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Junky: The Definitive Text of "Junk"

Junky: The Definitive Text of "Junk"

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Junky: The Definitive Text of "Junk"

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2 окт. 2012 г.


Junk is not, like alcohol or a weed, a means to increased enjoyment of life. Junk is not a kick. It is a way of life.

In his debut novel, Junky, Burroughs fictionalized his experiences using and peddling heroin and other drugs in the 1950s into a work that reads like a field report from the underworld of post-war America. The Burroughs-like protagonist of the novel, Bill Lee, see-saws between periods of addiction and rehab, using a panoply of substances including heroin, cocaine, marijuana, paregoric (a weak tincture of opium) and goof balls (barbiturate), amongst others. For this definitive edition, renowned Burroughs scholar Oliver Harris has gone back to archival typescripts to re-created the author's original text word by word. From the tenements of New York to the queer bars of New Orleans, Junky takes the reader into a world at once long-forgotten and still with us today. Burroughs’s first novel is a cult classic and a critical part of his oeuvre.
2 окт. 2012 г.

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Junky - William S. Burroughs



by William S. Burroughs

Junky (1953)

Naked Lunch (1959)

The Soft Machine (1961)

The Ticket That Exploded (1962)

The Yage Letters (1963)

Nova Express (1964)

The Wild Boys (1971)

Port of Saints (1973)

Exterminator! (1973)

Cities of the Red Night (1981)

The Place of Dead Roads (1984)

Queer (1985)

The Western Lands (1987)

Interzone (1989)

The Cat Inside (1992)

The Letters of William S. Burroughs: Volume I (1993)

My Education: A Book of Dreams (1995)

Word Virus: The Selected Writings of William S. Burroughs (1999)

Last Words (2000)

And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks (2008)


The Definitive Text of Junk

William S. Burroughs

Edited and with an Introduction by

Oliver Harris


Grove Press

New York

Copyright © 1953 by A. A. Wyn, Inc.

Copyright © 1977, 1981 by William S. Burroughs

Copyright © 2003 by the Estate of William S. Burroughs

Introduction to the 1977 edition copyright © by the Estate of Allen Ginsberg

Introduction copyright © 2003 by Oliver Harris

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval ­systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Scanning, uploading, and electronic distribution of this book or the facilitation of such without the permission of the publisher is prohibited. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated. Any member of educational ­institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or ­anthology, should send inquiries to Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 841 Broadway, New York, NY 10003 or permissions@groveatlantic.com

First published in the United States of America by Ace Books in 1953.

This edition with material by Allen Ginsberg and edited with an introduction by Oliver Harris published by arrangement with Penguin Classics, an imprint of Penguin Books

Printed in the United States of America

Published simultaneously in Canada

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2042-7

e-Book ISBN: 978-0-8021-9405-3

Grove Press

an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

841 Broadway

New York, NY 10003

Distributed by Publishers Group West




Editor’s Introduction





1. Chapter 28 of the Original Junk Manuscript

2. Introduction to the Original Junk Manuscript

3. Letter from William Burroughs to A. A. Wyn [1959]

4. "Junkie: An Appreciation" (1952) by Allen Ginsberg

5. Carl Solomon’s Publisher’s Note in Junkie (1953)

6. Foreword to Junkie (1964) by Carl Solomon

7. Introduction to Junky (1977) by Allen Ginsberg



I would like to thank James Grauerholz for all his scholarly support and generous practical help, not only on this project but over the years. Thanks also to John Bennett of Ohio State University; to the staff in Green Library at Stanford University; and to those in the Butler Library at Columbia University.

For permission to quote previously unpublished materials, thanks are due to: Bob Rosenthal of the Allen Ginsberg Trust; and to Peter Matson.

For permission to print previously published materials, thanks are due to HarperCollins.

Finally, I’d like to dedicate this edition to Ian MacFadyen, for being quite simply a great reader of Burroughs.



If you’re looking for books about narcotic addiction, the supply has never been better. There are social histories, public health polemics, and political critiques of the war on drugs; cultural studies and ethical analyses; surveys of narcotic legislation, addict psychology, pharmacology and treatment methods; personal memoirs, trash novels, and classic works of literature. The junkie is a modern icon, and heroin has a history and a mythology as well as a chemistry. And if you’re looking for books by William Burroughs, there are over two dozen to choose from, most if not all of which make reference to narcotics and addiction. Junk and Burroughs go together, he’s the addict-artist of the twentieth century, but he never wrote another book remotely like this, his very first.

