reading of Naked Lunch I decided to read Burroughs first published work Junky (British title) or Junkie (American title). Burroughs insisted for a long time in calling the book Junk, but the publisher refused to put that label on the book believing that the American public might actually believe it to be just that...junk. Allen Ginsberg is the reason the book even exists. He’d been in correspondence with Burroughs and had been impressed by how intelligent and fascinating Bill’s letters were proving to be. Ginsberg insisted that Burroughs needed to thread his life, from those letters, into a book.

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Allen Ginsberg, the man who was determined to see Junky in print.

Thus begins the odyssey of Junk/Junky/Junkie trying to make it into print.

”H and coke. You can smell it going in.”

Bill Lee, starts off selling a few caps to make some extra money. He has a small habit, but nothing more than recreational use. It is under control, more like going to see a movie once in a while or going out for a really good meal. Dealers, even small scale dealers like Bill, soon start to see the desperation of having a full blown habit.

”Doolie sick was an unnerving sight. The envelope of personality was gone, dissolved by his junk-hungry cells. Viscera and cells, galvanized into a loathsome insect-like activity, seemed on the point of breaking through the surface. His face was blurred, unrecognizable, at the same time shrunken and tumescent.”

 photo william-burroughs-shooting-heroin_zps63365a7e.jpg
Burroughs shooting up.

We all know someone odd, someone living an alternative bohemian lifestyle, someone floating in a constant haze of pharmaceutical diversion, but most of us know maybe one or two people that would fit that definition. Bill starts to know so many people that match that profile that it becomes normal.

”What a crew! Mooches, fags, four-flushers, stool pigeons, bums--unwilling to work, unable to steal, always short of money, always whining for credit. In the whole lot there was not one who wouldn’t wilt and spill as soon as someone belted him in the mouth and said “Where did you get it?”

And that is exactly what happens.

Bill gets picked up and it soon becomes apparent that a conviction is imminent. What was jamming Bill up was the Harrison Act of 1914. It was a tax meant to regulate the market, but was interpreted by the law as a way to prohibit the sale of opiates. William Burroughs’s uncle Horace committed suicide just days after the act was passed. He was addicted to morphine, the result of several medical procedures, and he couldn’t face the thought of living without the necessary solace of the drug.

A good lawyer gets Bill bail, based on his good family name, and Bill knowing he can’t handle jail heads for Mexico. Due to stress or just having the ready access to drugs soon has him becoming a full time junky. When he is on junk his sex drive is diminished, but when he is off the junk his libido becomes as all consuming as getting his next fix.

”Angelo’s face was Oriental, Japanese-looking, except for his copper skin. He was not queer, and I gave him money; always the same amount, twenty pesos. Sometimes I didn’t have that much and he would say ‘No importa.’ (It does not matter.) He insisted on sweeping the apartment out whenever he spent the night there.
Once I connected with Angelo, I did not go back to the Chimu. Mexico or stateside, queer bars brought me down.”

Bill likes boys, but he also likes girls, well...pros... like Mary.

”It you really want to bring a man down, light a cigarette in the middle of intercourse. Of course, I really don’t like men at all sexually. What I really dig is chicks. I get a kick out of taking a proud chick and breaking her spirit, making her see she is just an animal. A chick is never as beautiful after she’s been broken. ‘Say, this is sort of a fireside kick,’ she said, pointing to the radio which was the only light in the room.”

Both scenarios...Vintage Burroughs.

 photo Junkieace_zpsd76f6c7d.jpg
An Ace Original published in 1953. Burroughs made one cent on each copy sold. The book now sells in shabby condition for $450 and in collector’s condition for over a $1000.

So after a lot of arm twisting Ginsberg finally convinces the owner of Ace Books A. A. Wyn to publish Junkie. Wyn didn’t like the book, but his son Carl Solomon had done a stint with Ginsberg in a psychiatric hospital in New Jersey and was also lobbying hard for the book to be published. There is a good lesson to be learned here, always use every opportunity to make new connections whether you are in a loony bin or attending an upscale cocktail party. You may find the same people both places.

Ginsberg had the thankless job of editing the book and being the middleman between a disgruntled publisher and a more and more recalcitrant Burroughs. Ginsberg was soon the only person in the equation that even cared if the book made it to print. Finally his dream is realized and the book is published as a paperback original Ace Double or what we used to call in the book biz a 69. The other book on the flip side was Narcotic Agent by Maurice Helbrant which was a nonfiction account of busting drug dealers. Burroughs was at first furious at the pairing, but after reading the Helbrant book he grudgingly admitted it wasn’t too bad.

 photo Narcotic-Agent_zps9234fdf0.jpg

It is impossible to separate William S. Burroughs from Bill Lee (William Lee was his pen name and the name under which he published this book). The writing style in Junky is not anything like Naked Lunch. This book is very accessible, honestly told, and graphically realistic. You will meet a cast of characters with names like George the Greek, Pantopon Rose, Louie the Bellhop, Eric the Fag, the Beagle, the Sailor and Joe the Mex. You will come away from reading this book believing you have a better idea of Burroughs the man. He lived it and he didn’t pull any punches about what it means to be an addict.

