Junky

by William S. Burroughs

Other authorsAlan Ginsberg (Introduction)
Paper Book, 1977

Status

Available

Publication

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

Description

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.… (more)

User reviews

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
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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 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
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for finishing it in a day but dirty for being dawn in so deep to the life of a Junky.
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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
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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 mstrust
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
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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.
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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,
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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 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
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life style. Can't wait to read Naked Lunch!
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LibraryThing member tony_landis
Extremely insightful and thought provoking
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--
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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.
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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
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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.
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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 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
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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 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
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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.
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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
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people treat you when you're on them.
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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 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
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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!
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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
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'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.
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LibraryThing member pancakekiller
the best book. ever. read it, love it, worship burroughs. repeat. the end.
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
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you feel like you've taken drugs--and then tried to read the book.
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LibraryThing member ennuiprayer
I read Queer before reading this book. I suppose to understand (not really) that book you should read this one first. They go hand in hand about Burroughs' life. This one piqued my interest because of Edinburg (Texas) reference,and that's where I live.

If I recall correctly, that part is left out
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in the original text.
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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 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
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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.
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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.
LibraryThing member datrappert
I listened to the audiobook, which is exceptionally well read. The book itself, although it wanes a bit toward the end, is a fascinating look at drug addict culture in New York City, New Orleans, and Mexico City, as the narrator moves to avoid trouble. The problematic parts of the book are the
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sporadic mention of his wife, and even kids at one point, who play no part in most of the book. It could easily be criticized for a bit of randomness here and there, but the small details are very well done. This isn't nearly as harrowing, if that's what you're looking for, as Hubert Selby's Requiem for a Dream, but in its matter-of-factness, it rings true. Of course, when the author's opinions intrude, or when you read Burroughs' original 1952 introduction--not published--you enter a bit into the world of fantasy. This edition includes a long introduction and a number of appendices which are worthwhile, but not really necessary to your understanding or enjoyment of the book. It does provide a more complete text, apparently, but I have nothing to compare it with. It is nice to know it hasn't been bowdlerized, though.
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LibraryThing member the.ken.petersen
This book is semi autobiographical. It does make one wonder how a man who understood the life of an addict so well, could become one. This book walks a narrow line - and does it well. It does not glorify addiction but neither is it a sensational tale. Burroughs main character, Bill Lee, is a sad
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character; always going down by stages.

The book explains the drugs on the market, at that time, and shows the sad people who partook: people who would sell their proverbial granny for a hit. From the addicts that I have come across, little has changed.
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LibraryThing member pivic
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
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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.
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