Descriptions such as down-to-earth and honest prose; what you see is what you get; an honest account of the ‘vicious circle’ of addiction—readers’ comments from an online bookstore Web site, these are not terms anyone would ever use for Nova Express, The Wild Boys, or The Western Lands. One thing you can say about any book by William Burroughs, however, is that whenever you think you’ve got it pinned down, that’s when it has just slipped between your fingers. This is true of the book you are holding now, even though, of all Burroughs’ works, it is the only one that is more often read outside the rest of the oeuvre than as part of it, devoured by readers who admit they choked on Naked Lunch, whereas this one, it seems, is a straight read from cover to cover.

Both more and less than a record of Burroughs’ early years on heroin, this book is, to borrow a phrase from Luc Sante (author of Low Life, a classic study of crime and drugs), crowned with many hats. Having things to say about marijuana, cocaine, Benzedrine, Nembutal, peyote, yagé, and antihistamines, as well as opium and its derivatives, it’s halfway to being a pharmacopoeia. Reflecting Burroughs’ studies in anthropology (first at Harvard and then Mexico City College), it mimics the ethnographic field report, detailing the territories and habits of various urban American subcultures and documenting their emergence or decline in the immediate postwar era. Its attention to hipster idiom and criminal argot makes it a study of underworld linguistics. Not only does it recount the practices of narcotics police, lawyers, doctors, and psychiatrists in federal hospitals, but it also contains a surprising amount of information on the economics of crop farming, tips on the dynamics of luck, and meditations on loyalty and betrayal, existential loneliness, and the abject horrors of our own flesh. It is a work of journalistic reportage, a species of confessional autobiography, and a novel informed by Ernest Hemingway, Dashiell Hammett, John O’Hara, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, as well as the dialogue of Hollywood B movies. This is reckoned to be Burroughs’ one straightforward story, a simple, informative account written in a plain, dry style. But read it again and you come across little pearls of prose and strange, spectral images, weird moments of pure menace or utter ambiguity that give the lie to the notion of terse, gritty realism and whose effects are all the more unsettling because they didn’t seem to be there before. Read it a third time and, far from being dull and flat-footed, the writing now appears spry and subtle, capable of sharp comic touches and guilty of devious tricks. Look at it from different angles and the thing changes before your eyes, like a trompe l’oeil picture.

This strange, double-take logic comes in many guises. Here’s just one variety. William Lee says: You need a good bedside manner with doctors or you will get nowhere. At first, the joke is on the doctors, and this looks like the deadpan irony of such phrases as a hard-working thief, and a host of others where normally positive cultural terms are given a deft, subversive twist. But look again and the key words are no longer bedside manner and doctors but the twice-repeated you: suddenly, Lee isn’t talking about doctors, he’s telling you how to score from them. This recurrent tactical trap, insinuating the reader’s complicity in the criminal world and making visible our voyeurism, is a unique feature of Burroughs’ style here. The closest equivalent to it is a line in Hammett’s Red Harvest: He wasn’t the sort of man whose pocket you would try to pick unless you had a lot of confidence in your fingers—which tempts us to wonder just how much confidence do we have in our fingers, whether to pick or not to pick the pocket? In other words: What side of the criminal fence are you really on, just where do you draw the line?

It’s tempting to conclude that Burroughs’ chillingly cool and seductive book is complex and ironic, to say that its apparent simplicity is a sophisticated ruse designed to fool you, but this is too simple and won’t do either. In fact, Burroughs’ first novel is both absolutely distinct from everything he would write after it, and yet impossible to read without encountering at every turn phantom traces of the writing to follow. It’s like reading two books simultaneously, one atypically straight, the other characteristically twisted. This is its paradoxical situation, its destiny, as the original work of one of America’s great original writers.


The story of how this debut novel came to be written in the first place, of how and why Burroughs began his career with it, this is a mystery that is bound to interest us. But our appetite for the hard facts is always balanced by an intuitive sense that the mystery of such beginnings should remain intact. Perhaps this is because writers must, at some level, remain mysteries to themselves in order to write at all, and we respect that truth as much as we want to violate it. In any event, there’s a contradiction here that goes to the heart of Burroughs’ novel, one captured in two of its most characteristic lines. Here are the facts, is the first of them, which promises to give us everything we want to know, and this the other, that takes it all back again: There is no key, no secret someone else has that he can give you.