”When you quit junk, everything seems flat, but you remember the shot schedule, the static horror of junk, your life draining into your arm three times a day. Every time exactly that much less. “

Being on junk is like resting in the arms of a beautiful woman, but if you stay on it too long those arms become withered and instead of looking into the face of angel you find yourself staring into the face of a toothless crone.

I’m hearing about this new kick called Yage. "Yage may be the final fix.”

If you haven't read my Naked Lunch review it is actually not too bad. Naked Lunch Review

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,194 reviews1,814 followers
May 7, 2023

Di fatto il libro è l’unico documento esistente sul vero orrore dell’eroina. Non è da intendersi né come una giustificazione né come un deterrente, ma semplicemente come la cosa più sincera che sono riuscito a scrivere su quel periodo della mia vita. In realtà più d’ogni altra cosa è un resoconto di viaggio. Inizia nel momento in cui ho stabilito il mio primo contatto con l’eroina e finisce quando andare avanti era diventato impossibile.
Così scriveva Burroughs all’amico Allen Ginsberg.

”The Junky’s Christmas” cortometraggio di Nick Donkin and Melodie McDaniel tratto da un racconto di Burroughs.

Il junky, o junkie, è il tossico, il drogato, spazzatura umana, scarto.
La scimmia sulla schiena, che è come il romanzo è stato intitolato in italiano, è l’effetto dell’astinenza, quando cominciano i dolori alla schiena.
E siccome nel caso di Burroughs la droga era eroina e morfina, entrambe con effetto anestetico, si può provare a immaginare che razza di dolori alla schiena potesse provare.

Copertina di un’altra edizione Penguin seguente alla mia.

E se si pensa che il suo promotore pseudo agente letterario all’epoca era Allen Ginsberg, che in quel periodo era reduce da otto mesi di manicomio, credo che il quadro sia completo. Manca solo Kerouac, e poi la Beat Generation c’è tutta ai massimi livelli.
L’editore scovato da Ginsberg, amico e parente di amici, pagò a Bill (William Burroughs) 250$ di anticipo sul prossimo romanzo, e si può immaginare come Bill adoperò quei soldi.

All’epoca (inizio anni Cinquanta) eroina e morfina si compravano con ricetta medica in farmacia. Burroughs doveva architettare scuse spiegazioni e false ricette, ma comunque riusciva a procurarsi con più o meno regolarità le sue dosi quotidiane: però, essere beccato a parlare anche in modo traslato di droga poteva farti finire in prigione.
Questo spiega il prologo dove Bill diventa William Lee, proclamandosi di buona famiglia, con tono moralistico prende le distanze dal mondo della droga, nel quale lui si trova per sbaglio e solo momentaneamente, perché è un periodo duro, difficile…: una necessità imposta dall’editore perché l’argomento era tabù. Per evitare censura fu pubblicato collegato (paga 1, prendi 2) a un altro libro sull’argomento, questo però scritto da un ex agente della Narcotici.

William S. Burroughs con Jack Kerouac.

Romanzo-saggio, il primo di Burroughs (pubblicato nel 1953), in gran parte autobiografico dove il racconto attinge all’esperienza diretta, alla conoscenza in prima persona, scritto con lucidità, senza illusione, senza esaltazione, quasi con approccio scientifico. Più che sullo sballo, è sulla dipendenza, e ancor di più sull’astinenza. Per molti lo scopo per andare avanti e continuare a vivere è l’amore, la famiglia, la carriera, il successo, l’arte: per il junky è l’eroina. Uno scopo come gli altri, ma più letale.
Antropologia dell’eroina.

Le scimmie sulla stele.

È forse il più lineare dei suoi romanzi che ho letto, quello che non insegue una scrittura elaborata (cut-up), e non cerca di sovvertire il confine tra conscio e inconscio (anche se qua e là ci sono brevi visioni di millepiedi giganti). Procede con linguaggio nudo e crudo non lontano da un beffardo hard boiled. Racconta infelici passioni omosessuali e vivi incontri con prostitute e anime sofferenti.
E diventa anche un quadro degli Stati Uniti dell’epoca dove trionfava una morale falsa, repressiva, ottusa.

La droga non è, come l’alcool o come la marijuana, un mezzo per intensificare il godimento della vita. La droga non è euforia. È un modo di vivere.

Profile Image for Tara.
435 reviews19 followers
November 9, 2017
“I have learned the cellular stoicism that junk teaches the user. I have seen a cell full of sick junkies silent and immobile in separate misery. They knew the pointlessness of complaining or moving. They knew that basically no one can help anyone else. There is no key, no secret someone else has that he can give you.”

