by William S. Burroughs

Other authorsAlan Ginsberg (Introduction)
Paper Book, 1977





Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England ; New York, N.Y., U.S.A. : Penguin Books, 1977.


"Depicts the addict's life: his hallucinations, his ghostly nocturnal wanderings, his strange sexuality, and his hunger for the needle."--Back cover.

User reviews

LibraryThing member korywagner
Burroughs is it. This book pulls you into the real world of junk. This was my first taste into the world of beat writing and by the time I was done I was in love. It is all about survival on Junk, maintaining. It was also a quick read, it flowed real where you found yourself feeling accomplished for finishing it in a day but dirty for being dawn in so deep to the life of a Junky.… (more)
LibraryThing member stephmo
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."
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LibraryThing member edwinbcn
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.
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LibraryThing member campingmomma
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!… (more)
LibraryThing member bubblingoverbooks
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.
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LibraryThing member dandog
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!… (more)
LibraryThing member iayork
Wildly Original - An Impressive First Novel: If you're looking for something different, check out this impressive first novel. Although not a long novel (about 120 pp.), it's wildly original, highly descriptive writing begs a second reading.

_Junky_ is surprisingly well-structured. Believe it or not, there is a plot!

Characters drop in and out of the story, so that the novel itself feels like some sort of crash pad. Everyone is fair game for Burrough's observations; many are described in a surreal, hilarious way. I like the way Burroughs varies sentence and paragraph length, giving an improvisational feel to the book, as if it's a be-bop record or a Jackson Pollock drip painting. (And maybe that's the intent?)

Again, nothing escapes Burrough's critical eye. Although he is homosexual and a junkie, he shows contempt for some of the trappings and adherents of these 1950s subcultures.

Some of my favorite lines include:

- "Waves of hostility and suspicion flowed from his large brown eyes like some sort of television broadcast."

- "'You're both mother (expletive deleted)ers.' She was half-asleep. Her voice was matter-of-fact as if referring to actual incest."

- "A young man lurched in with some object under his arm." (Burrough's word choice is hilarious - "lurched"!)

- "The place looked like a Chop Suey joint. ... The walls were painted black and there was a Chinese character in red lacquer on one wall.

'We don't know what it means,' she said.

'Shirts thirty-one cents,' I suggested."

Perhaps Burrough's self-observation and sense of humor likely contributed to his longevity. It's hard to believe he lived to age 84!

_Naked Lunch_ is next on my list.
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LibraryThing member pancakekiller
the best book. ever. read it, love it, worship burroughs. repeat. the end.
LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member BookAddict
This is not a book that I would hand to a junky as inspiration to kick heroin.
It was interesting to read in that the street language was so outdated that it was funny and his comprehension of the medical knowledge of addiction archaic.
What I did not like was that he showed no remorse or regrets of a life of drug abuse or of all the suffering that goes with that abuse. He almost seemed to be bragging about it at times. Even at the end of the book he hadn't given up drugs, he just chose to seek out different drugs. It seemed like a journal of his drug abuse without any feeling or self analysis. A simple play by play of daily drug taking and sexual encounters. Whatever the reason that kept him wanting to be in a state of intoxication wasn't resolved and the reader is left with no understanding of his psychological feelings whatever.
His wife seemed to be a real mystery in this story, barely mentioned. She appeared at one point to utter a few lines and I wondered where she had come from and how she had gotten hooked up with him. It would have been a much more interesting book had she been included as part of his life.
In the early part of the book he said "it takes at least 3 months shooting twice a day to get any habit at all", later he says "...would have to take 2 shots a day for 2 months to get any habit at all", later still he writes "It takes at least a month of daily use to get a needle habit, two months for a smoking habit, four months for an eating habit". Lets face it, he's didn't know and it's different for everyone anyway.
I found the telling of his sexual encounters just as devoid of emotion as the rest of the book and it was interesting that he never even mentioned any sexual interest between himself and his wife but only with young men. Even then it was simply an emotionless journal entry of who and where and seemed to be simply to satisfy a physical need rather than to satisfy any emotional or psychological need.
Overall it wasn't really a very good book because of the above stated reasons.
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LibraryThing member revD
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member tony_landis
Extremely insightful and thought provoking
LibraryThing member Jennifyr
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.
LibraryThing member mercyrain
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member poetontheone
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member crazybatcow
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.
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LibraryThing member Sarah_Buckley
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member Pharis
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.
LibraryThing member renbedell
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.
LibraryThing member hollishter
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.
LibraryThing member Kristelh
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member JWarren42
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member christina.h
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.
LibraryThing member areadingmachine
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.
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LibraryThing member bookwyrmm
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.



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