To get a measure of this book, and to understand what this new edition seeks to add to our appreciation of it, the simplest place to start is with the significant but unexpected mystery of what I have so far avoided—its title. Titles are not supposed to be mysterious. They’re meant to fix a work, to give it a clear identity, to define in miniature the author’s intention. Not so this one, whose history of slight but crucial changes is a version of the novel’s curious editing fate writ small.

Burroughs began his book about junk at the dead center of the twentieth century, only a couple of months after relocating his family to Mexico City in late fall 1949. Escaping the punitive regime of Cold War America after a string of drug busts, Burroughs was beginning what would turn into a quarter of a century as a writer-in-exile. He broke the news to Jack Kerouac in a letter dated March 10, 1950, and interesting news it must have been. Five years earlier they had actually collaborated on a novel together, but whereas Kerouac was now more passionate than ever about his literary vocation—his own first novel, The Town and the City, had just been published—Burroughs had since given up on writing. In later years, he would say Kerouac was the one who kept telling him he was a writer, but there was no mention of this in March 1950. He called his novel simply Junk, and at the end of the year this was what he typed on the title page of his first-draft manuscript, followed by his nom de plume (borrowed from his character’s appearance in Kerouac’s novel): William Dennison. When the novel appeared in 1953, both title and pseudonym had changed. Junk by William Dennison had become Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict by William Lee.

Burroughs himself chose the new name—a very equivocal choice, in fact: he said he needed a pseudonym to conceal his identity from his family, but perversely he chose Lee, his mother’s maiden name, and so revealed the very thing he claimed to want to hide. Both the title and subtitle, however, were chosen behind Burroughs’ back by the publishers, Ace Books, in one of a series of cuts and changes they forced on his novel. Allen Ginsberg, who at that time was acting as Burroughs’ agent, had already fought and lost the case before the deal with Ace was signed, in July 1952. I really feel that JUNK is an inspired title, he wrote to A. A. Wyn, the publisher, that April. It’s funny, it’s straightforward, original, and yet very typical of junkie’s talk, and characteristic of author. I think it would be a real sad mistake to change, and advise against it.¹ Why was his advice and Burroughs’ choice ignored? According to Carl Solomon, who had acquired the book for Ace, it was because they thought it would give the impression the book was junk.

These anecdotes tell us a good deal about Burroughs’ situation as a first-time novelist, and they hint at the larger story of writing and publishing in that particular era, but their interest doesn’t stop there. Almost twenty-five years later the title would change once again, this time to Junky, for the unexpurgated and expanded Penguin edition that has been in print since 1977. Burroughs authorized the changes made for that edition, but there was still one decision taken out of his hands. In August 1976, he wrote his agent Peter Matson: I would suggest that the title of this new edition be JUNK, rather than JUNKIE. JUNK was the original title which I gave the book, and this was changed by A. A. Wyn for reasons unknown to me. The next month, Matson reported the verdict of Penguin’s editor: Dick Seaver likes JUNKY, thinking that, without the ‘Y’ it sounds too much like garbage, if you’ll excuse the expression.²

Taken together, what do these identical behind-the-scenes anecdotes about a title add up to? From an editor’s point of view, they make visible the sheer contingency of Burroughs’ novel, the part played in it by chance events or the decisions of others, only some of which can ever be known. From a critical point of view, they offer a different kind of warning about the facts, since interpretations of literature are typically based on silent assumptions that may well turn out to be false. In their different ways, Ginsberg, A. A. Wyn, and Richard Seaver all knew that a book called Junk means something quite different to one called Junkie or Junky. And more generally, these anecdotes give an absolutely material dimension to the truism that we never read the same novel twice. Every book changes to some extent over time and in new contexts, but Burroughs’ first novel has changed literally again and again in name and in content. You might think that the author’s own wishes should finally be respected now, albeit posthumously, and this new edition be given the title Junk. However, publishing remains as bound by pragmatic concerns today as it was twenty-five or fifty years ago, and the fact is that, in the end, the sales department is right: in bookstores, people will still go on asking for Junky. But in scholarly circles, too, another change would only mean one more confusion because, over time, the familiar title has accrued a body of meanings, a certain weight, a particular status: for better or worse, Junky is canonical now. And so it has been left to the subtitle—The Definitive Text of Junk—to indicate that this text represents the last stage in a fifty-year history. The aim of this edition, then, is to clarify and settle that history, and to do so by going back to Burroughs’ original manuscripts, to fully restore the original text, if not his original choice of its title.