Junky was a concise yet vivid account of heroin addiction, delineated by someone who’d actually lived the life. Though the book was often bleak, it never degraded itself by indulging in self-pity or tearful sentimentality. In fact, its subtle dry humor crackled and even spit occasional sparks. Overall, it was honest, lucid and powerful. Burroughs already evinced quite a bit of genuine skill and talent in this, his very first novel.
Profile Image for Fabian.
957 reviews1,623 followers
September 27, 2020
Less flouncy/convoluted and real(istic?) than Naked Lunch or Queer. (True masterpieces these.) Oddly straightforward--espesh for a first novel--it valiantly emerges as some sort of sad recounting of events in all their incendiary yet undoubted existence. So brave, so brave coming out as gay; but for a literary juggernaut, the honest truth of drug addiction MUST be depicted... & that Truth is the passport to the future glories (the aforementioned novels).

Articulate clear-headedness here (not including however the stooge-like attitude which is adopted by Burroughs as he detoxifies sporadically through the years) definitely accentuates the entire experience (it seems to me Burroughs is an event: you cannot avoid its literary & personal worth).

The brain tries to find meaning in the junkie limbo. Junky is a survival story; some night-long brutal anecdote of one hellish past. Here: avant gardism is found in the Motley Crew of malcontents (users, pushers, rehab-ers, robbers, victims, victims, vic...) an encyclopedic index of sorts. (Novel in Lexicon. See: Dictionary of the Khazars--M. Pavic.) Burroughs is indeed the true King of the Beats (ya know, the dudes who hardly ever mentioned their wives in their self-important exploits). And I am more than satisfied by the concrete truth.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
158 reviews
August 17, 2014
I think I prefer looking at this text in its original light: a sensationalized, dime-store paperback about junkies. I just can't take this type of work too seriously. I've met so many people who hail Burroughs as genius and I have yet to find out why. While he offers a grisly account of opiate addiction, it's hard for me to say that Junky is an important piece of literature. It spawned many copy cat memoirs and was influential to the genre of confessional fiction, which I find to be overrated.
Profile Image for Shovelmonkey1.
353 reviews887 followers
November 15, 2011
Mmm mmm drugs. Yummy. Like adult smarties with extra kick and an added naughty factor.
Ok, that is not strictly true but you have to admit that sometimes it is difficult to pick your way through the troubled and varied history of drugs culture in literature. Drugs good? Drugs bad? Drugs indifferent? You're cool. Or not cool. Or an addict or a victim. See? Confusing.

Lets look back through the literature - Coleridge, De Quincey, Kerouac, Thompson and the production of wondrous drugs madness such as Fear and Loathing and Trainspotting - see, there's never really been a great poster child for hardcore drug addiction and not many happy endings (aside from the ones which involve selling yourself on the street to get cash for your hash and even then it's not your happy ending but someone elses).

Personally the imbibing of large quantities of narcotics has never made it on to my priorities list, never mind been anywhere near the top of it. The way I see it, the world is suitably weird enough already without trying to work out what the fuck is going on through a haze of chemicals. I have enough problems on a good day, even when I used to use caffeine and nicotine as my fuel of choice things were confusing/annoying/inexplicable and that was just the people I had to interact with. Maybe I'm interacting with the wrong people? Possibly. I did used to work with someone who enjoyed the heady combination of taking Speed and driving very large bits of dangerous machinery (this was his actual job- he didn't just nip out and steal it). Amusing to watch but you always needed to be at least 50m away to safely observe this without getting your head removed from your shoulders and conversation was not ever on the menu, well not in any sensible format anyway.

Burroughs on the other hand manages to present his Junky lifestyle in a nice lucid epistolary format. Which is probably a pretty good indication that he wasn't high as kite when he wrote a lot of this. Is that cheating? He manages to get across the hapless, seedy, chancer side of his existence which is, on the surface, a rootless one which sees him drift from place to place with an motley assortment of characters who are all intent on scoring Junk or any other chemicals which will help stave off the Junk craving. This rootlessness does seem to be a bit of a sham though because half way through we get the after-thought mentioning of his family back home. Yup Mrs B and the kids are back home waiting for pops to turn up.

Now much like when I read Kerouac, if I'd read this as a 15 year old too I'd have been all "hells yeah, do what you want and don't be pinned down by convention..." As someone of double that age I re-read Kerouac and though, hmmm you're a bit of a dick really aren't you. Similar thoughts passed through my head about Burroughs at this point. Burroughs does try to get clean at several points in the story and always fails spectacularly to stay on the wagon but he is very sanguine about this and he doesn't attempt to glamorize drug use. Being strung out and scrabbling about in the streets filching off fellow addicts is not a recommended way of life but it does make for excellent reading.
Profile Image for Meike.
1,590 reviews2,813 followers
April 23, 2021
First published as a pulp novel as other publishers didn't dare to put it out into the world, Burroughs' largely autobiographical account talks about his descent into addiction, his criminal career and the cycle of withdrawal and relapse. In dry, laconic language, the author turns away from the romanticization of drug as tools to expand the mind; rather, he shows opioid consumption (junk as opposed to psychedelic drugs) as an all-encompassing, pervasive lifestyle which, just as mirrored in Burroughs' narrative routines, completely overtakes the junky. At the same time, Burroughs doesn't judge or give a moral perspective, which renders the text all the more raw, honest and captivating.

