Superfluous Matter
Books - Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs (50th Anniversary Edition)

I frequently peruse lists of books with names like, "The 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century" and then I use those lists to inform my own reading choices. It was with such a context that I picked up "Naked Lunch," not really knowing anything else about it.

It turns out to be one of the seminal novels of the Beat Generation. Both Allen Ginsberg (Howl) and Jack Kerouac (On The Road) collaborated with Burroughs to edit and piece together a mountain of notes and half-written stories produced by Burroughs over a decade during which he was mostly in the thrall of opiate addiction (morphine, heroin, codeine, demerol, and more). Apparently the novel is widely considered a landmark publication in American Literature. At publication it was also considered to be extremely controversial both for its subject matter (drug use, violence, homosexuality, paedophilia) and intentionally gratuitous use of obscene language. It was banned in a bunch of places, but the ban was later overturned on appeal based on the testimony of several prominent authors who argued the book has social value and thus is not subject to the laws on obscenity.

The 50th Anniversary Edition contains about one hundred pages of appendices including a rather illuminating article written by Burroughs about his drug experiences that was published in The British Journal of Addiction.

The actual book itself It's a series of chapters that can be read in any order and are only vaguely related to each other. As far as I can tell the paragraphs and sentences of each chapter are only vaguely related to each other as well. Hell, even the words in a single sentence seem to be at odds with each other at times. For the most part I really had no idea what was happening. The only way I can describe it is like a much crazier version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Also, I can certainly see why it riled up the censors back in the day.

I'm not sure that I'd recommend the book (although I suspect it improves on a second or third reading), but if you do read it I highly recommend seeking out the 50th Anniversary Edition. The appendices supply a ton of much-needed context. They also provide a stunning contrast in style to the novel itself. The book is hard to read and follow and then you stumble to the end (without warning) and into the appendices which are written with the intent to communicate information clearly and concisely. They are like a breath of fresh air. So I guess I recommend the book as a way to gain a better appreciation for clearly written narrative and dialogue.

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