How autobiographical is Junky? Or to put it another way, what relation does William Burroughs have to William Lee? These questions need answering because Burroughs’ first novel was the most mined source of information about his life for some thirty-five years, until publication of Ted Morgan’s biography in 1988. In particular the Prologue, where Burroughs filled in the narrative’s missing background, used to be taken as a wholly reliable biographical resource: most of the details do turn out to be correct, even the most unlikely ones (case records from the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic prove that Burroughs’ doctors really had never heard of Van Gogh, for example), but recent Burroughs criticism has nevertheless shown the artful, rather than artless nature of its presentation of facts. And what of the rest of the narrative? Ginsberg was first to point out the obvious in the Appreciation he wrote in 1952 (see Appendix 4): It is the autobiography of one aspect of the author’s career, and obviously cannot be taken as an account of the whole man. Now that we have two biographies (the other by Barry Miles), a volume of letters covering the period, and a mass of interviews, journalism, and critical material, it’s possible to see just how partial the account given really is.

Rather than go into the fine details of the narrative’s accuracy or selectivity, it is, I think, more instructive to focus on the holes in it that are so large they are easy to overlook. For example, there are portraits of Herbert Huncke, the Times Square hustler who passed the word beat to Kerouac and who appears in Junky as Herman, and of the thief Phil White, a.k.a. the Sailor, to whom Burroughs initially planned to dedicate his novel and who appears in it as Roy. But there’s not one word referring to the two key figures he befriended at this time—Ginsberg and Kerouac. These significant absences make for a revealing contrast to Kerouac’s work: although Burroughs read The Town and the City just weeks into the writing of his own first novel, Junky did not follow that path of group myth-making, autobiographical fiction that characterized Beat Generation writing.

There is also very little about his wife, Joan Vollmer Adams. Given his focus, there was never going to be much, but after the shooting accident in September 1951 that killed her, Burroughs was put on the spot when Ace pressured him for more: About death of Joan. I do not see how that could be worked in, he wrote Ginsberg in April 1952. "I did not go into domestic life in Junk because it was, in the words of Sam Johnson, ‘Nothing to the purpose.’"³ Later that month he complained that Ace’s demands left him feeling like a man being sawed in half by indecisive fiends, but it’s clear from following letters that the indecision was his own, as were the fiends: If they want it I will write it. Alternatively they could simply cross out all references to her. In the end, the disappearance of Lee’s wife, like her presence, remains anomalous: occasional references have the unsettling effect of making the reader want either more, or none at all.

Burroughs’ indecision suggests the difficulty he had in maintaining, over time, a consistent relation to his persona and therefore a single style of writing. At first, the chronology of his experience provided a minimal structure—you couldn’t call it a plot—but this would come to pose increasing problems. In part, this was because Burroughs had a technical and temperamental difficulty with sustaining realist narrative, a conventional weakness he would later turn into an experimental advantage. Indeed, in the effort to keep it straight, he decided to cut some of the most interesting sections, which he recognized as digressions from the main narrative line. But the problem can only have become worse as he ceased writing about events set safely in the past, and began having to deal with experiences from the more immediate present. Living with the trauma of a self-inflicted tragedy, and unable either to write about it or to ignore its effects, Burroughs completed Junky during increasingly difficult times, and in the last quarter of the novel it shows.

If there was a logic to excluding his fellow writers Ginsberg and Kerouac, this doesn’t explain another key decision, namely why Burroughs made his alter ego so un-literary: the passing references Lee makes to popular culture (George Raft, Jimmy Durante, Louis Armstrong—an interesting trio) contrast sharply to those he makes in Queer, the novel he wrote while still finishing Junky (Frank Harris and Jean Cocteau). In letters, Burroughs would sometimes call opium Cocteau’s kick, referring to Opium: Diary of a Cure, but such an allusion to the French writer would be completely out of place for the Lee of Junky. In fact, there are European literary references in the Prologue—to Oscar Wilde, Anatole France, Baudelaire, even Gide—although they’re used to distinguish the young Burroughs/Lee from an American boy of that time and place. The Prologue is also the place where Burroughs speaks of being "greatly impressed by an autobiography of a burglar, called You Can’t Win," and in many ways this is the key reference, the one that tells us most about Junky and the particular relation it fashions between literature and life.