It's funny that this was deemed unpublishable for such a long time, as it is probably the most straightforward, accessible text the author has ever produced. While reflecting Burroughs' love for hardboiled novels, it often reads like a reportage that states a bleak reality, centering on the opinion that a person becomes a junky because of the lack of passion for other lifestyle choices, per default. Burroughs writes the darkes beat literature available.

A classic that is much easier to stomach than the experimental novel that overshadows it, Naked Lunch.
Profile Image for Hend.
174 reviews265 followers
October 9, 2018
من أراد أن يقرأ رواية متكاملة عن عالم الأدمان ورحلة الخلاص منه، فالرواية الحالية هي الخيار الأمثل
Profile Image for Lauren (Shakespeare & Whisky).
256 reviews442 followers
March 24, 2017
I read this while in rehab so as you can imagine it held a very special place in my heart. This is a crazy, self- indulgent, occasionally offensive defence of the junkie lifestyle. The author never really managed to break free from his addiction and despite his hatred for all things government and society died dependent on govt. administered methadone. It's unapologetic. It's hilarious. And when you finish the book you can't help but be struck by the tragedy of addiction despite the crazy ride you just enjoyed.

What I loved about this was that it was a real addict describing their experiences in very "fuck off with your sympathy and your judgement" terms.

I hate the modern poverty porn obsession where middle aged white women spend all their time reading tear jerkers about sexually abused kids and recovering junkies. These stories take real experiences and they tell lies with it.

It's unbearable for anyone who has actually experienced it, and it promotes stereotypes that are harmful.

This book does none of that. It also doesn't make drug abuse look cool. A modern day equivalent might be Bojack Horseman if Bojack wasn't filthy rich.

I loved it. And it's super short so if you don't like it, you haven't wasted much time with it.
Profile Image for Roula.
521 reviews147 followers
February 6, 2018
φτιαξιμο σημαινει να βλεπεις τα πραγματα απο ξεχωριστη σκοπια .φτιαξιμο σημαινει στιγμιαια ελευθερια απο τις απαιτησεις της επιφυλακτικης, τυραννικης, φοβισμενης σαρκας που γερναει...
Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,493 reviews2,374 followers
July 6, 2022

Before reading Trainspotting and Requiem for a Dream, it was Junky that first opened my eyes to the world of drug addiction - seen many films about drug addicts, but it's a whole different thing when reading about habitual heroin use. Actually thought this was an out and out memoir and not a semi-autobiographical novel. Not that that really matters. A book one would not read for pleasure, that's for damn sure, but it was always an interesting experience discovering just how Burroughs lived and struggled through this troublesome time in his life. Despite being written in the 50s it felt remarkably fresh, and had a stranglehold over me for its entirety - never will forget the junk sickness. Burroughs doesn't beat around the bush here; there is nothing poetic or fancy about his prose. It's all very straightforward; no-nonsense. Also, Junky gets credit for its open attitude to sexuality, which surely makes it one of the earliest to be so frank on the subject. Just as much a parable of modern alienation, and one of the most important books of the 50s I'd say. Some may find it shocking, but I was overcome more by sadness.
Profile Image for Kelly B.
17 reviews13 followers
August 20, 2008
It's William S. Burroughs, dude. Made me wanna do heroin to get a grasp of what he was going through though. But to really understand his plight I would have to become a junky, which you really gotta put effort into, and I don't really wanna be a junky, because once you are you are for life. Read it, he'll tell you. Or read a bio on him or any other heroin addict. You can do it once and be okay but once you're a junky you can go 20 years without and then do it once and you're hooked or sick all over again just like you had been doing it for all those 20 years you were clean. Burroughs' theory is that it just changes your cells for life. Besides, I don't like heroin enough to be a junky. If I'm gonna do drugs I'd rather be eating psychedelics.

He's got some lines, man. I like a writer that can write. I read more for the beauty and flow of words than for anything else. I love facts and learning, but I have a hard time reading nonfiction sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes. And although this was almost nonfiction because it was based on his life and addiction, his words, pure beauty. I can read a book about human shit if it's written beautifully.
Profile Image for Lee Kofman.
Author 8 books121 followers
January 11, 2015
Okay, I can see the artistic merit in this novel. Burroughs's prose is lean, cool and convincingly realistic. He’s good with (mostly brief, introductory) characterization and telling of anecdotes. He knows his material, the drugs that is. And yet, there was absolutely nothing that held my attention as I kept reading the book. This novel was completely focused on drugs – the quest for them, the dealing, the administering – and in a tediously technical way. There are absolutely no digressions. In this very brief book new characters appeared and disappeared on every second page. I felt like I was in a zoo, shown around a variety of exotic animals (that weren’t that exotic for me after all the books I’d already read about the world of addiction). The utter lack of emotion from the writer/narrator made the reading particularly uninspiring. As one reviewer suggested, this book was ‘journalistic’. I know this novel was innovative for its time and refreshingly honest then. For me, though, it was sheer boredom.
Profile Image for Lynn.
Author 32 books22 followers
February 10, 2008
This could be the best anti-drug book ever written. It is certainly the odd-boy out in the Burroughs family of novels.

This is not the William S. Burroughs of The Wild Boys: A Book of the Dead (Burroughs, William S.) and certainly not the same guy who wrote Naked Lunch: The Restored Text. This is a Burroughs who's not talking to himself or talking to his admirers. Instead this an author who is stretching to reach the reader with the actual smelly, lonely, desperate, empty reality of the junky.

It's a reality that Burroughs has explored in his fiction and that he has occasionally mined for characters and atmosphere. But nowhere, not even in Exterminator! has he come as close to offering up this direct-if bleak-conversation with the reader. It's worth noting that, outside the world of book-lovers, this may be his most well-known work because it does such a stark and effective job of describing the day-to-day world as it's experienced by the junky.

Lynn Hoffman, author of the somewhat different bang BANG: A Novel
Profile Image for Odai Al-Saeed.
876 reviews2,487 followers
September 15, 2018
عندما يصبح المدمن جل همه التنبيش عن وريد صالح للحقن ولا يجد عندها سوف تكون أمانيه هي أوردتك التي يحسدك عليها سوف تعلم تماماً ما هي لعنة الإدمان وتوابعه
هذا الكتاب المتجلي عن نشوة المخدر بقلم من أدمن الهيروين ودرج على كل ما تحته من مخدرات يشرح بكيفية فائقة الحالة والهالة عن رحلة مضنية عجيبة مكثفة لا تستطيع أن تتوقف عن قرائتها...حالة من الإزدراء سوف تنتاب من يقرآ هذه الصفحات وتجربة ثرية مفيدة سوف تخرج بها عند طي صفحاته
كتاب وزع أكثر من مليون نسخة بيع بثمن بخس لا يتجاوز الألف دولار في وقته لدار نشر إغتنت من ورائه ...أكثر من رائع
Profile Image for Leo.
4,385 reviews408 followers
October 14, 2021
This was just as gritty and showing just how ugly addiction is as I had hoped it would be. Luckily I have never been addicted to drugs and for that am very happy. This book was both engaging and horrifying at times. Not because of scary monsters or thrilling events but for the sheer pain and sorrow addictions bring. There is not rose tinted glasses reading this and that this is how a book about addiction should be. Not an easy read per say but a good anywho
Profile Image for Michael Kress.
Author 1 book11 followers
February 17, 2020
I listened to the audiobook on YouTube. There are two different audiobooks, one read by the author and one read by David Carradine. The reader is not credited in the YouTube video, but I'm guessing it's the author. He has a raspy voice, but it works well for the reading. This was my first time reading anything from the beat generation, unless you count Charles Bukowski, who came along a little later. I tried reading some Jack Kerouac things and didn't get into them right away, so I moved on to this. Kerouac's stuff seemed to be more about drinking and chasing women, which I had read a lot about already in Bukowski's novels. In fact, there's very little mention of women (boys only!) in Junky at all. Heroin seems like an interesting topic for a beat author, considering how addictive it is, the lifestyle associated with it, things people are willing to do to get it, what the highs and withdrawals feel like, and the process of forming a habit. I'm sure this book was influential and there are a lot of books with this content today, but one thing that made this book great was the time period in which it was written, demonstrating the cultural zeitgeist. There's a lot of hipster slang like "stool-pigeon" and "lush-worker" used in the book. There's also homosexuality, which was taboo at the time. I appreciate that authors like Burroughs and James Baldwin had the courage to write about such topics. What appeals to and surprises me about a lot of books from this era are how relevant they still are today.
Profile Image for John Bruni.
Author 62 books78 followers
March 16, 2018
Let me start this out by saying that a few years ago, my pancreas tried to kill me. The doctors in the ER decided that I was going to die, so they didn't spare the painkillers. They loaded me up with Dilaudid, and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. They kept giving it to me, and then surprise! I lived. I kept getting shots of Dilaudid until I realized that the pain was gone, and I no longer needed it. But I considered lying to get another shot. Heh. That was a bad idea, so I stopped myself.

I also had some dental issues, and I was given some opioids for that. I really, really enjoyed those. That's why I'm so angry with all these fools overdosing on opioids. USE YOUR DRUGS RESPONSIBLY. Because remember: heroin started out as a cure for morphine addiction. Whoops. Cocaine was medicine, too. Now all of these idiots are going to make opioids illegal because they don't know what they're doing. I enjoy a good opioid kick every once in a while. NOT EVERY DAY, THOUGH.

I should also note that I've known a few junkies in my time. Not only do I have slight experience myself, but I know how they act on a regular basis.

Reading this book confirmed everything I know. Burroughs was the real deal. I love THE NAKED LUNCH, and it is a masterpiece, but I enjoyed this book more. He pulled no punches. As an anthropologist, he was able to look at himself and that community with an objective eye. I can't praise this book enough. I wish he'd written a sequel later in his life, to add more of what he learned.