Sixty years after reading it for the first time, Burroughs took the chance to pay back the pseudonymous Jack Black by writing a foreword to the republication of You Can’t Win (New York: Amok Press, 1988). Here Burroughs recalls how he was fascinated by this glimpse of an underworld of seedy rooming-houses, pool parlors, cat houses and opium dens, of bull pens and cat burglars and hobo jungles. There are two things to say about this, one self-evident, the other easily missed. The first is the sheer pleasure Burroughs takes in the lingo of Jack Black’s wild frontier locales, the way he savors the phrases, so clearly redolent for him of a lost world, of a nighttime netherworld glazed with a sheen of nostalgia. Burroughs, who also enjoyed the colorful urban world of Damon Runyon, had a double fascination with the criminal milieu and its vivid argot that is reflected throughout Junky. He would have found this in You Can’t Win (The underworld is quick to seize upon strange words, Black observes), and

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  • (4/5)
    A short, well written book, that honestly lays out the mental and physical strife junkies must deal with. Whether 50 years ago, today, or 50 years from now, this book carries a relevance that many will not, or cannot understand. Very worth an afternoon of your attention.
  • (4/5)
    To many contemporary readers narcotics and drug addicts are shrouded by an atmosphere of crime, danger and dirt, which will lead most people to shun heroin addicts, or "junkies" as they have become known. With Junky, also spelled Junkie, William S. Burroughs tries to clear that image, and would almost succeed.Junky was published as an autobiographical novel telling an almost clinically cool history of how Burroughs became addicted, which is told in a very straightforward narrative, and seemingly based on a very innocent transaction, of a pal asking him to sell some morphine and Burroughs ending up trying some himself. Assuming that Burroughs' assertion that many facts, descriptions of feelings, etc are factual and truthful, Junky would be an excellent guide to better understand the world of "junk" and "junk users", as Burroughs calls it.The Penguin Modern Classics edition of Junky. The definitive text of 'Junk' is published with a long introduction by Oliver Harris and includes various parts and appendixes which were cut from the original manuscript. According to the original introduction Burroughs had written Junky with the intention to enlighten readers about the true life of "junk user" and separating "junk" from the mystery surrounding it.However, in the Prologue Burroughs gives an all but sketchy impression of his life leading up to his life as a "junk". Comparing these notes with the biographical information we now have, not just of Burroughs but also of the other writers of the Beat Generation, it is clear that the biographical sketch in the Prologue is incomplete and probably deliberately vague. To present Junky as a lifestyle choice it probably did not fit the bill to explain that despite his good education and relative carefree life, receiving a monthly allowance from a trust fund, Burroughs was attracted to criminal behaviour, and the Beat Generation started with a murder in which Kerouac was charged as an accessory and Burroughs as a material witness, in 1944. It was later that same year Burroughs developed his addiction.Burroughs and Kerouac collaborated writing a novel together ("And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks"), and Burroughs completed the manuscript of another novel, but Junky. The definitive text of 'Junk' was Burroughs' official debut in 1953. The introduction by Oliver Harris provides many interesting details about the publication history of Junky including the various suggested titles and publishers' deliberations rejecting Burroughs' original title. The Penguin edition also includes an appreciation of Junky written by Alan Ginsberg, besides a glossary, letters and excerpts which were cut from the original manuscript, such as a long passage about Wilhelm Reich's theory of "orgones", etc in six appendices.Unlike Burroughs' later work, Junky is written in a straightforward prose style, and linear plot development. It provides a fascinating account of the life of a junky, from the point of view of a junky, explaining how heroin changes their life.
  • (4/5)
    This was one of the hardest books I have ever tried to read. It must have taken me three or four times to get through the book. In the end though, I can say I liked it. I am still unsure WHAT exactly I liked about it since it is so hard to read and understand.