I had only one problem, and it has nothing to do with Burroughs. It has to do with the introduction. Wow, it was painful. As a result, I would like to add John Bruni's Rules for Writing Intros to Other People's Books.

1. Keep it to two pages. I prefer one page, but I'll allow two. There is no reason for you to run on for 20-30 pages.

2. Do not mention what happens in the book. We're not all familiar with the text. If you want to talk about how awesome the book is, fine. DO NOT TELL US ANYTHING THAT HAPPENS IN THE BOOK. I prefer reading books without any foreknowledge.

I think that's it. If I come up with any amendments, I will let you know.
Profile Image for José Alfredo.
363 reviews140 followers
December 2, 2021
Creo que la visión de Burroughs sobre el mundo y la vida de los yonquis es precisa y acertada, digo 'creo' porque, por suerte, yo no conozco esa vida cerca de la mia ni, mucho menos, en primera persona. No obstante me crié en un barrio obrero en los 70-80, por lo que sí que vi cientos de casos y, la percepción que se tenía desde fuera, era exactamente lo que describe el autor. El autoengaño continuo en que estos adictos viven. Me llama mucho la atención que el libro se publica en 1953 y las situaciones que en él se describen en nuestro país no se vivieron hasta, al menos, 25 años después. Recomendable para entender el terrible drama que viven estas personas esclavas de la droga.
Profile Image for Ryan.
50 reviews15 followers
April 20, 2023
Fantastic read, I was enthralled threw out. Burroughs writes in a different style in Junkie than in his later works but retains his ability to captivate the reader and illustrate magnificent scenes in print. He paints a vivid picture of the junkie lifestyle in a way only an addict could.

This was one of those books I wish didn't have an ending, I could read tales of Burroughs junkie misadventures for years. Definitely recommend especially if you like books about substances/addiction.
Profile Image for Simon.
378 reviews78 followers
April 28, 2022
William Burroughs must be high up on my list of good writers whose influence I find largely to be for the worse: While I actually like quite a few authors obviously inspired by him, I'm also quite certain that if it weren't for old Bill a good chunk of the Western world's high culture wouldn't have turned into a tiresome contest in who can be more cynical and incomprehensible than each other. Despite all this, even his relatively conventional debut novel has aged very well and lost little to none of its power!

In fact, I'd call "Junky" more readable than not just something like the author's multi-directional psychedelic mindfuck of a magnum opus "Naked Lunch" but also most of what I've read from the likes of Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Hunter S. Thompson. At least that's the case if you can stomach the subject matter. Then again, I consider Wm. Burroughs' greatest strength how good he was at making the reader uncomfortable and laugh out loud during the same paragraph... then afterwards make them think for weeks about what they've just read. I must say that I find his description of heroin withdrawal ten times more terrifying than any horror fiction I've read, precisely because there's so very little sensationalism or moralizing included. Likewise, the gallows humour is effective because how deadpan the delivery is, and arises naturally from the situations described.

Another reason "Junky" has aged very well is how useful the book is as a time capsule. It was written at the dawn of the drug culture in America in its current form, and there's another larger story told here than that of the protagonist: The paradigm shift the social subcultures surrounding drug addiction went through during the Eisenhower era, from its pre-WW2 shape most familiar to my generation from the 1930's pulp fiction and exploitation films to what "drug culture" means today. You can really tell here that the author was a trained anthropologist!
Profile Image for Myriam V.
111 reviews51 followers
October 1, 2022
Es mi primer acercamiento a la Generación Beat formada en Estados Unidos por Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs y Jack Kerouac en la década del cincuenta. Esta generación aborda el uso de drogas y la libertad sexual, temas centrales en Yonqui.
“Beat” significaba cansado, o abatido (beat down), Kerouac intenta darle otro sentido relacionado la palabra con "beatitud" (upbeat), aduce que el movimiento estaba atraído por las prácticas orientales de meditación. Pero, en 1958, se lo empezó a llamar "beatnik", fusión de "beat" y "Sputnik", sugiriendo la condición comunista de esta generación. Curiosamente Burroughs se anticipó a esta acusación, parodiando la parodia, en Yonqui, un personaje ridículo investiga la relación entre drogas y comunismo, tema que al protagonista le parece absurdo y al lector también, al menos a mí.
No fue fácil para Burroughs publicar Yonqui, un libro cuyo protagonista es adicto a la heroína y dice “La droga no es un estimulante. Es un modo de vivir”, lo hizo con seudónimo y su editor confesó años después que estuvo aterrado y a punto de sufrir un colapso. Fue un libro prohibido, sin embargo, no considero que haga apología de las drogas, es tanto el padecimiento del protagonista que supongo que tendría más un efecto disuasorio, si fuera que a alguien se le ocurriera leer una novela para tomar una decisión, cosa rara.
Yonqui me interesó y me gustó más de lo que imaginé, creía que iba a aburrirme pero es mucho lo que desconocía de este tema, sobre todo de los procesos de cura, y la historia está muy bien contada. Es un libro que recomiendo sin dudarlo.
Profile Image for od1_40reads.
203 reviews39 followers
May 26, 2023
I’ve never read any of William S. Burroughs’ work before, and so wanted to start with Junky, Queer and Naked Lunch, as I believe they are somewhat of an autobiographical trilogy.