    It is a book about drugs that makes you feel like you've taken drugs--and then tried to read the book.
  • (5/5)
    I recently read in a weekend supplement that Debbie Harry and her cohorts in Blondie did heroin because they wanted to be like William Burroughs: Good looks, good voice and shit for brains. This book claims to be a memoir of Burroughs early life on the 'junk' and while seemingly honest it is full of typical junky delusions - 'I got off junk by smoking tea once'. He never cleans up, but as mentioned does seem to describe the junky experience from the sickness of the first hit to being completely dependant on it to be awake. The sickness that accompanies his addictions seem horrendous and the depths of depravity that he admits to (what doesn't he admit to?) does not in any way glamorize this lifestyle. It is noteworthy that this particular habit is described as going hand in hand with crime and criminals even though most of the characters seem sure that they will at some stage stop it altogether and live normally. It did get me thinking as to the nature of addiction: is it forced and accepted or inherent in us all? I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and Will Self's preface was also very insightful (best read after the book though). Roll on Naked Lunch!
  • (5/5)
    Ah, good ol' Bull Lee. A classic case of the man's life and myth being far more interesting than his writerly output; except, of course, for Junkie, which is probably one of the most innovative books of the latter half of the 20th century.Bill was never cool: cool is transient, hip is being there, and Bill had been hip from the day he was born.Let's forget about him being a lifelong paedophile (after all, he himself was sexually abused when he was a child, so he was just squaring the circle, right?) let's judge him by his literary heretage.After he had written "Junkie", he most probably realised that he would never be able to top it: so half-way through his next book "Queer" he goes all Dada on his readers and starts writing like a latter day Henry Miller who's overdosed on absinth. So his big hit is "Naked Lunch"; right time, right place; but if it wasn't for the aforementioned he would have disappeared without trace from the literary scene afore he even arrived on it; but the U.S. literati fell for his pitch hook, line and clinkers, and the preceding rubbish that he churned out over the years eventually earned him a place in the Hall of Fame. "Naked Lunch" hasn't time-travelled all that well, nowadays it reads like a relic from the 1960s 'let it all hang out' bag. Whereas "Junkie" is still as fresh as a New York sewer rat on the prowl with a hard on fit to smash a China plate: amoral, apolitical nihilism in yer face - the narrator of "Junkie" pre-empts the post-scarcity, consumer capitalist society, where everything has a price tag and nothing has any lasting value: this is how it was, this is how it IS.
  • (3/5)
    I expected to not like this book by William S Burrough's but I liked it. It was an easy to read book and I was impressed that this author who openly writes about his addiction and his homosexuality was intelligent. He writes this book without defensiveness or anger. He writes with matter-of-fact style. This was his debut novel. He wrote the original in 1953 and was published by Ace. I read the Penguin addition. This book is gives the reader a trained anthropologist observations as he portrays the life of an addict in New York, New Orleans and Mexico City. For those readers who have read The Road by Jack Kerouac, this would be a great companion read. They were acquaintances and even had thought of writing a novel together.
  • (4/5)
    Extremely insightful and thought provoking
  • (5/5)
    An incredibly accurate description of the life of an addict, whether now or 50 years ago. A must read for any lover of literature. One of my favorite books, and the first I have read of William S. Burroughs, but I'm hoping to add more of his work to my library now that I have discovered this work.
  • (3/5)
    Junky is an engaging read, with Burroughs offering a kind of insight into a situation that cannot be easily articulated. I'm especially grateful for Allen Ginsberg's introduction, which certainly helped give me some background on an otherwise difficult to understand man.
  • (5/5)
    As much a port of entry for the author as for the audience, 'Junky' is the unshakable foundation of all Burroughs' later work and the beginnings of his later mythology. While the entry into the underworld may be borrowed from Jack Black, the voice is that of a younger, more intelligent Hemingway-- Hemingway minus the hubris that occluded his ear for dialogue. An immediately recognizable world, one not terribly estranged from our own; obviously the past, but not alien. Also one of the most matter-of-fact travelogues ever written about post-war America, chronicling the beginning of the modern underclass.