William S. Burroughs is certainly a controversial figure, and I really don’t yet have a clear enough understanding of events to form my own opinion on the murder of his wife for example. But I certainly will do more reading.

So Junky, my first WSB book, and oh this is so bleak. And dark. Totally rock-bottom stuff.

However, that view point is all from the reader’s perception. For the protagonist, this is simply life with addiction. There is no tragic sentiment, or dark reflections on what his life has become. It is an unapologetic, detailed account of what his life was like living with this addiction.

It’s dark to us, for sure, but the book takes you deep into this world and presents it almost matter-of-factly… here you go. (Perhaps it’s darkest aspect?)

You do hope that he will sort his life out, get clean, be a ‘better person’, and oh wouldn’t that be nice! But no, this book takes you down with him. It’s dark, gritty, disturbing, and real. No fairytale endings here thank you very much.

Next, onto ‘Queer’!
Profile Image for Ebony Earwig.
108 reviews4 followers
February 7, 2022
I actually wish I'd read this before Naked Lunch or any of his other books as it shows an unsplintered version of his psyche.
Profile Image for David Sarkies.
1,813 reviews316 followers
January 21, 2015
The life of a heroin addict
30 July 2011

When I first bought this book I thought it was written by the same guy that wrote Tarzan (yes they have the same last name, but that is about it). It turns out that it wasn't, and Burroughs was not a fiction writer, but rather, as the introduction to the version that I read, the father of the beat generation. However, one does wonder how he ended up becoming a writer because from reading this book one wonders how he ever actually amounted to anything.
Junky is not a book that glamourises drug taking, in fact it is completely the opposite. It does not necessarily say that drugs are bad, but this is the impression that one is left with as one travels with the author through his drug induced haze. It is much better than Diary of a Drug Fiend where the conclusion was that one needs to have the will power to master the drug. Burroughs seems to be under no illusion whatsoever about the mastery that junk had over his life.
The book appears to be an autobiography and follows his descent into the drug underworld, and throughout the book we learn of the lifestyle of the homeless and vagrants in 1950's America. In fact, it does not paint a pretty picture at all. From the art of Lush Working (where one steals money from sleeping drunks) on the Subways of New York to the drug scene in Mexico City, one is left with an uncomfortable feeling that to fall into these cracks is very easy, but to escape is completely the opposite.
This is a book about addiction, in particular heroin addiction. The junkies don't just use heroin, but also seek out all of the derivatives as well. It is just that heroin, to them, is the best hit. One of his descriptions is how heroin changes you on a cellular level. This has been confirmed medically in that if you take opioids as a pain killer you can never go back to the weaker stuff. Once you have taken heroin, once you have become addicted to Junk, then you are never going to be the same again. Once a junky, always a junky. He tells of how hard you may try to get away from the scene, but the scene simply does not let you get away. He speaks about the dealer Old Ike, who is always lurking just around the corner, waiting to tempt you back into the world that you are trying to escape from.
What he spends a lot of time talking about though is what he calls Junk Sickeness: that is withdrawal symptoms. It is true when he says that there is nothing like it; many of the drugs that are used these days are not physically addictive like Heroin, they are psychologically addictive. They introduce something into your mind, a pleasure sensation that you must have more of, however go off of it for a couple of days and you can function normally, and even in some cases you can simply walk away from the scene. Not so with junk, to withdrawal from it leaves you sick, leaves you incapacitated, and you must have more to feel better. The author at one stage tries to numb the sickness with alcohol, but to no real effect (in fact he almost killed himself).
The final thing I wish to point out is how one's life becomes dominated by the junk. One is not interested in anything but getting junk, being on junk, and getting money for the junk. There are characters in the book who have regular jobs, but they don't last long because either they steal money for the junk, or get arrested for possession of junk and thrown into gaol. We are told that there is simply no interest in anything, not even sex or food. It is only after a few days that one gets ones appetite back. He also describes that the longer one stays on it, the worse the junk sickness becomes, and the book climaxes in Mexico City, a place where the junk flows free, but with it comes the worst experience of the sickness he describes.
As mentioned, this book does not glamorise the drug scene, far from it. In fact, if this book stops one person (hopefully a lot more) from going down that road, then this is definitely one book worth reading.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,217 reviews1,962 followers
April 29, 2013
Burroughs does not pull any punches in this, his first novel. It is a plain account of the life of a junkie based on his own life. Burroughs describes his experience in a very matter of fact way; the many lows and very few highs. The descriptions of coming off heroin are horrific. It is still difficult to read, but describes a way of life and a downward spiral. The glossary at the end was very necessary for me.
Burroughs illustartes how much junk dominates your life when you are an addict and the effect it can have on your personality and relationships with others. There is one shocking description of cruelty to an animal which comes out of the blue and you realise the irrationality of the whole thing. Junk think is different. Most of the characters flit in and out very briefly and they are a pretty hopeless (in the true meaning of the word) bunch. The novel really did read like one of Dante's seven circles of hell.
Burroughs explodes a few myths in his original introduction, but he creates a few more and medical science has moved on since then. It is the description of the lifestyle and the drivers in the personality of a junkie which are the real strength of the book and now it is almost a piece of social history of a bygone age in relation to the legal and medical situations.
The Penguin Modern Classics edition has a very good introduction of Oliver Harris.
There is a vein of humour running through the novel and Burrough's laconic style works very well
Profile Image for Jayakrishnan.
496 reviews183 followers
January 7, 2023
The only Burroughs novel that I could finish in my life. I tried another one and could not get into it. An account of the non-square life. How to live life on the edge. It is a straightforward account about life as an outlaw. The parts of the novel set in Mexico really spoke to me. In a way, Junky is an action adventure novel. A true action adventure novel.
Profile Image for Greg Brozeit.
464 reviews105 followers
August 24, 2017
Reading Junky as a college student was a revelation: it was the first time I felt I heard an author’s authentic voice. Burroughs’s clipped sentences, his directness, his matter-of-fact statements about what things were really like, his view of a world I didn’t know about began a life-long fascination. It’s easy to dismiss Junky because of it’s subject matter of heroin addiction; that it’s just a fad or something young adults might think is cool. But he does it with such artistic depth. Even the simplest sentences echo something profound.