  • (5/5)
    the best book. ever. read it, love it, worship burroughs. repeat. the end.
  • (3/5)
    To try to be objective may be difficult... Burroughs has a special place in my heart. If I remember correctly, his intention with this book was to simply demonstrate the junky mentality and illustrate that even people with respectable backgrounds could succumb to heroin. With that in mind, the 'novel' hits the nail square. Heroin-induced nihilism breathes through every word in this completely emotionless text. Readers who can connect with the emptiness, or readers fascinated with the outright anti-culturalism and shock, are probably the ones who can walk away from this with a positive experience. Burroughs' callousness and crass are enough that pitying the author or narrator is not an option. That said, though, this should still be required reading for teachers, parents, social workers, etc., as it is wonderful insight into the minds of, not only the heroin-addicted, but into whole sections of our culture suffering in antipathy. This book is merely a chronicle, makes no suggestions, simply gives you the starkness without excuse or remorse.
  • (5/5)
    I really enjoyed this book, both for the quick and easy to read style of writing and because as a recovering addict the druggie aspects were more meaning full and easy to relate to then they may be for a non-addict. Autobiographical story of William S. Burroughs and his "queer", junkie, traveling life style. Can't wait to read Naked Lunch!
  • (4/5)
    In this slender volume, Burroughs manages what so many others come short of doing in so much more space and with far less success. He traces the lifecycle of the Junky - from birth to existence and how one manages to slide into the lifestyle without seeming to notice. The book covers Bill Gains life as he first tries morphine from a friend's batch of stolen goods all the way through as a full-blown addict hiding out in Mexico avoiding more stringent laws in the United States where he's spent time in and out of various rehabs, jails and going over countless other drugs, ways to kick and looking for that next elusive high. In between are the crimes, the broken friendships, the failed relationships, the self-loathing homosexual hookups and a life of constant paranoia. But there's also the release that Junk brings. There's the joy of the score and the feeling in the back of ones knees and the ability to have all of that go away.Junky doesn't glamorize or demonize. It's more of a front-line account of how one gets from point A to point B. If one wants a morality tale, it's not coming. Make no mistake, there's no false advertising from Bill when he says, "I have learned the junk equation. Junk is not, like alcohol or weed, a means to increased enjoyment of life. Junk is not a kick. It is a way of life."
  • (3/5)
    Junkie is nonstop. It begins with Burroughs first dalliance with drugs, and goes on and on until he stops, and then the writing stops. It's a bit much at times, but generally this is a fascinating account of addiction - what happens to you when you're addicted, why people go for drugs, and how people treat you when you're on them.
  • (5/5)
    This book is the record of a dangerous filled with the glamor of filth and the grime of suffering. The narrative neither decries nor glamorizes "junk", but rather lays out a picture for the reader to absorb with his own eyes. This picture is often desperate and disturbing, but also humorous. The antics of the jonesing narrator keep the reader interested, and the plot is easily moved along by his need. The cast of characters around him, comprised by pushers, needy pests, and easily unlikable cops adds a good dose of humor. I find that these elements aide in presenting a more readable and quality work than "On the Road", by Burrough's contemporary Kerouac. Burroughs' debut novel gives us a fascinating glimpse into a world that many of us will never see. Perhaps that is to our benefit.
  • (4/5)
    Great book to understand better the life and psyche of an addict. It focuses solely on the addiction, drugs, and law but barely touches upon affects on relationships.
  • (4/5)
    This semi-autobiographical narrative was a very interesting read for the fact that it deals in depth with drug culture in a time that I was not even aware there was one. I also had absolutely no clue that Burroughs was from St. Louis.
  • (4/5)
    Pretty crazy read. This guy has seen and done some shit and most of this book, as the title suggests, is about his experiences with drugs, particularly Heroin.

    We follow him as he goes through his daily quest to get high. Sometimes he is selling and we learn about the hassles and pitfalls of dealing with customers who are always asking for something on tick. We hear his opinions on weed, coke, speed, time spent in jail.

    It is quite sobering and something that takes you down into the dirty parts of this lifestyle. Nothing is glorified and polished and if you ever to know what this world is like, this guy has done it so you dont have too.
  • (5/5)
    I think Burroughs has a very subtle sense of humor, and his unsentimental handling of his subject matter makes the humanness of his characters stand out. They’re real people, not caricatures to be pitied. Great read, quick but interesting and thought provoking.
  • (4/5)
    Burroughs wrote this book much based on his own experience with addiction decades ago, and I think it'll forever be potent.

    It's a very straight-forward, no-nonsense and no-tearjerker experience as Burroughs writes of Lee's addictions, faltering friendships, his fleeting meets with people while trying to attain drugs as quickly as possible, at times doing anything for it. He goes from selling drugs to using them, to robbing drunks on trains to escaping the law, to trying to fence stuff to get money to get more drugs to avoid The Sickness, to get to Mexico to live a better life, to avoid his wife, to get together with her, to be able to get out of bed, to try and get off drugs completely, to get into less hardcore stuff to get back into heroin.

    It's very well-written, and eloquently cut-up in terms of what goes in which chapters. The descriptions of people, events and feelings aren't poetic - it's all straight-forward and I got the sense that his abuse just went on and on, a vortex that went round and round.

    This book reminds me a lot of Irvine Welsh's "Trainspotting", although this is timeless and different. It's like the inspirational big brother to Martin Amis' "Money".

    And it stands out. Burroughs was a very livid writer and this is a powerful and telling work on addiction, and in his desire to explain the elements that make out addiction to everybody, he dispels myths and actually writes some really stupid shit (e.g. that cocaine does not create any form of dependency), so just have an open, questioning mind when reading this (as with every written word, anywhere).

    In this edition from Penguin, there are several inclusions of nice extraneous material here: appendixes, a glossary and a long introduction.
  • (5/5)
    A thrilling, roaring ride into the life and times of William S. Burroughs. This book effectually makes you understand the drug culture at the time and shows some of Burroughs' most intimate moments in dealing with junk and the law. It is a manifesto in itself as well as a description, carefully knitted, of the lifestyles of heroin addicts- tinged with his own real-life experiences. This is GREAT Burroughs- his work at his finest.4.5 stars- FULLY earned.
  • (3/5)
    I read this book many years ago and really enjoyed it.

    Of all Burrough's works, I think it's most accessible. I haven't read too much of his other work, so it's hard to know what to compare it to. I liked the atmosphere that the book created, I liked how detailed his writing was, I liked how it felt personal, but also removed at the same time.

    I liked that this book was written in the 50's, and I felt that its semi-autobiographical nature really added to the honesty of the overall piece. Some people have said that this is a slow-moving book for them, and while I didn't feel that way at the time, I can see how it's possible. A lot of this story is just the protagonist going through daily life and there isn't so much a plot as the main character talking about drugs, and where he finds his next hit. I found it interesting because it was (almost?) a period piece, and so there was an overall tone that I liked.

    Unfortunately, there are like, no female characters. None. From what I remember, in the very least. If they are, they're probably minor.

    Still, I appreciate Burrough's wry, witty, dark humour, and so I will give this read 3.5 stars. c:
  • (4/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    The autobiographical story of Lee, (the author's original pen name), a young man who begins shooting junk mainly out of boredom. The time is right around WWII. As a university graduate and with a monthly allowance from his family, Lee chose to hang out in dives and make the acquaintance of people who had access to a variety of hard drugs. Lee takes part in muggings and other ways to get money for heroin, morphine or whatever can be had. It's a bleak yet compelling story by an author who describes an awful existence of crimes, highs, withdrawals and constant running from police, and it's obvious that it's more non-fiction than fiction.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (3/5)
    Well, the good thing is that I finished it and can now say I've read it. I didn't like it very much though... The main character (apparently Burroughs) presents his addiction as a cold factual situation which he could, and did, overcome at will. I think his gender, his age, his race and his economic station at the point of his addiction played a pivotal and yet unacknowledged role in his theories and "advice" for dealing with a junk addiction. I'm pretty sure he was not smarter than the medical experts and I suspect his descent into junk addiction played a bigger role in his "great" understandings of how to kick or cure the habit than did any factual reality.I guess it's one of those books everyone who "reads literature", or, at least, reads American literature has to say they've read... so I've done that. Now I'm going to go drink too much wine and see what theories of alcohol addiction and recovery I can pull out of my rear-end.
  • (2/5)
    I understand why people love this book, it wasn't for me. I don't necessarily have to have the beginning, middle, end plot standard, but I do need to feel that a story is going somewhere. This was just ramblings to me. It didn't work for me. I listened to the audiobook and didn't particularly love the narrator, either.
  • (5/5)
    This is a re-read for me. I wanted to check out the new edition. The novel was always fantastic, but the new editions that restores text is genius. I won't repeat all the things people normally say about how you should read this first, etc. etc. All I will say is that the honesty of the prose, the zero degree of fabulation, is the genius of the book. Almost no one else on the planet could pull of this much with this little. READ THIS NOVEL.