Junky also has a timelessness. The historical setting is more than 60 years old, but it still seems and sounds contemporary. Indeed, although it was published in 1953, his description of New Orleans is still the most concise, accurate description I’ve ever read and it applies today:
There are people in New Orleans who have never been outside the city limits. The New Orleans accent is exactly similar to the accent of Brooklyn. The French Quarter is always crowded. Tourists, servicemen, merchant seamen, gamblers, perverts, drifters, and lamsters from every State in the Union. People wander around, unrelated, purposeless, most of them looking vaguely sullen and hostile. This is a place where you enjoy yourself. Even the criminals have to come here to cool off and relax.

But a complex pattern of tensions, like the electrical mazes devised by psychologists to unhinge the nervous systems of white rats and guinea pigs, keeps the unhappy pleasure-seekers in a condition of unconsummated alertness. For one thing, New Orleans in inordinately noisy. The drivers orient themselves largely by the use of their horns, like bats. The residents are surly. The transient population is completely miscellaneous and unrelated, so that you never know what sort of behavior to expect from anybody.

I think reading that motivated me to pick up and read A Confederacy of Dunces immediately after finishing. And after that I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. It was truly the month in which I learned the true joy of reading.

Yesterday I was in the car for three hours and finally got to listen to the entire reading of Junky by Burroughs himself. His real voice was even more compelling than his written voice. His voice could fit in with the work of hip-hop artists, conceptual musicians (oh this piece is so wonderful), and reinterpret rock classics to great effect.

Despite the often grim and gritty reality of heroin addiction, Junky never fails to remind me why I love to read and inspires me to keep reading outside of my comfort zone.
Profile Image for Lavinia Zamfir.
36 reviews44 followers
May 24, 2016
I've wanted to read this book several years ago, but it wasn't translated into my language and I couldn't find it in any English bookstores. Somehow, I managed to randomly find an English copy this year and so I have finnaly bought it. I think I would've given it more than 3 stars (actually, 3.5 - I want to give this book 4 stars so badly, but something doesn't let me do so. I think 3 stars is too low and 4 stars too high. My rating would honestly be 3.5 stars.) if I had read it last year. I was more fond of books about drugs back then. So I think I'll be a little subjective with this rating.

Junky by William S. Burroughs is one of the best books involving drugs that I've read so far; no wonder it's some kind of classic. It actually portrays the junkie life very well, and I think that's because Burroughs had been a junkie himself. Junky indeed gives you the feeling of reality and the way characters feel the effects of junk is not questionable.

This book has a lot of minor characters; I didn't really care for their names so the plot was sometimes confusing and I had to turn some pages back and see who those guys really were.

Junky is the autobiography of William Lee (semi-autobiography of William S. Burroughs himself), a heroin addict who constantly tries to quit but never succeds. I loved that the author didn't try to make the drug experience look pretty, his writing being based on facts. I think Junky perfectly illustrates what dope fiends go through; I think this is its real purpose, and it has definitely achieved it.

I was surprised to find out that a junkie's life at the begining (or mid) of 20th century is not really different from a junkie's life today. Nothing has changed about junk.

“I have learned the junk equation. Junk is not, like alcohol or weed, a means of increased enjoyment of life. Junk is not a kick. It is a way of life.”

Burrougs builds a picture of the individual struggling against the structure of state. Things such as the health system, state & federal law, are all depicted in a cold manner.

I recommend it to everyone who's curious about junkies' life/heroin addiction and to people who like this kind of books.
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